Lara Croft's first adventure on a next generation platform is also a rather short one.
Tomb Raider Legend starts off with a flashback of Lara as a young girl, flying in an airplane with her mother. An engine on the plane suddenly bursts into flames, and the pilots are forced to make an emergency crash landing in the Himalayas of Nepal. Fast forwarding in time, the game resumes with Lara on an expedition in Bolivia, where she comes across knowledge of an artifact that contains enough power to either rule or destroy the world. Knowing Lara Croft, she has to have her hands on this artifact, and her journey will take her across the world, from places such as Ghana and Khazakhstand, to places such as Japan and back to Nepal.
If you've ever played a Tomb Raider game, Legend will feel right at home. If you haven't, then here's how everything works. There are four basic gameplay elements to Tomb Raider Legend: exploring, puzzle-solving , combat, and motorcycling. When you are exploring, it's just you and your environment. It's usually always about finding higher ground, so look all around you and find ledges to climb, platforms to jump on, polls to swing from, and so on and so forth. There are parts that become pitch black, and Lara has a PLS, or personal light source, she can use to light up the place. It has a battery that drains, however so it needs to be turned off in order to recharge.
Lara also has a new gadget, a magnetic grappling hook. There will be objects laying about that will have a metallic glint to them, and these are objects that Lara can shoot her hook onto. Once attached, she can tow the object by continuously pressing Y, or if she's on a raft or other similar moving platform, she can pull herself forward. There are also grappling points that Lara can swing from using her grappling hook, and button prompts will appear to help you indentify these points.
After Lara has explored a good length of a level, she'll come across a puzzle that she'll need to solve. For the most part, these puzzles are rather basic, and just involve manipulating blocks here and there. Lara can grab on to a block or a giant ball and drag or push it around, usually to have it rest on a pressure plate on the floor. Her grappling hook also comes in to play to manipulate objects out of reach, such as levers or pulleys.
To aid her in both exploring and puzzle solving, she has a pair of binoculars that has a mode called R.A.D., or remote analysis detection. When in this mode, the graphics take on a night vision look, and any objects that can be interacted with will be scanned. After the scan is complete, it will indentify it as a mechanism, or a moveable object Lara can shuffle around, and either Lara or her support team will comment on it. These comments are never helpful, though, as they only say vague one-liners such as, "Wow, that's cool!" or "That's a mechanism." All the R.A.D. does is help you indentify key components of a puzzle, but what exactly you're supposed to do with them is up to you to figure out.
The combat sections of the game can be kind of hairy. In the days of shooting games where you seek out cover and let your health regenerate, a player not used to continously moving and conserving health will have a hard time adjusting. To keep Lara alive, you have to run and jump around and dodge constantly. Again, Lara's health does not regenerate, so you have to keep an eye on her health and use health packs when you're in danger of dying. Her basic weapons are her two pistols, and she can pick up only one other kind of weapon at a time, such as assault rifles, shotguns or grenade launchers. She also can use grenades, and although she can only hold four, they are in plentiful supply
There are many things Lara can do, though, to gain the upper hand in a firefight. There will be certain spots on the level that will have a Y button icon displayed on it, and Lara can shoot these spots with by pressing Y. For example, she can shoot a cliche exploding barrel to send the enemy flying, or she can shoot the support beam of a platform and send a load of rocks tumbling on the attacker. When in close, Lara can also melee by kicking or sliding into the enemy, or she can even use her magnetic grappling hook to reel them in closer for a melee.
There are also a couple of segments in a few levels that will have Lara riding a Ducati motorcyle. During these riding sections, she'll be firing it out with other riders, and even enemies on trucks. Just like with other combat sections, there will also be gas tanks that she can shoot with Y to help her take out her foes quicker. You really have to be careful controlling her, though, because you lose a bit of life each time you glance off of an obstacle, and it's game over if you hit something head-on.
Legend is the most improved installment in the Tomb Raider series for its time, but it's not without its share of problems. The camera is decent, but sometimes it works against you when you really need to find the optimal angle for a tricky jump. Sometimes when you're directing Lara to shimmy across a ledge, she'll go the wrong way, or just won't move. You also can misjudge distances resulting in many a missed jump. The controls for the driving sections could have also been tweaked. It's too easy to lose control and crash into something, and it just feels too floaty.
There are also issues with the combat as well. The most nefarious flaw is how many times Lara just keeps missing the environmental object that is highlighted with Y. When you're being shot at by multiple foes, you don't want to keep wasting time trying to send a bullet home into a propane tank. Lara also seems to be rather rusty with her aim in general, because when you click in the right stick in to enter "precise aim", she can still miss with the reticle being dead on.
For a first-generation Xbox 360 title, the graphics aren't all that bad. Hold it to today's standards, and you'll be disappointed. The textures are moderately decent, but what really stands out is the lighting. The lighting is even better in areas where it's dark, and only a little illumination is present to cast excellent shadows. The animations, though, aren't really that great. Lara can be quite jerky at times, and the only animal enemy you encounter, the leopard, doesn't even look realistic at all when you're fighting it. Explosions are standard fare, and the water effects are better admired at a distance.
The sound effects in general are just ok. There is a lot of crumbling from stone as ledges give out from underneath you, and walls and floors collapse. The gun fire doesn't sound entirely exciting, and the roar of the leopards aren't very convincing. The explosions are the most remarkable of the general sound effects, though. The voice acting is solid, but nothing too amazing. Lara has a few different death screams, though, so you won't get too bothered by hearing her cry out each time you fall. The game could have benefited from a better soundtrack, though, because sometimes the music fits and works great for a level, while other pieces seem like a poor choice.
If this is your first Tomb Raider experience, you can't really go wrong selecting this title. It isn't necessary to be familiar with any of the previous story lines, and it isn't a hard game to learn either. If you're a fan, you'll most certainly enjoy it, along with several of its improvements. Both fans and gamers to new to the series will be quite disappointed, however, in not only the short length but just how quickly it comes to an end; it's a major pacing flaw.
You'll most likely be left hungry, though, so you have the option of purchasing the Tomb Raider Annivesary DLC, which is the very first Tomb Raider game redone using Legend's game engine. The DLC contains four episodes, broken up into two packages that sell for 10 dollars a piece. It's almost an afront to the gamer's budget, though, as Tomb Raider Legend hardly feels worthy of 60 dollars, and Eidos should have included the DLC for free as penance for Legend's anti-climatic cliffhanger ending. Still, Tomb Raider Legend is a fun game, well-deserving of a 20 dollar price tag. Just don't pay a single cent more if you plan on purchasing the DLC.