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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Tomb Raider Legend  (Eidos for Xbox 360)

By Michael Palisano

Eidos' iconic Lara Croft marks a triumphant return to form with the excellent Tomb Raider Legend on Xbox 360. The game resurrects the classic series formula with brain-teasing puzzles, dazzling acrobatic moves and an engrossing storyline that sucks you right in. Tomb Raider Legend also features some of the best controls in the series to date, and players should have no problem making Lara perform her special moves. There are a few mis-steps, such as the disappointing motorcycle levels and some problems with aiming your guns, but these are minor when compared to what's gone right. Tomb Raider Legend is highly polished title that succeeds in re-establishing the series' credentials.

After many years of disappointing games that have fallen short of the mark, Eidos has finally done right by their heroine with the release of Lara Croft Tomb Raider Legend. The new game instantly establishes a mythical storyline for the character, lending her a personality and mystique that's been largely absent for the past few years. The game's backstory is believable in some degree and fits the action perfectly. The biggest change this time around are the controls, which are smooth and intuitive, while offering players a much better sense of freedom and movement than before. This added flexibility makes performing jumps, hanging off ledges and somersaults much easier. Lara has a number of cool new moves as well, such as the ability to use her rappelling line to glide through areas. She can run, jump, climb and swing through levels with a much greater fluidity in the new game, which improves the game's flow substantially. Most of the levels in the game seem to have been designed with these moves in mind, and progression is far less frustrating than before. You'll spend a lot less time backtracking through levels and perfoming the same stunts repeatedly than before. This makes the game less frustrating and more enjoyable than before. The developers at Crystal Dynamics have also improved her acrobatic abilities, allowing you to swing from bars, jump on ropes and hang onto ledges with a much greater sense of predictability. Lara's weapons are still quite useful as well, and the system has been enhanced with an auto-target system that makes it much easier to target enemies. Tomb Raider Legend's overall feel is thus vastly improved and shows a great attention to detail that makes the game feel fresh and vibrant, with the character given a new feel that retains the best of the old, while opening up the player's sense of control.

From a level design standpoint, Tomb Raider Legend offers plenty of variety and challenge for players. There's a predominance of traditional tomb exploration levels, which follows the classic Lara formula of jumping and solving puzzles, along with the occasional confrontation with a beast or animal. There are vast levels requiring players to jump through multiple gaps, climb across ledges and swing from vines and ropes to get from one point to another. There are also more traditional battles with bad guys, where the player has to defeat multiple opponents at once, which isn't as easy as it sounds. With multiple attackers, you can use Lara's lock on to target your fire at an opponent, though this can be annoying at some times. The game's stunts system is somewhat reminiscent of Prince of Persia in certain aspects, particularly the pole climbing and bar swinging portions. They might be derivative, but they're well-done and add a new dimension to the gameplay. The majority of the game is quite linear however, and there's little motivation to play through the game once you've completed a level, save for the occasional artifiact. The main quest unfolds at a good pace throughout and takes players to a variety of locations, ranging from dense forests, to the occasional urban location. As you'd expect, Lara has a number of cool outfits she can wear for each mission, with additional items able to be unlocked as you progress through the game. Tomb Raider Legend's overall pacing and flow is superb for the most part and the game is generally excellent throughout, but there are a few areas that could have used work.

While the majority of the levels stay true to the Tomb Raider aesthetic, the game's motorcycle levels aren't as polished or intense as the rest of the game. The slippery controls, simplistic action and frustrating levels make these an annoying side-story that doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the action. Fortunately, these areas are relatively short and most players should be able to progress through them with little effort. There are also several sequences which take place in Lara's home base, Croft Manor. These are fun for awhile, but they seem rather constrained and seem to lack the sense of urgency that propels the rest of the game. While the series' trademark underwater areas make a return as well, the design here is still a bit lacking. It's much too difficult to find a sense of direction, which makes controlling Lara in these sequences more a product of trial and error than skill. This means you'll frequently run out of air, requiring you to replay the entire level from the start, which can be quite frustrating. The game's other major problem lies in some of its puzzles. Most of these are fairly interesting, though some of them still have tendency to devolve into mindless block pushing, at one extreme, or become impossibly oblique at the other. However, these problems don't completely overwhelm the design's good points and while frustrating, shouldn't dissuade players from purchasing this excellent game.

One of the key appeals of the series is obviously; Lara herself and the developers seem to have recognized the fact that an appealing protagonist makes the game even better. While the voice acting in previous game has been iffy, here the actors are given more meat to chew on. There is some character development, with certain events showing Lara's vulnerability. Instead of making her seem wimpy, these are effective and serve to humanize the character and give players an even stronger identification. The game's story moves at a brisk pace throughout and maintains a level of excitement that gives Tomb Raider a strong sense of momentum. Unfortunately, this seems to have been cut a bit short, and the storyline seems to end prematurely at the end, which is disappointing. The game's strong plotlines are further enhanced by the game's incredible visuals, which fully exploit the next-generation powers of the Xbox 360. Lara herself has never looked better, and she moves with a grace and fluidity that's simply astonishing. Tomb Raider Legend's levels are quite diverse, and each is brought vividly to life with extensive light sourcing, detailed texture and bump mapping and other special effects. The game's engine allows for massive levels with impressive environmental vistas and breathtaking views, while the intuitive camera system makes it easy to see where you stand. Its music and soundtrack are superbly realized as well, and fit the game's atmosphere perfectly. Overall, the presentation is excellent throughout, making this one of the most impressive 360 games to date from a visual standpoint.

Tomb Raider Legend isn't without its faults, the game never really falls into the trap of mediocrity and indifference that ensnared some of the more recent installments. The improved controls make maneuvering Lara much easier and simpler than before, allowing players to concentrate on the bigger picture. Instead of fiddling with the controls, you can actually enjoy the storyline and gameplay. The game's mix of strategy and action nicely parallels the best parts of Tomb Raider, while adding a few twists to the action. Some of these risks don't pay off - the driving sequences fall a bit flat, but Tomb Raider Legend succeeds more often than not. While this isn't a flawless title, it's still the best adventure Lara has encountered in quite some time, making for a solid recommendation, and should appeal even to those gamers who might have given up on the series.

Grade: B+

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