Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend review
And so, another outing for the pneumatic Ms Croft, complete with third-person view from her ample rear. Did you know it’s now a decade since we first laid eyes on the little minx and her whippy ponytail?
Eidos is hoping the feeble last few outings for Lara and her bust will be given a shot in the arm after ditching the original developers, Core Design, and bringing in Crystal Dynamics.
It’s immediately clear when installing that Legend is a big game – it requires an astonishing 7GB of hard disk space, almost twice that of Half-Life 2. Eidos recommends Shader Model 3-capable graphics hardware, but running on a now relatively venerable ATi Radeon 9800 XT produced a great-looking engine and smooth frame rates at 1,024 x 768. Whether it’s because of the third-person perspective itself or limitations on the graphics engine or level design, the levels do still tend to feel hemmed in, though, and you find yourself wishing you could just look around without Lara’s arse getting in the way.
Legend’s plot is barely worth mentioning – it’s simply a way to hook the levels together. Suffice to say, there’s treasure at the end and Indiana Jones would feel right at home. Ironically, though, the most entertaining part of the game is a level that’s isolated from the main thrust of the plot: a standalone diversion set in Lara’s own mansion, Croft Manor, which has turned from a training ground in previous outings to a puzzle-filled treasure trove. In the game proper, the action proceeds on a mix of live action with engine-based cutscenes to move the plot along. It works well, and the continuous voice-overs from your buddies back at Croft Manor ensure you’re always clued up on your current context.
The control system feels generally more forgiving and fluid than before; it puts you in mind of the latest Prince of Persia titles. On the one hand, you could say it takes some of the skill out of movement, but it allows you to concentrate on solving puzzles and moving around the map rather than falling to your death because you nudged half a pixel too far.
Gun control has been augmented, with the standard auto-aim feature getting a lift from the ability to choose your targets. There’s a free-target mode too, which goes a little way to detaching Lara from the game-on-rails feel that hard-core FPS players always complain about. But free targeting comes at the expense of not being able to move, and combat still isn’t particularly satisfying – you just hammer away on the mouse button in the general direction of your foes until they’re dead.
Back on the positive side, Lara has a huge repertoire of moves, flips, jumps and acrobatic manoeuvres that are great fun. There are some tricky attack combos too, with slide and bullet-time aerial attacks needing a decent bit of keyboard dexterity.
Clunky Franchise Syndrome does impinge, though. Enemy AI is essentially non-existent – stand in full view before an enemy has been triggered and blast away with no reprisals. Fights with animals, a core part of the Tomb Raider way and thus something that presumably couldn’t be jettisoned by Crystal Dynamics, are still frequent and still laughably stupid, with the animals themselves looking more like Lego characters. Mechanisms for solving puzzles and crossing obstacles are pretty painful as well – Lara has a magnetic grappling hook, for instance, which she can only use “on shiny objects”. These shiny objects are helpfully highlighted with a “shine” animation that constantly plays across them. Subtle as a brick. Her new binoculars have a helpful R.A.D mode too, which can tell you which objects in a room might be useful, to save you thinking too hard when it comes to solving the many puzzles in the game. Compared to the free-form, work-it-out-yourself approach of the Half-Life school of thought, it’s all a bit patronising.