April 5, 2006
If you are reading this and haven’t been inundated over the years with the forced birthing of a pop culture icon named Lara Croft (in game… in film… in person(!)), then consider yourself lucky. Very simply, Lara Croft is Indiana Jones with breasts, at once a painfully shallow character built to play to her adolescent target audience, yet fleshed out with a complex personality not unlike a female James Bond. Sadly, Eidos has managed Lara’s franchise terribly over the past ten years, releasing fast cash sequel after sequel and sub par movie after movie in a downward spiral of mediocrity that most fans of the original game abandoned long ago. So when word came out that Eidos had finally taken the franchise from its original developer and placed the latest iteration in the capable hands of Crystal Dynamics (of Soul Reaver and Pandemonium fame… okay, well, of Soul Reaver fame), few seemed to take notice. Word began to trickle out that Tomb Raider: Legend was shaping up to be the game to revive the series. The result: a fine, fine game just shy of excellence, made all the sweeter in the face of the franchise’s former spiral.
TR:L plays like you’d expect Prince of Persia to play, were it developed by the Soul Reaver team. By that, I mean you’ll do plenty of acrobatic puzzle solving and combat, but in a well-thought-out, coherent way (often in a single massive room, giving you a sense of accomplishment when all the pieces come together). Bosses are also well done, if a tad easy. Visually, TR:L is exquisite, as these screenshots show. The game has NO prerendered cutscenes — everything you see here is exactly how the playable game looks. While some games have disappointing graphics, from my experience the vast majority simply “suffice” — they accomplish what they need to without dropping too many jaws (Final Fantasy XII, I’m looking at you). From the opening scene, the eyecandy by itself had me looking forward to what was still to come. The engine proved remarkably scalable as well, keeping its visual appeal on the slower machine I tested it on, yet with enough high quality options to bring my once-proud SLI rig to its knees. That said, the PC version did suffer from the odd texture problem, as well as a few areas towards the end that inexplicably cut the framerate into pieces (often during key moments of play).
Tomb Raider: Legend is also the first game in the series I can remember being impressed with the music. A fairly new composer, Troels Folmann, used a full orchestra mixed with some electronics to create a soundtrack that I confidently describe as moving. While all my game music buddies are scrambling over Suikoden V‘s synthy repetitiveness (don’t flame me, I like it too, in a different way), it’s Western composers like Folmann that are really detaching “game music” from the “game” by producing works of real substance. I invite you to check out some samples, the main theme in particular.
For all my gushing, you’d think I’d rate the game higher. Graphical glitches aside, TR:L was also unusually short. It’s story is incredibly well told, however, and ends with the promise of more (if anyone reading remembers how Soul Reaver 2 ended, you understand what I mean). The developers at Crystal Dynamics have done the impossible, snatching the Tomb Raider franchise back from the precipice, and the result is a game so far above its brethren it bears a look by both spurned fans and those who wisely avoided the series’ sequel-mania.
While this review is in reference to the PC version, TR:L will be released April 11th for nearly every system under the sun, so you have no excuse not to at least give it a sampling.
Score: 8.5 / 10