"Tomb Raider Legend" (TRL) is the seventh major game in the Tomb Raider franchise. It is a third person action adventure in a 3d environment with freely movable camera. Gameplay consists of platforming, puzzle solving, and shooting, plus occasional racing/chase scenes. The story has Lara searching for pieces of the sword Excalibur, which she believes to be connected to the death of her mother, in various places of the world.
The game also marks the transition of the Tomb Raider franchise from the previous developer (Core Design) to Crystal Dynamics. Since the fifth and sixth game of the franchise were generally perceived as lackluster, the goal of TRL was a reboot of the series. Crystal Dynamics also announced that they wanted to give the Lara Croft character more personality. This was only partially successful: While Lara definitely _has_ more personality than in the early games (where she was basically just a campy avatar), her "personality" in TRL is that of a campy orphaned superheroine in search of her mother, which is not necessarily an improvement. The developers did obviously _try_ to give Lara a personality, but it seems that they weren't really aware what that entails, and so they ended up with a rather juvenile concept.
The gameplay has its quirks as well. Most levels are completely linear, the player is always following a pre-defined track and has very little freedom to roam or explore. The balance between regular fights and boss fights is off - the former are pretty easy, while the latter are ridiculously difficult. The racing sequences suffer from clunky controls. There are also annoying quick time events throughout the game (like "press E within the next two seconds or you die") - right when the game becomes most dramatic, it forces you to read instructions from the screen and hunt keys on your keyboard.
That said, the game is still enjoyable and fun to play. The platforming sequences are challenging and engaging, and there is a good mix of puzzle-solving and action. Players often need to be creative to find a solution for a given puzzle. The grapple hook is a clever and versatile addition to Lara's gear, which often allows for interesting and original moves.
The story is decent B-movie material, but nothing to write home about. It suffers a bit from the fact that most characters are one-dimensional. It's also a bit drawn out in the middle, but then feels rushed toward the end, as if the team didn't manage to include all content that was planned.
The graphics were pretty good for a game in 2006, and still hold up today. I played the game in 1920x1200 resolution, and the graphics scaled well. Especially enjoyable is the large variety of settings, from jungle to metropolis to contemporary military installations to medieval Europe to high mountains. The art style is mostly realistic, with occasional sidesteps into fantasy.
The graphics also have some odd problems: There are clipping issues in several areas of the game, and dangling ropes are often shown disconnected and to the side of objects that are supposed to be tied to their lower end, which sometimes makes it hard to spot opportunities for climbing.
The animations are smooth and pretty good for a game of this age, if a bit arcade-like. Sadly, Lara's physique still looks ridiculous.
The game contains 60 cutscenes of various length, which are rendered in the game engine.
The sound effects are of good quality and professionally done. The music is extremely varied and adapts to the events in the game through a complex system of triggers. Each level has its own score, using instruments from the respective region.
All dialog in the game is voiced. The voice acting is professional and quite good, as far as the stereotypic characterization allows.
TRL uses a minimal HUD (which helps immersion), but rather complex controls. There are different key sets for movement, item use, combat, swimming, and driving, as well as several combination moves (including some acrobatics which aren't even necessary for gameplay, but nice to look at). The controls took a bit to get used to, but eventually I got the hang of them - with the exception of the grapple hook. As nifty as it is, I had massive problems timing my off-the-wall jumps, and often jump into a different direction than intended, sometimes right into my death. A similar problem occurred when trying to jump off a grabbed pole. The direction of the jump seems to be determined by a combination of her position, the current camera angle, and the key pressed, which can be hard to figure out reliably in the heat of the action.
There is no map available, players are supposed to find to find their way by themselves. Since most levels are very linear, that is rarely a problem.
The game is played with the mouse (for camera movement and attacks) and the keyboard (for everything else). The controls are fully customizable.
Task switching is supported without problems.
EASE OF USE:
The game is easy to install. Learning the controls may take a bit, but the first level includes a quick tutorial, and you can always train in "Croft Manor", a special level that is always accessible after the completion of the first level. The 25-page manual is useful as a reference of the controls, though it doesn't contribute anything to the story.
All spoken dialog is subtitled.
The game does not feature proper saves. Instead, it uses an awkward system of automatic checkpoints, which means that you often have to replay sequences. This is especially annoying during the boss fights. It is often possible to "force" a save by running back to the previous checkpoint, and then forward again to the current one, but that's not a very immersive way of playing.
OTHER THINGS OF NOTE:
The game is a bit short and feels somewhat rushed toward the end. Replay value is provided through three categories of hidden secrets (bronze, silver, gold) - you are unlikely to find all of them during your first playthrough, so they provide an incentive to revisit levels that you already completed. Finding secrets unlocks various extras, such as concept art, character background information, or different outfits for Lara. Unfortunately, the secrets are just statues, it would have been more immersive if they had been actual meaningful artifacts.
The game's difficulty is moderate, with two exceptions: Racing sequences can be difficult due to the clunky controls, and boss fights are annoyingly hard. You can change the difficulty (between three settings) during the game, but only before entering a level - therefore, if a boss fight turns out to be too hard, you need to replay the entire level if you want to fix him at a lower difficulty.
The game has SecuRom DRM. I don't believe that DRM is really necessary on a 7 year old game.
"Tomb Raider Legend" is a mixed bag. It tried to reinvent the franchise, and succeeded in several respects, but it also contains many aspects that don't work all that well or that are just annoying. The rating ends up in the middle: 3 stars. Nevertheless, it's not a bad game, and if you want to play the second generation of Tomb Raider games, starting with TRL is not a bad idea.
Review Date: 2013/Apr/27 -- Program version: 1.2 -- Progress: one playthrough, several levels revisited (96% completion / 25 hours)