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Adventures in Engineering
The wanderings of a modern ronin.

Ben Cantrick
  Date: 2006-05-20 23:14
  Subject:   Tomb Raider: Legend (XBox)

"Good but short" seems to be the consensus on this one, and I have to agree. The graphical upgrades are very, very nice. The level design and visual quality has improved probably tenfold. Lara kicking ass in a black evening gown was definitely the highlight of the game for me. Though it's not the most masterfully done potion of the game, visually my favorite is the rooftop hopping episode in Japan. If you like TR because you get to run around in visually impressive surroundings, this is a great game for that.

The controls are... significantly better. Some of my trouble with the controls may be my own fault - I went and changed from the default control setup to one that allowed me manual control of shooting when I wanted it. Unfortunately this put "crouch/dive" on the black button and "shoot" on B, a highly uninuitive setup which made life hard at a few points. I've often made the point that game developers who don't allow you to customize the controls are just being lazy (obviously) and arrogant (like they can predict for sure what every last player will want the controls to be). It applies here too. That said, once you DO know what button to push, Lara is very quick and nimble. Best control of any TR game I've played - which is most of them.

The only real control weirdnesses I noticed was one having to do with the Lara's new magnetic grapple. It will only stick to grapple points that are currently visible on sceen. There were a couple parts where I was looking at Lara's right side, and I knew there was a grapple point just ahead of her, but it wasn't on the screen. Throw the grapple, and it doesn't stick. Turn the camera so I can see the grapple point on-screen, THEN throw the grapple, no problems. This turned out to be more than a minor annoyance when it came time to fight the water dragon.

The physics engine and new capabilities overall are great, though. They added some very fun new elements to the gameplay. There was one puzzle earlier on that I felt was unrealistic in the use of a lever arm, and it took me a long time to figure it out because I didn't even consider the method that you have to use. But my only REAL complaint in this area is that they leaned too much on the "now you'll have to jump on a floating object and use the grapple to pull yourself around." Twice would have been more than enough for this not-really-a-puzzle; you have to do it four times at least.

The new Lara voice actress absolutely nails it. She's perfect. Yes, better than Nell McAndrew. All of the voice acting is good, in fact. I think a lot of people were irritated by the two guys talking to you over your headset, but it didn't really bug me. If anything, I would have appreciated just a tiny bit more coaching at times. Like when trying to "beat" the demon boss with the tesla cannon, which they intentionally made non-obvious.

One new feature that I didn't use nearly as much as I probably should have is Lara's ability to get right in an enemy's face, then use them as a springboard to jump up and do some neat acrobatics while really devastating them with her pistols. I guess they put this in because the usual way to deal with hard enemies in TR is to stand way back and throw a wall of lead with your unlimited ammo pistols until they drop, which can take quite a while. And it's worse in this game, because the pistols have been made pretty inaccurate. You can barely land shots on things more than about 20 yards away. Even the assault rifle (one of five weapons you can select to carry on your person in addition to your pistols) tends to miss a lot past about 60 yards. I really think Lara should be able to throw grenades farther, too. There were one place in particular that I wasted all four grenades I was carrying, because I was so sure that from WAY UP HERE I should more than easily be able to rain fragmentation death down on those morons below. By the way, Lara doesn't have hammerspace in this game. You see everything she carries, with the exception of your three (max) medkits and blessedly infinite Hollywood clips.

Some might complain about the "push a button or get killed" cut scenes. I didn't mind. It's not really a Tomb Raider game if you don't get to see Lara get killed in some really wet-sounding, bone-cracking way at least once. Heheh. Speaking of gory deaths, I remember only one opportunity to kill unwary enemies in the numerous traps. It's too bad you don't get more opportunity to do that, because it's lots of fun!

The new motorcycle riding segments are interesting, but generally irritating. They would have been more fun with fewer obnoxious enemies who always seem to unrealistically take 20 hits to kill. Especially for the guys riding dirtbikes in t-shirts. Two hits should have send those dorks flying.

You can save any time, but your progress only saves up to the last checkpoint. I have no problems with that at all. In fact once or twice I elected to go back to the last checkpoint and try a section again a different way.

For once, I'll say that a game was too short. This game should have been one or two levels longer. I like short games. I thought Metroid Prime was the perfect length (20 hours of gameplay at my pace). This one took me 11:36 and I felt like it was over way too fast. There isn't much replay value either, despite the developer's efforts. So I'd recommend a rental instead of buying.

To wrap up, let me quote this review:

Tomb Raider: Legend might not be an epic or set new standards like the original game did ten years ago, but it's thoroughly entertaining for its duration and is an impressive package on every system. Xbox, PlayStation 2 and PC owners certainly get better value for money, but the Xbox 360 version signals a strong next-gen future for Lara. It's certainly not 'game of the year' material, but as far as entertaining diversions go, there'll be few that better it this year.
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May 2015