The original Tomb Raider was a game that revived a stagnating genre. Then the sequels killed it. Repeatedly. And then punched it in the face. The past few installments have attempted to return the faltering series to its former glory, though they've been met with varying degrees of apathy and hate. Crystal Dynamics isn't about to give up just yet, however, as they still have faith enough in Lara and her two biggest assets (her dual handguns, of course) to bring her back for one last shot in Tomb Raider: Legend. I recently had a chance to sit down with an unfinished build of the game and see for myself if Lara got the extreme makeover she's in desperate need of.
I started out watching Lara free-climb a generic mountain somewhere in Bolivia, looking for a temple that held an artifact she'd apparently been seeking for some time. From there I proceeded to run through her usual tricks, and then some. Jumping to nearby ledges, shimming across steep rockface, climbing vines, jumping across waterfalls, and diving through underwater chasms makes for a varied approach to the gameplay, and I didn't often find myself doing too much of the same exact thing. Another interesting feature to the gameplay was its not-quite linear approach to solving certain puzzles, something games like Angel of Darkness lacked. There were a few times I found myself with the option to take two somewhat different paths to my next objective, though the differences between the two weren't terribly varied.
In a lot of ways, Legend does seem to get back to Tomb Raider's roots, though that unfortunately means the controls still aren't great, and neither is the camera. I often found myself fiddling with the camera just to get a halfway decent view of whatever jump I had to make (and the ability to center the camera behind Lara didn't really help matters), and often Lara would jump in a completely different direction than I indicated, leading to some rather cheap deaths. Overall, the controls are similar, if a bit better, than previous installments, though they could definitely use some work before the final product is actually released.
The sound in the game could also use some tweaking, as most of the dialogue in the game was drowned out by ambient noise. Throughout my entire quest I was in radio communication with….. someone. I say 'someone' because I never got his name, nor understood most of what either he, or Lara, or the enemies I met throughout, ever said. Most of what I did catch was the kind of rather banal dialogue one might expect from a cheesy B action movie, which shouldn't come as a surprise to fans of the series. However, it would at least be nice to be able to hear it, in case you're so inclined, so hopefully Legend will at least balance out the sound before release.
The visuals are easily one of the high points in Legend so far, as the environments are rather beautiful from an artistic standpoint; I was, after all, spelunking through some of the prettier parts of South America. Lara looks pretty nice; though that should be no secret as her physical appearance has always been a draw for the series. While not as visually impressive as previous PS2 hits such as God of War or Resident Evil 4, Legend definitely rates as one of the better looking games coming out for the PS2 this spring.
If you're a fan of the series, Legend should definitely stay on your radar as it approaches release sometime in May. If you've been turned off of the series by previous installments, Legend may or may not be enough to make you a full fledged fan again, but it's definitely looking more promising than previous installments, which is a good sign.