Legend is a whole new Tomb Raider, with Core Design finally dropped from development duties in favor of Crystal Dynamics. Lara herself has been remade with less emphasis on the bust and more on her brains and agility – still got those model proportions, but she can back it up with a little class and a lot of field experience.
The basic gameplay is still in tact with a lot of acrobatics, shooting, and weaving your way through deadly traps, but it's given a spit-shine with a new and vastly more capable engine. Besides the obvious graphical upgrades, the new physics system is wonderful and figures quite prominently in a number of puzzles. You no longer push objects on a restrictive grid like in most games of this ilk. Instead, they can be pulled and rotated in any direction. One early puzzle requires you to launch boxes off of a catapult, but given the physical possibilities, it seems completely natural that this would be a solution. Unfortunately, the controls while moving objects are a little fidgety as you can't slide them (strafe-style) side to side. This leads to the player having to constantly back up and reposition Lara like they were trying to parallel park.
The rest of the controls have been improved, though – a godsend considering the frustrating exactitude required for movement and jumps in previous entries. The motion is more fluid this time around and Lara has a few extra moves added to her resume like making diagonal leaps and utilizing a magnetic grappling hook to pull things from afar or swing across gaps. Overall, the new physics and restructured move set lead to some pretty fun and interesting situations that just weren't possible before.
Shooting has also been improved, with a lock-on feature, but it's ultimately just not that engaging. Sure, enemy AI is alright and on harder difficulty levels they'll lob grenades at you like there's no tomorrow. But this aspect of the game just isn't that satisfying. Besides the random threatening fauna, every other bad guy is roughly the same gun-toting mercenary. You'll find yourself doing a lot of flipping around and jamming the shoot button while locked on. Lara has some other moves that do involve getting close to enemies and launching them in the air or knocking them down in the style of Devil May Cry's Dante, but with nowhere near the snazziness. Compared to the platforming and puzzle elements, it just feels like an afterthought.
It gets to be even more of a pain during the lengthy motorbike sequences that wear on you like the game was waging a war of attrition. These parts of the game (there are only two) require you to dodge rock formations and trees while jamming on the shoot button to take down enemies on the chase. Wild controls make it easy to clip a boulder and wipe out, having to start the entire thing over again (or, if you're lucky, at the halfway checkpoint). Besides that, it isn't exactly tough to shoot the baddies, making these sequences drawn-out affairs that merely function to lengthen the gameplay and it just probably would've been better off without them.
Once again, the game shines when you're platforming or solving environmental puzzles – some of which consume entire rooms (or several rooms for that matter). Level design is generally quite good in this respect and the vistas they've come up with are truly stunning at times. The waterfall jump intro to Ghana, the Tesla-inspired Russian secret lab, a romp through a dilapidated King Arthur-themed amusement park (which hides something more underneath), or a revisit to a Himalayan plane crash site with a huge temple looming in the background – take your pick, they're all beautiful and creative set pieces. That's not to mention the generally fun bosses (my favorite being a giant leviathan you face later in the game).
The soundtrack remains ambient for the most part, hitting crescendos at the appropriate points and what not. It complements the theme very well. Voice acting is generally good (except for the generic Asian Guy voice that seems to pop up in any game/movie with a poor conception of the East, but this can hardly be blamed on just Tomb Raider). One of my favorite parts of the game is in the King Arthur amusement park where you can walk up to any of the dioramas and trigger a voice/animation which details a particular part of the legendary knight's myth.
Legend isn't very long, unfortunately – there are only about 9 levels and while they take at least half an hour to finish the first time through, that leaves you with a game that's only 5-6 hours total. Some replay value extends that with time trials to complete, treasures to find in each level, and a fair amount of unlockable features. Completing every time trial and playing through the game on Hard made the experience top out around 10-12 hours. What's there is generally fun, but I wouldn't have minded a few more tombs to raid. One consolation is the ability to access Lara's mansion, which has plenty of hidden secrets all its own and you'll have to do a lot of exploring and puzzle-solving to discover them all.
Tomb Raider Legend marks a return to form for the series and it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that it is the best in the entire series. Still, some aspects are scuffed up enough that it is quite as legendary as it could be and I'm not yet convinced that Lara is a truly compelling character. She's more appealing than before, but she has an odd choice of friends (a point that serves as crux for the story, but makes it kind of cheesy at the same time) and the game's a lot more fun when it's focusing on the history and myth than her own personal saga. Legend is recommended to people who like to adventure and explore in the vein of similar titles like the recent Prince of Persia trilogy or ICO/Shadow of the Colossus.