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Introduction

Toby Gard’s creation has had a chequered past, from it’s innovative birth as a mould breaking adventure game to stagnant reruns such as “Angel of Darkness”. Few game characters have turned out to be as famous as Lara Croft, and while she has become a blockbuster movie icon, the games she has appeared in lately have been less than stellar.

After “The Angel of Darkness” flopped the saga went silent leaving many to wonder what was going to happen. Fast forward to 2005 and we get our first glimpses of the new Tomb Raider: Legend and now, in 2006, we can finally see if it puts the franchise back on track.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old school

I was a young boy when the first Tomb Raider came out and even after all these years, I remember perfectly the fun I had playing this game. It was the first 3D game that stood out from the pack with great presentation and a gorgeous female character as the main hero(ine). It was a great success, which obviously meant that there was going to be a Part II which fortunately built upon the original’s solid gameplay and enhanced the graphical side of things. One of my favourites was the third, as the locations were both diverse in nature and crammed full of action. Things spiraled downhill with the fourth title and by the time we got to the fifth; we witnessed the beginning of the end for the series. With the release of Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness the final nail was surely put in the coffin.

If you look back, it’s interesting to notice the change between the first and last Tomb Raider … the first actually made you explore ancient tombs and solve difficult puzzles, the latter one made you explore an incomprehensible urban jungle without any gratifying storyline or focused direction.

It was clear by now, that to save the series a massive overhaul was required and thus, Crystal Dynamics, renowned for their “Legacy of Kain” series were asked to take over and deliver something that would really make Lara Croft shine again.

All formats

There isn’t gamer out there that won’t be able to play Tomb Raider: Legend since Crystal Dynamics and Eidos decided to bring it out on every format imaginable, ranging from the Xbox360 to the PSP. I played this game on my PC but you can apply this review to any of the other versions (except in graphics department of course). Now, let’s see what the minimum requirements are to run this game on PC.

• Microsoft Windows 2000, XP
• Pentium 3 1.0 GHz or Athlon XP Equivalent
• 256 MB RAM
• DirectX 9.0c compatible graphics card 64 MB RAM
• DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card
• 9.9 GB free disk space

While the minimum requirements are very modest, the recommended are ludicrous!

• Microsoft Windows 2000, XP
• Pentium 4 3.0 GHz or Athlon XP Equivalent
• 1024 MB RAM
• DirectX 9.0c compatible graphics card 512 MB RAM (GeForce 7800 / ATI X1800)
• DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card
• 9.9 GB free disk space

Yes, I can assure you that those are the recommended requirements and it’s enough to send chills down anyone’s spine. Since when are the GeForce 6800 and ATI X800 series not adequate for today’s prettiest games and since when were cards lower than 512 MB RAM insufficient to power good graphics? This is the first game with such high demands on the PC (even Elder Scrolls: Oblivion didn’t need such high specifications) and to be honest, what they have written here isn’t even good enough to run the game fluidly once you enable all the eye-candy possible. Let me explain…

Tomb Raider has been developed for everything from the current generation consoles like the Playstation 2, all the way to the next generation consoles like the Xbox360 and since the PC can have millions of hardware configurations, you can have your graphics range from PS2 quality to Xbox360 quality. To have the highest quality visuals, you must enable a “Next-Generation” setting which turns on everything you can imagine (and then some), ranging from High Dynamic Range, parallax mapping, self shadowing, high resolution textures and dynamic shadows. In summary, you get the whole lot of goodies and usually, this will completely and utterly destroy your system unless you’re lucky enough to have a very powerful Crossfire or SLI system. You must not forget that you need a PixelShader 3.0 compatible card too if you wish to enable this and unfortunately, my system is currently equipped with a X850XT PE, which doesn’t satisfy this requirement. This means that the videos and screenshots will be taken without using the “Next-Generation” setting.

While one does lose a lot of visual quality, the game is still pretty good to look at and as a bonus; you will be running this game very smoothly. I think the only real way for you to enjoy the “Next-Generation” graphics is on Xbox360 because for over 95% of the PC gaming world, this setting is just too demanding.


Next generation off


Next generation on



Next generation off


Next generation on


Beautugly?

Obviously, this makes rating the visuals very difficult because you have two entirely different graphical settings possible. For starters, without enabling the “Next-Generation”, you’ll be introduced to a nice looking game which still features a couple of nice effects like depth of field but, on the whole, looks like your average adventure game. It doesn’t really stand out much, even though the characters are well modeled, nicely animated and the different levels are all quite individual and nicely designed. The textures on the other hand are usually quite low resolution which is a shame because they could have been much better and certainly would have pushed this game out from the crowd. Evidently, this is exactly what the “Next-Generation” mode does since the textures are of an immensely high quality and high resolution, the models have even more polygons than the standard mode and the same can be said about the levels. The shadows in the game also gain extra details and all this brings me to the question: why?

In reality you are comparing the best graphics currently available in the adventure genre, with “next generation” on and some of the blandest in the same game with it turned off. Why couldn’t Crystal Dynamics have given you a middle ground in between these two preferences? Why weren’t we allowed to tweak the graphical settings to find a central point in between the two settings so that everyone could run the game extremely fluidly but still have a good amount of visual beauty? I personally ran the game with an average of almost 100 frames (1280x960 with four times anti-aliasing) and I know of many gamers who can barely run the game at 30 frames with the “Next-Generation” setting enabled at even the lowest resolution. It’s everything or nothing and that is a real pity since very few can enjoy the “everything” and most of us shall be playing the “nothing” setting.

Exceptional

The sound department is simply outstanding because of one simple reason: the voices. Every character in the game sounds exactly how you’d expect them and you really attach yourself to them. The dialogs in the game are natural, well written and usually quite funny which helps the immersion and, I must admit, I immediately fell in love with all the voices, especially Lara’s. They are actually so well done that during the cutscenes, you feel as if you’re watching an A grade movie. Even during gameplay, Lara has two sidekicks who keep on helping her and talking her through the levels and they always sound authentic and keep you entertained throughout the story. You have to hand it to Crystal Dynamics for making sure that this aspect was extremely polished (just like in the Legacy of Kain saga).

They didn’t stop at just the voices as the music is also extremely good, with each level having its own ambient theme and always fitting perfectly with the mood. The same can be said about the ambient sound effects, all of which are top class from the patter of rain on the roof of a hanger to the roar of a waterfall in the jungle.

Raiding

I’m proud to say that Lara Croft is back and with Tomb Raider: Legend, she does the franchise proud. First of all, the story is most probably the best from the entire series and is full of twists and surprises that keep you hooked till the end. Not only is it classy and interesting but the game has many cutscenes to explain the story. The level of polish is not a surprise knowing the history of Crystal Dynamics, but it is a welcome improvement for the franchise and I do hope there will be another Tomb Raider game soon to continue the compelling story.

However, a good story is useless without good gameplay but luckily; this isn’t the case here since Tomb Raider: Legend has a solid plot line. The problem with the older titles in the series was that Lara felt quite heavy and clumsy to control and didn’t feel very feminine. However, with Legend, all that changes since Lara is very controllable and agile, giving the player the freedom to pull off a wide array of cool moves. If any of you have played Prince of Persia and enjoyed the gameplay, you’ll love Tomb Raider since there is a similarity between the two.

Lara is now swinging from poles, hanging from cliff edges, rolling and jumping past dangerous traps and showing her athletism. Something that was missing from the last game was the fact we are now raiding tombs and Crystal Dynamics reintroduced it in style since every tomb is unique and best of all, full of puzzles to solve. While these may sometimes have you pulling your hair out, once solved you’ll always feel a gratifying sensation and be ready to tackle the next one.

That isn’t the only new gameplay element in the game since now; you can almost qualify Tomb Raider: Legend as an adventure/action game. Before, you’d mostly use your dual wielding pistols against simple animals but now, evil mercenaries are among the victims. In addition, whenever these action sequences punctually interrupt your raiding, you’ll find yourself enjoying them. As Lara, you don’t just go into the thick of the battle with guns blazing but you must learn to dodge, jump, and avoid fire while still shooting. It’s easy to learn and the results are satisfying since you’ll find yourself slowing down time (every time she jumps off an enemy) and shooting whoever stands in your way. You have many weapons at your disposal from dual pistols and shotguns to grenade launchers.

New to the series are imposing boss fights that play a lot like the boss fights from Legacy of Kain (coincidence?) and again, while this isn’t something new in itself, it’s an aspect that has never been introduced in this particular franchise. Another new feature is the interactive cutscene and while this may have already existed for a long time in other games, it’s the first time we’ve ever seen it in Tomb Raider. I admit, they are usually quite easy and end up just being fun to watch but the simple fact that Crystal Dynamics tried to introduce a few new things to make the game more rounded is admirable.

They might have gone a bit too far with all these new gameplay styles and the motorcycles scenes are a good example of this. The first time you get on a bike it seems an interesting diversion from the standard game style but regrettably, these moments are just too long and you quickly get annoyed with them. That said, there is a worse problem than this and unfortunately, it’s a serious one: the lifespan of the game. Playing on the normal difficulty, I finished this game in two days (barely playing six to eight hours in total) and that is the real downfall of Tomb Raider: Legend. Sure, there are plenty of reasons to dive back into the story and collect all the bonus items from each level and you can even redo the levels in a time trail mode to win more things like costumes and such, but these are all just an artificial way of making the game longer. I mean, honestly who wants to play the game and find every artifact just to see Lara in a skimpy bathing suit?

Don’t answer that...

Legend?

This game is leagues ahead of the previous Tomb Raider’s and I can honestly say this is, without a doubt, the greatest game in the entire franchise to date. Sure, it might be too demanding on the system, some of the new gameplay modes are just annoying and the entire game is extremely short but it doesn’t ruin the overall polish and impact of the title. Crystal Dynamics along with Eidos have given Lara a solid return to form and for this they deserve credit. Add to the fact that Tomb Raider: Legend is a fun and entertaining game is just the icing on the cake.

Those of you who fondly remember the Tomb Raider games of yesteryear should pick up this title and relive the memories, however don’t expect it to last long, and if you want Lara to look as gorgeous as she should then be prepared to spend huge sums of money on updating your hardware.

Game play
17/20
Graphics 16/20
Sound 18/20
Value 14/20
Lasting Appeal 16/20
Overall 81/100

 

 

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