Lara Croft is the gaming world's Paris Hilton. Just like the Hilton heiress, Lara has maintained her sex symbol status despite a series of clunky and critically panned media forays. Paris has her bad horror movies, bad TV shows and bad, ummm, home videos, while Lara has a series of unimpressive games stretching back 10 years.
But with Tomb Raider: Legend, Lara finally has a game that is worthy of her cult status. Gone are the imprecise controls, outdated gameplay and headache-inducing camera of every Tomb Raider game that followed the first. It's by no means perfect, however. The in-game camera can still sometimes be frustrating, and the whole adventure doesn't last too long. But Legend is overall a fun game with some rock-solid mechanics, and can easily be called the best the series has had to offer since the original Tomb Raider way back in 1996.
Tomb Raider: Legend sees Lara (and yes teenage fanboys, she's still anatomically impressive) delving into her past by trying to uncover the mystery behind her mothers' death. Along the way, the plot dovetails into the King Arthur legend before becoming somewhat of a muddle, but the story's really just an excuse to get Lara into a series of ancient ruins (some not so ancient) for some platforming and shooting fun.
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What made the last few Tomb Raider titles so unappealing were its controls - for games that required precise timing and movement, they fell woefully short. Legend nails the control aspect down pat -- Lara moves fluidly, and responds well to player inputs. She still sports many of her trademark moves -- jumping, climbing, hanging off ledges -- as well as a few new ones, such as being able to throw a grappling hook to swing off certain surfaces. Pulling off even her most complex moves will soon become second nature to players thanks to the tight control system.
You'll be thankful for these improved controls as Tomb Raider: Legend throws gamers numerous challenging platform elements. As has become standard with the series, Lara will have to scale arduous heights to get to her goals -- in many instances missing a jump or ledge will result in instant death. Thankfully, Legends sports a decent autosave feature which frequently saves your progress -- should you die, there's usually not much backtracking required.
The Tomb Raider series' puzzle elements are also back in force with Legend, although experienced gamers will probably have no difficulty with the majority of them. Most of the puzzles in Legend are your typical environmental challenges -- move a block here to trigger this switch, move another block here -- you get the picture. Some are initially head scratchers, but Legend simplifies it somewhat by equipping Lara with binoculars that can "identify" the different parts of a puzzle. Focus the binoculars on a stone, for example, and the game will identify it as something you can move. Focus on a statue and it will identify it as a switch that needs to be pulled.
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Perhaps the weakest aspect of Legend's gameplay is its combat. Lara once again sports her dual pistols and can pick up numerous other firearms and explosives along the way, although most feel fairly interchangeable with each other. The majority of enemies gamers will face are pretty generic soldier-types (but there is the odd leopard once in a while) who'll do little other than stand in one spot and shoot at Lara. Gunplay as a consequence is rather bland. The game does try to spice things up by featuring destructible environmental objects that can take out your enemies (such as gas bottles, chandeliers and more).
Legend also dips its toes into vehicular-based combat, with some stages that have Lara on the back of a motorcycle chasing down the bad guys. The bike controls are fairly loose in these sections -- it's a decent experience, but nothing compelling. Finally, Legend throws in some reaction-based gameplay in the form of interactive cut scenes.
Unfortunately, the game is over rather quickly, with experienced players needing no more than 10 hours to finish the main game. Once complete, players can choose to attack each stage in a time trial mode, or to replay each one looking for hidden secrets and rewards. But with most of the fun in Tomb Raider: Legend coming from initially figuring out the environmental puzzles, this may not hold much appeal for most.
Tomb Raider: Legend is a pretty game, with both the characters and environments looking polished and full of detail. You'll spend most of your time amidst jungles and ancient ruins, although there are the occasional modern-day locations that Lara will be taken to.
If you're a Tomb Raider fan, then Legend has everything you've always loved about the series -- exotic locales, clever puzzles and, of course, the gorgeous Lara. It also has none of the things you hated, such as clunky controls. It's the best in the series since the original, and is ideal for those who've never experienced a Tomb Raider game and are itching to know what the fuss is all about.
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