Lara Croft’s breasts have never really done it for me. Oh, like every other teenage boy in the mid ’90s, I spent my share of time backing Lara into a corner and fiddling with the game camera to find the optimal viewing angle. But Lara’s assets didn’t outweigh Tomb Raider’s liabilities: tepid gunplay, puzzles based entirely upon pushing around crates, and fickle play control. I wouldn’t have thought the buxom protagonist would merit even one sequel. Yet here we are, 10 years later, talking about Tomb Raider: Legend. Lara’s chest is now rendered with more polygons than appeared in all of the original game, but she still spends all her time hauling those damn boxes.
HOT TIP: Use the grapple to reel in otherwise unreachable rewards.
Tomb Raider: Legend realizes the promise of the series by finally delivering massive landscapes, claustrophobic tunnels, and grandiose architecture worthy of Indiana Jones. But the transition to the Xbox 360 isn’t perfect. The frame rate chokes in places, particularly in some of the wider outdoor vistas. For the sake of variety, the levels take you to the urban jungle of Tokyo, as well as some industrial settings, but those maps mostly make you share Lara’s yearning to keep raiding tombs.
The graphical upgrade is about the only thing that places Legend in the 21st century. It’s a throwback, and almost defiantly so. To navigate her environments, Lara must do all the usual leaping and swinging and climbing. But as with every Tomb Raider title since the original, the environments demand precision and the play control provides only approximation. Calibrating the directional stick to the camera angle of the moment is just difficult enough to ensure that you’ll leap into some abyss more times than you care to coun t. When Lara is near a steep drop or against a wall, the camera tends to show whatever direction she can’t go — it’s as if the last five years of game design never happened.
Pushing and pulling objects is still a trial, just a different kind. You can’t slide blocks sideways; instead you have to rotate them. As a result, they rarely end up pointing where you want them. The difficulty involved in placing a block where you want it leaves no question as to why all these ancient civilizations died out. It’s hard to make time for agriculture when you’re trying to depress three buttons simultaneously in order to open a pathway through a gigantic stone face.
That’s not all. Perhaps in a shout-out to every single 16-bit platformer ever made, Tomb Raider: Legend also includes a couple of poorly implemented vehicular missions. Sure, it’s cool that a chick can ride a motorcycle and shoot a pistol at the same time, but hastily grafted-on sidequests should impress nobody. Hearing your cohort whooping over the radio about your sweet moves only underlines how exciting it isn’t.The combat engine suffers from a similar half-assedness. Lara has several nifty maneuvers at her disposal, including a Scorpion-like grappling hook and a slow-motion aerial move. The problem is that you can’t chain them together in any meaningful way. Lara’s slide tackle launches enemies into the air, but while they’re up there, you can’t grapple them or attack them with anything but your pistol. There’s no reason to do anything but the aerial move over and over. What’s the point of including stuff like this if it’s not going to be done well? I’d rather be raiding tombs.
ABREAST OF THE REST? Lara’s chest has more polygons than ever, but it’s not enough.