Throwback Review – Tomb Raider: Legend – The Name is Croft, Lara Croft

The author of this throwback review had originally planned to review Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness before it broke on him about six hours in. The game was an unkempt mess, answering the question of what a platformer would feel like if it controlled like Resident Evil 2. It was also a Tomb Raider title in which a tomb does not appear for the first fair few hours, instead having players romp around with the homeless and the barflies in the city of Paris. The entire tone of the game rubbed the reviewer the wrong way as well, decked out in black eyeliner for the bulk of the title, Sephora Croft felt a long stride away from where the series started. This is not to address the stamina bar and dialogue tree features that were certainly a mark of ambition, but prove wholly ridiculous in execution.

The former often entailed opening doors to nowhere as a means to build up strength, just to turn around and pursue the actual objective. The latter mostly just got Lara shot. The game mostly serves as a heartbreaking example of ambition outpacing ability. It ultimately pinned Lara as an out of date property before two series’ of reboots successfully picked the franchise back up. The author is disappointed that his playthrough of the title had to end this way, but is relieved that he no longer has to use two buttons to jump. Maybe the interactive DVD version would prove more his speed.

He is considering looking into the numerous fan-made patches that retroactively fix the title, but for the sake of time and in celebration of the release of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, has moved on for the moment. With all this being said, he nonetheless thanks Angel of Darkness for the memories and will share his fun times clubbing with Lara below as tribute. With that being said, let’s get into Lara’s first comeback.

Lara in the club, that’s a scary sight. Courtesy of Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots

Lara needed course correction, and fast. The lumbering and partially unfinished Angel of Darkness was meant to signal the franchise’s future. Instead, it deemed the series a relic of the past, down to a control scheme that though not altogether dissimilar from prior titles, had never before seemed so unflattering. The urban location and stat system confounded, the stealth system underwhelmed, and the slow pace offered very little in return.

Even amongst the discouraging reception, however, this absence would not stand. One whole console generation later (or rather, the beginning of one), it was time for Lara to declare “New generation, new me!” Released on every console early 2006 could house, Tomb Raider: Legend arrived, kicking off a new trilogy of Tomb Raider titles and abandoning every aforementioned feature of AoD, with the exception of the presence of a single urban level (of eight levels total).

From the foundation up, Tomb Raider: Legend is a different title from any preceding game in the franchise. It’s quicker in every sense of the term; movement is no longer grid-based, instead opting for the fluid movement control characteristic of the Prince of Persia series. It’s open to playing its hand early, offering acrobatics up a cliffside, numerous shootouts in multiple countries, puzzle sequences with near instantaneous solutions, and a motorcycle chase all within the opening hour. It’s far more prone to deploying scripted setpieces as a means to show off the new technology on its side and to keep the pace as swift as possible. With the exception of its globetrotting narrative, it’s possibly even less of a “Tomb Raider” title than Angel of Darkness, and it also most likely saved the franchise.

Legend is hardly a slow burner. Courtesy of Tomb Raider Wiki

Tomb Raider: Legend is a flawed and to some degree shallow title, a relentless series of explosive setpieces to be explicitly triggered by Lara without much player control. And in spite of all of that (if not partially out of its aim for mass appeal), it is incredibly fun. Tomb Raider: Legend’s refusal to take a breather or even offer much of a challenge to players makes it an experience that is constantly propelling itself forward. Firefights generally use lock-on targeting prioritizing Lara’s mobility above anything else, much like the setup of the Prince of Persia titles just with a different arsenal. This is the case as well with the telegraphed platforming locations that seem to take a page from the same franchise, and mesh fairly well with a title that now prides itself on a full speed ahead approach, subtlety be damned. The setpieces Lara is expected to maneuver through manage to be just as ridiculous now as they were twelve years ago with the variety in location and gameplay enhancing it.

The transparent Bond pastiche that is the largely silhouetted opening credit sequence gives way to a story that is rooted in the folklore and mysticism characterizing past Tomb Raider titles, but is just as much an excuse to show off as many geographical locations and death-defying setpieces at once. Levels in Japan and Kazakhstan resemble an espionage title as much as a Tomb Raider one, albeit one with any and all stealth elements scrubbed away. It offers the same enjoyment to roughly the same degree as PS2 titles like 007: Everything or Nothing and From Russia With Love did, but it can often be hard to find where Lara fits into this.

Whereas the game obviously took influence from its contemporary entries in the Prince of Persia and James Bond franchises, I would be surprised if it didn’t go on to inspire the Dude Raider himself. In terms of gameplay, Tomb Raider: Legend seems more like a prequel to Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune than follow-up Tomb Raider entries. The tone is a 180 degree shift from AoD, dialogue is more bantery than ever before, dramatic situations being met with Lara addressing her colleagues stating, “Keep yourselves caffeinated, lads, we have some work ahead of us”. Said colleagues repeatedly inform Lara over PDA that they are scared for her life, only for Lara to slag this off with a one-liner. Legend’s action blockbuster video game equivalent aspirations mirror that of the Uncharted franchise’s, and though the series would grow to greatly expand on those mechanics, Legend does not lag far behind the gameplay and presentation of Drake’s Fortune.

Nate Drake could never. Courtesy of Tomb Raider Wiki

Outside of personal expectations of what a Tomb Raider entry should offer (though the general fan reception of Legend was largely positive and has only dipped slightly twelve years later), Legend is a continuously satisfying exercise in badassery that on modern PCs still looks pretty damn nice. It’s a bit technically shambolic (Lara constantly clips through ledges she grabs onto, though this doesn’t affect gameplay) but it is ceaselessly stylish throughout without betraying the presence of decent gameplay and a fittingly absurd story.

The crux of Lara travelling everywhere from Peru to England to Ghana is a quest for pieces of Excalibur and her own history alike. In a slightly disorienting but largely creative way, the game bounces between the current Lara’s treasure-hunting aspirations and reliving her own past to find the root of it. The site of an introductory plane crash traumatic to Lara and only more harmful to an additional family member returns as an entire level towards the end. The story isn’t quite a revelation even in the context of Lara’s own character development, but it’s nonetheless a rather ambitious framing device lending some sort of coherency to Lara’s excursions.

I, however, am not one to need narrative justification for forklift and coffin joyrides in one level and a literal boulder chase in another. Without spoiling too many of them, it’s the setpieces unfolding with shameless theatricality (without taking too much control from the player) that are far and away the lead attraction this title offers. This characteristic makes the game sit oddly as a member of a previously relatively subtle franchise, but also makes it especially receptive to binge-playing and a persistently enjoyable release regardless.

Lara doesn’t seem too bothered,

With the exception of a limited scope and the distinctly 00’s presence of occasional QTEs, the flaws in playability that can be gleaned from the title are an occasionally misleading jump distance (which frequent checkpoints render rather forgivable) and the lock-on targeting of Lara’s weapons allowing her to prevail a little too easily. Legend is a title that is actively greater than the sum of its parts. Gameplay elements that on their own are standard or marginally underdeveloped are sent through a revolving door allowing each to freshen up the experience just when the preceding piece starts to tire.

A less generous player (and/or a more stringent Tomb Raider disciple) can read Tomb Raider Legend as a title that panders, not necessarily to those alienated by Angel of Darkness, but to a sort of action player who treats challenge and entertainment as separate entities. Tomb Raider was never a power fantasy franchise, and even installments released afterwards never became one to quite the extent that Legend borders on being. Evaluated on those merits, Legend is a flying success, one that translates the multi-faceted Tomb Raider experience to as blissfully overblown an experience as you could play in 2006. This may have read as mortifying to some fans (though most were happy to not be playing Angel of Darkness), but as a one-off entry in the franchise and a spiritual predecessor to Uncharted, it has more than enough charm to spare.

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