Tomb Raider: Legend HD Review

tomb raider

Platform: PS3 (as part of the Tomb Raider Trilogy)
Release Date: March 22, 2011

Life isn’t as easy for a tomb raider these days. The old days of running uncontested in the action-adventure-platforming genre are seeing their end because of the stellar competition that has been released in past few years. But this specific title, Tomb Raider: Legend, is before all of that. So now, after the ante has been considerably upped, how does Lara hold up after a few years? Not bad, but sometimes it is hard looking back.

Nowadays, we have certain expectations for plot and characters. Seeing how it came out back in 2006, it is a stiff reminder of how far we have come, narratively speaking. Lara has some sort of sword she has to find for some reason because if this weapon falls in the wrong hands… you know the rest. It’s that cliché and all the plot twists are strikingly obvious to the point where I wasn’t really engaged. Lara aside, every other character is horrendous. If you can get past their huge bug-like eyeballs (I couldn’t), you’ll hear them speak with poor “funny” dialogue with bad one liners spewing out at almost every possible opportunity. Villains are lame, supporting characters are grating, so Lara Croft is the only person that is likeable. This weak plot was just a good excuse to go mess up some ancient ruins and solve some puzzles.

She’s called the Tomb Raider for all the right reasons, because that’s best thing she can do. Whatever convoluted reason they throw at you to explore a specific area, it’s usually pretty good. Climbing feels mostly solid, with good level design to always have it be mostly easy to know where to go without being beaten over the head with it. A much-appreciated but small feature is the ability to tap the triangle button to move fast while climbing. This sounds insignificant, but it aids in keeping the climbing from becoming stale. A certain positive feedback loop of flipping around ancient ruins and activating (somehow functional) equipment is a a gaming pleasure and it done well enough here.

Platforming is not all positives though as control issues can hamper movement. Lara’s jump in particular is frustrating because all too often you must be on the exact edge for the jump to register. This gets frustrating in normal, non-pressured climbing but twice as troublesome when you must perform these tasks under the stress of instant death of falling or something else fatal. Another problem with getting around is seeing what is interactive. I did say in the last paragraph that it is “mostly” easy to navigate but it is just that: mostly easy. Sometimes a path that looks presentable as the right area to jump to isn’t and without much of a reason besides that that specific path “isn’t right.” That light pole may look like the light pole you are on now, but you can’t grab that one for some reason.

Ms. Croft is always show with her signature dual pistols but it’s a shame they aren’t much fun to fire. Predating games like Gears of War, the lock-on shooting feels archaic and just plain boring at times. Pressing L1 and holding R1 until it is dead while jumping around the battlefield just doesn’t take much skill. I didn’t die more than five times in gun fights and I was playing on hard. The optimistic takeaway is if the shooting was difficult, it would ruin the game because the shooting and movement controls aren’t accurate enough.

Bland gunplay extends to the atrocious boss fights. I can’t figure out why this game needs traditional boss encounters like the ones present here. These confrontations aren’t spectacular in scale or anything like that, but they are regular guys with a special boring power that chase you around the arena repeating the same one liners. The simple attacks can be avoided by just mere walking around and there’s even a trophy for doing it for five minutes! Those fights aren’t fun, but they aren’t hard either… until the final boss. Taking me about a half hour of shouting and dying, the final confrontation is ridiculous. You are given a slow firing weapon, which seems to never hit, and the boss can kill you in a few, poorly communicated “rockets.” Avoiding his attacks rely too heavily on precise controls the game doesn’t give you. It’s shame the game had to end on such a sour note. Chases (and those are here too) and other similar action-heavy moments could pose as “boss fights,” so I’m puzzled of why they went for something that doesn’t fit the genre.

Puzzles are the final pillar of gameplay and it shines as the strongest of the three. Almost all of the puzzles are physics-heavy, which is pretty impressive even in this day and age. Good puzzle design is when the player walks into the room and knows what to do, but discovering the solution takes bit of work and that is exactly what Legend nails. I respected how I couldn’t look up an in-game hint system to find out what I had to do next, but instead being forced to discover myself what needed to be done. I enjoy that sense of accomplishment, even though most puzzles aren’t really difficult with only one being obtuse in its solution. My only quandary with the puzzles are the controls for pushing and pulling objects. Boulders and boxes must frequently be moved to hit switches and these controls are a pain in the ass, especially when you must move a shield to protect from instant-death turret fire. She moves and rotates in all the wrong ways almost to intentionally mess you up.

Even for an old game, I felt this game looked pretty sharp. Obviously, it can’t stand up to the giants of today, but, aside from character models, most environments looked solid. Urban places don’t look nearly as interesting, but the real focus is the jungle and tombs as each looked lush and appropriately old.

It is hard to not draw comparisons to Uncharted in Tomb Raider: Legend. Both titles are gunning for the same crown and, after playing and loving the Uncharted series, Tomb Raider: Legend just can’t match the absurd amounts of polish to every asset that Uncharted has and how that franchise has raised the bar for all games. This doesn’t make Tomb Raider: Legend a bad game, it just makes it seem “less good.” But second place isn’t bad, right?

+Platforming is mostly good
+Puzzles are solid and break up gameplay
+Graphics hold up well
-Awful boss fights
-Bad story
-Gunplay is weak and boring
-Some odd control issues when platforming

Final Score: 8/10

Note: Unlike my Sly Collection review, I will be reviewing these games as individuals from the Tomb Raider Trilogy. I chose to do this because I haven’t played these games before so I will not have the nostalgia of revisiting an old game (for reference, I beat all of the Sly Cooper games a bunch of times back in the day). Also, the Tomb Raider: Legend is on just about every platform known to man, but since I only had the PS3 version and since it was released so far behind the others, I only felt comfortable reviewing the PS3 SKU.

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