Review By: Cameron Morris
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There is something to be said for the sheer tenacity of the Tomb Raider series as a franchise; for the past several games, Lara Croft’s adventures have been growing more and more stale, kept alive through the sheer power of the brand itself. Tomb Raider: Legend has been billed as the game to turn it all around, to breathe new life into the series and to bring it back to the top of legitimately good adventure games. So there are only two questions that need to be answered: is this outing Lara Croft’s best in years? Yes. But can it stand up to the likes of the Prince of Persia franchise when it comes to being a flat-out great experience?
The premise behind the Tomb Raider games is very simple: you play as Lara Croft, an intrepid explorer of tombs who collects ancient and valuable artifacts for various purposes. Deeper reasons exist for her doing this, though, and they are explored in the game’s opening minutes, setting up a background for the entire adventure. Not to spoil anything here, but man, I cannot see myself carrying on the family business of raiding tombs after the game’s first major flashback. Ms. Croft has some serious guts.
I’m not sure what the average gamer really expects out of Tomb Raider in terms of plot and characters, but in many ways the game’s story is easily the worst part of it. Never mind the fact that the entire thematic premise for the story is silly, a lot of it just feels oddly put together and out of place, a sort of mish-mash of different locales and moods and storytelling styles that don’t really make for a proper, cohesive whole. I've respected the work of Crystal Dynamics in the past, but in this case they seem to be a bit like a fish out of water.
Not to say that the narrative is all bad, of course. It just feels shallow, even when it comes to building the character of Lara herself, who certainly has a reason to do what she does, but the developers never go so far as to try to explore this reason more deeply. On the surface at least, Lara is written very well with dialogue that makes sense for the character and a certain wit that comes across as charming at its best moments. The other characters, though? They can only be split into two categories: annoying and weak. Lara’s sidekicks have their moments where their general goofiness is complimented by their employer’s acid wit, but in general they just either annoy you or give you really obvious advice. And the game’s main antagonist, who can be seen coming from a mile away, feels like the bad guy out of a “Girl Power” movie from the mid 90’s.
On to what’s been improved, and we’ll start with the graphics. All versions of the game look great, the 360 iteration in particular, with character design that blows previous entries in the franchise completely out of the water. Lara herself has never looked better, in part because Crystal Dynamics realized that previous versions of her looked like blow-up dolls, and other characters in the game have a pretty consistent level of quality in design. The environments aren’t quite as consistent, with one or two ugly spots in the game that weren’t intended to be, but on the whole the level design is very pleasing to the eye.
One thing that doesn’t look all that great, though, is the character animation – I don’t mean during gameplay, oddly enough. When you’re actually playing everything looks and feels relatively fluid and natural. It’s the cutscenes, which should be the best-looking part of the game, which fail to convey a sense of realistic speed or movement in the human characters. I don’t know if I’m the first person to mention this in a review, but how slowly Lara runs and animates is a bit off-putting for me. That’s not a huge gripe, but it is still there.
Outside of the voice acting, which ranges from good to annoying and cheesy, the sound of the game is almost nondescript. Music is fitting in some places while seeming out-of-place in others, and the sound effects are not unique or memorable. Gun blasts, explosions, creature sounds, and everything else might as well have come out of a stock sound CD somewhere.
Posted: 2006-08-12 11:10:09 PST