Tomb Raider: Legend is the second of two games I bought last year in order to play through this seminal franchise of 90's era gaming before the 2013 "reboot" came along and destroyed the franchise forever. The first game - TR: Anniversary - was quite fun and enjoyable. TR:L however, was one of those experiences where I was fighting to stick around long enough to finish the game.
What TR:L does right is capture the essence of Lara Croft as a character and the platforming Tomb Raider does best. Lara in this game is perfectly portrayed as the confident and over-sexed adventurer we all know her as. Additionally, by this game's 2006 release, they had expanded the game locales from the eponymous tombs to skyscapers and military bases, to name two. Inserting Lara into these locales worked well, without too much juxtaposition of having an archaeologist run around modern sites.
The gameplay - particularly the platforming - is spot-on. It's a simple yet effective set of moves for Lara, you rarely feel that the controls are at fault when things turn to tears. This game is the classic example of sticking with what works, even in the face of more complex and more advanced modern gameplay. You grab stuff, you swing from things, and you jump around. Simple. It works.
But the problems with this game lie deep. Principally, I began to speculate as I got further into this game that it was developed independently by two different development teams: a platforming team and a combat team. The so-called platforming team did this game justice, as previously mentioned. This combat team however, is where things fall apart. Combat in Tomb Raider has never been my favorite thing. I still think that a pure platforming and environmental puzzle version of Tomb Raider would be the best game in the franchise. The combat really shows its inadequacies in the boss encounters. Just like in Anniversary, they are disjointed from the rest of the game. You will spend lots of time alone navigating a puzzle or whatever at your own pace, then all of a sudden a boss appears and the game throws arbitrary time constraints at you and asks the player to control Lara in ways that are not at all consistent or even to be used again within the rest of the game. In fact, the last boss was so infuriating I didn't even bother to try to beat it again after I was thoroughly trounced by it. By that point after almost 2 full games of this I had had enough. This disjointed back and forth between platforming and combat is in my opinion what makes these Tomb Raider games only good games and not great.
Secondly, the in-game radio between Lara and her intel people got completely out of hand. Lara would get frequent mission updates and story narrative from this two-way radio communication. I get that using that game mechanic is a great way produce a narrative in the game without having it be forced in through cut-scenes or whatever. Some games have even mastered it, think Cortana in Halo: Combat Evolved. But here in TR:L it was just too much, too frequently and in my opinion not all that important to the story. That sense of isolation in these expansive tombs is what was sorely missing in this title. Being able to solve a puzzle at your own pace with only your thoughts to guide you is the essence of good single-player puzzle platforming in my opinion.
So my two game Tomb Raider project ends here. TR:L wasn't horrible, but I would've been mad as hell if I paid fifty bucks for it on release in 2006. If you put a gun to my head and said I could only ever play one of these two titles - Anniversary or Legend - I would immediately say Anniversary is the way to go. Legend just has too many flaws to make the run through it worthwhile.
Posted: September 10th, 2013