Lara Croft Tomb Raider

Format: PS2

5 021290 023819
Age Restrictions: 12+
07 April 2006

Lara Croft is back. In a race against time, Lara must travel across the globe to unearth history's greatest weapon - a legendary artefact of such immense power it could threaten humanity's very existence. Take Lara back to the tombs with totally new moves and hi-tech gadgetry in her most explosive adventure ever...

After the disappointment that was Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Lara is back with a vengeance. I was one of the countless individuals who pre-ordered Angel of Darkness and then instantly regretted it. I should have learnt my lesson, but when I heard that Legend was being released I pre-ordered it the moment that Amazon would let me. Yes, I know. Once bitten, twice shy, and all that... but there is something about the franchise that compels poor saps like me to part with their money before they've any idea what the game will be like. I suppose it's because, for a lot of us, the first Tomb Raider game was what what made us buy a Playstation - and resulted in many long nights as we were hooked on a game we'd never seen the likes of before.

I actually bought the Xbox version of Legend (just because more often than not Xbox versions of games seem to fair better in the graphics department, and the loading sequences are generally quicker). Then over a month later we were sent a review copy of the PS2 version.

To be honest, there is not that much difference between the PS2 and Xbox versions. Both look and play wonderfully. The whole franchise has been torn down and rebuilt, with the graphics being hugely improved. When swimming through water the graphics look amazing - even down to little details like Lara being wet when she makes it to dry land - with the water glistening on her face and neck. There are also plenty of breathtaking landscapes where you stand overlooking beautiful surroundings.

You start the game in Bolivia and must make your way to some hidden ruins. Once you've dispatched the mercenaries, who have been ordered to shoot you on sight, you enter the ruins and explore the stone corridors within. This level is used as a sort of training level, although it never really feels like that as you are thrown right into the main game. The rest of the game has you jetting across the world - to locations including Peru, Japan, Ghana, Russia, England and Nepal - in your quest to collect fragments of a mysterious artefact. But you are not the only one scouring the world for these hidden pieces.

Legend is almost a return to form for the franchise. Almost, but not quite. Overall I really enjoyed it, and certainly didn't feel cheated, but there were quite a few issues I had which, if rectified, could have made the game far more enjoyable.

Firstly, unlike the earlier games in the franchise, I never really felt as though I had free reign to explore my surroundings - with the exception of Kazakhstan, where you can roam around a very small area. For the most part you are confined to following a set path - which is a real shame. Part of the fun of the earlier games was exploring these big, beautiful levels where you had to roam for hours before you could complete each segment. With Legend it feels like the developer is holding your hand and guiding you to complete the levels. You'll very rarely have a dilemma over which way, or where to go. There's a path from A to B and that's it.

The puzzles are all either way too easy to figure out, or make no sense at all. In one level (England) I was stuck in a tomb with a large bell. When I figured out what to do it was more through messing around with the things in the environment than any real deductive reasoning. If you do get stuck, it's simply a case of examining all the objects in the room with the remote analysis device (RAD) setting on your binoculars. You can pretty much guarantee that if an object is flagged up as "useful" by your RAD binoculars you'll have to use it.

In fact, like an old episode of Scooby-Doo! (where you could tell which rock the monster was going to appear from behind, because it was a slightly different shade of grey than the other rocks) if an item in a room is slightly lighter and glowing gently than the surrounding objects you can bet your life that you'll need to use it. This dumbing down is a little disappointing. Thankfully they just stopped short of going the whole hog and inserting a large flashing arrow pointing at these objects with a klaxon sounding every time they were in view. This is also the case with items you can attach your grappling hook to - they flash to indicate that you need to use them. To be fair, I'm not totally sure whether these elements are still there on the "expert" game setting, or if they are only included on the "beginner" setting.

Another major problem is the camera. It has a tendency of placing itself in such a position that it is difficult to see your environment properly - this is particularly frustrating when attempting to gage where to jump to in perilous environments. You also can't look around fully, which can be disorienting, and more than once I managed to backtrack before I realised I was heading the wrong way.

I was also disappointed that more wasn't made of the combat mode - which has been greatly improved. It is now possible to perform sliding tackles, as well as run at your opponent, jump off them and then shoot them in slow motion. There are hardly any creatures in your environments to attack - just the odd wild cat and I think that's pretty much it.

I liked the idea of the interactive movie sequences, It was just a pity more wasn't made of them. Here, you are treated to beautiful CGI segments with Lara trying to escape danger. An action icon will flash up on screen (usually one of the button icons) and you have to quickly press that button. If you don't, Lara dies horribly. If you are quick enough you continue to the next part of the segment - where, again, you have to press the button that is flashed up on the screen. While this is really interesting I was disappointed that these segments were so short. The maximum number of buttons you'll have to press in any one segment is four (spaced out by 10 seconds or so) and it was a shame that when you replayed each segment, after getting killed, that the buttons you had to press didn't alter.

There is also a nice little side game where you must run around Croft Manor finding all your gadgets in order to explore more of your surroundings.

At the end of the day Tomb Raider Legend is a thoroughly entertaining addition to the franchise. Although, hardened gamers should easily finish it over a determined weekend.

Nick Smithson

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