Not So Legendary After All

Tomb Raider: Legend doesn't quite live up to my fond memories of it

I've long been a Tomb Raider fan. It's a love affair that I've reiterated many times over the years, so I'll keep this version of events fairly brief. I was introduced to the series by my parents all the way back in 1998, when they bought a PlayStation along with copies of the first two games in the series. Since then I've been smitten with the franchise, sticking by it through the highs and the lows. There's just something about the way these games structure their adventures, the elegant blend of exploration, puzzle-solving and light combat, that scratches some indefinable itch within my gaming mind. Whenever somebody even mentions a Tomb Raider game, I suddenly find myself wanting to play one - a fact that has directly led to this blog being written. When fellow Giant Bomber Sparky_Buzzsaw picked up Tomb Raider: Legend and blogged about it last week, it wasn't long before the bug had gripped me and I was blowing the dust off my own copy of the game.

It's been a long time since I last played Tomb Raider: Legend. I'm pretty sure that I played the game for the first time during the summer of 2006, and came away from it feeling mighty satisfied - at least, that's the impression given by the review I wrote at the time. But as I was soon to discover, in the five-and-a-half intervening years, my memories of Legend had become faded with age, and buried under the opinions of more recent titles in the series (most notably Anniversary, which I'll touch on later). Re-playing the game on my trusty PS2 over the last few days, with more experienced hands and through more scrutinous eyes, has revealed this Legend to be not so legendary after all.

Legend still looks nice, but not as nice as I remember

The first problem that caught my attention were noticeable drops in frame-rate during many of the game's most hectic action sequences. I don't remember encountering these at all in 2006, but it must have been there, because nothing about the game has changed in the interim. Then again, I was a much less critical gamer back in those days, so I can kind of understand why it might not have stuck in my mind. At the time, I was doing all of my PS2 gaming on a compact 8-inch LCD screen - visual fidelity wasn't exactly my highest priority. I remember Legend as being a damned gorgeous game, and in a lot of ways it still is (especially with regards to its character models and environments). It's just a shame that this noticeable issue has soured that memory somewhat.

Admittedly, it never gets quite this bad... but still...

One thing I remembered Legend fondly for was its apparent refusal to treat its heroine as a sex object, something for the stereotypical male gamer to ogle at in cut-scenes. In my mind's eye, Legend had addressed this by making Lara Croft more realistically proportioned, and by covering her up somewhat - a huge leap forward from the titillation that was associated with Lara's character back in the PS1 days. Returning to it now has completely shattered that perception, though. Sure, Lara isn't quite as well-endowed in Legend, but the game still seeks to flaunt her curves at every opportunity. The neckline of her default tomb-raiding outfit plunges much lower than you'd expect it to, the dress that features in the game's Tokyo level seems to be defying every basic law of physics in actually staying on her body, and one of the most demanding unlocks is a bikini outfit. I repeat - one of the game's highest rewards is getting to see this. How, as a sixteen-year-old lad, I didn't notice any of this is mind-boggling, and it completely debunks my memories of Legend as being a genuine attempt to take Lara's character more seriously.

Ignoring my complaints about the game's aesthetics and the clear sexualisation of Lara, there are a wealth of other minor niggles that have conspired to sully my original memories of the game - some erratic checkpointing, camera control issues, a middling story that's told with about as much indifference as it deserves, a surprising dearth of proper puzzles... None of these things amounts to much individually, but when collected together, they really start to impact the overall package, and consequently tarnish my idealised memories of first playing Legend. Add them to the main problem I had with Legend even when first playing it (an incredibly short campaign), and at times I'm almost left wondering if the game has any redeeming features.

Presenting the voice behind my favourite Lara

I don't want to give the impression that Legend is a bad game, because it really isn't, and of course it has plenty of redeeming features. In spite of the complaints I've levelled at it above, it's still a solid action-adventure game and, in the context of its original release, a huge leap forward for the franchise in terms of its gameplay mechanics and presentation. I really like the environment traversal, which for the first time in the series' ten-year history finally nailed the feel of Lara's athleticism and felt challenging without ever being too unforgiving. A lot of people give the game stick for its combat, which relies heavily on lock-on targeting and lacks any real depth, but it really doesn't bother me. I've always held the belief that combat is auxiliary to the tomb-raiding experience, and I think the simplistic nature of the gunplay in Legend reflects that perfectly. Also worth mentioning is the game's voice-work, especially Keeley Hawes' performance as Lara. The previous actress responsible for Lara's voice (Jonell Elliott) really didn't sit well with me, stripping her of her quintessential British-ness and replacing it with something generic and sultry. Hawes recaptures that achetypal British vibe of Lara's earliest outings, which is consistently great to hear. It may not be as great as I thought it was, but it's still a good game - maybe not worthy of the four stars I bestowed on it all those years ago, but definitely a solid three-star adventure.

I recognise that the Tomb Raider franchise is far from critically acclaimed, and as a result a lot of my fondest memories are probably tied to my love of the series than any excellence inherent in the games themselves. Towards the end of last year I re-visited another another Tomb Raider title I had fond memories of - The Last Revelation on the original PlayStation. Much like Legend, I found that my faded memories of the game didn't quite match up with the imperfect reality of what I was playing. At this point, part of me wants to return to Anniversary and continue my path through the Crystal Dynamics trilogy, but another part of me is reluctant to do so for fear of the same thing happening with what is undoubtedly my favourite game in the franchise to date. I'm quietly confident it will live up to my expectations, as a lot of the things I remember about that game are things which remedy the complaints I've made about Legend above - a longer campaign, better-structured puzzles, no frame-rate issues (as far as I can remember), and a default outfit for Lara that doesn't show any cleavage at all.

As I said above, I don't want to give the impression I didn't enjoy Tomb Raider: Legend. I've had a lot of fun with it over the last four days. It's just unfortunate that it didn't quite meet the standards my nostalgic mind put in place for it. In any case, returning to the series has got me interested to see what Crystal Dynamics do with the upcoming series reboot. Not necessarily in a way that could be described as either positive or negative - as much as I see potential for the game to take the series in brave, meaningful new directions, I see just as much potential for the shift in focus to rob the series of what makes it unique and special. Re-visiting Legend has provided me with a great refresher of what I love most about Tomb Raider, and I'll be following the upcoming game's progression over the coming months with cautious optimism. Thanks very much for reading guys, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend (PS2)

9 Comments
10 Comments
Posted by dankempster
Tomb Raider: Legend doesn't quite live up to my fond memories of it

I've long been a Tomb Raider fan. It's a love affair that I've reiterated many times over the years, so I'll keep this version of events fairly brief. I was introduced to the series by my parents all the way back in 1998, when they bought a PlayStation along with copies of the first two games in the series. Since then I've been smitten with the franchise, sticking by it through the highs and the lows. There's just something about the way these games structure their adventures, the elegant blend of exploration, puzzle-solving and light combat, that scratches some indefinable itch within my gaming mind. Whenever somebody even mentions a Tomb Raider game, I suddenly find myself wanting to play one - a fact that has directly led to this blog being written. When fellow Giant Bomber Sparky_Buzzsaw picked up Tomb Raider: Legend and blogged about it last week, it wasn't long before the bug had gripped me and I was blowing the dust off my own copy of the game.

It's been a long time since I last played Tomb Raider: Legend. I'm pretty sure that I played the game for the first time during the summer of 2006, and came away from it feeling mighty satisfied - at least, that's the impression given by the review I wrote at the time. But as I was soon to discover, in the five-and-a-half intervening years, my memories of Legend had become faded with age, and buried under the opinions of more recent titles in the series (most notably Anniversary, which I'll touch on later). Re-playing the game on my trusty PS2 over the last few days, with more experienced hands and through more scrutinous eyes, has revealed this Legend to be not so legendary after all.

Legend still looks nice, but not as nice as I remember

The first problem that caught my attention were noticeable drops in frame-rate during many of the game's most hectic action sequences. I don't remember encountering these at all in 2006, but it must have been there, because nothing about the game has changed in the interim. Then again, I was a much less critical gamer back in those days, so I can kind of understand why it might not have stuck in my mind. At the time, I was doing all of my PS2 gaming on a compact 8-inch LCD screen - visual fidelity wasn't exactly my highest priority. I remember Legend as being a damned gorgeous game, and in a lot of ways it still is (especially with regards to its character models and environments). It's just a shame that this noticeable issue has soured that memory somewhat.

Admittedly, it never gets quite this bad... but still...

One thing I remembered Legend fondly for was its apparent refusal to treat its heroine as a sex object, something for the stereotypical male gamer to ogle at in cut-scenes. In my mind's eye, Legend had addressed this by making Lara Croft more realistically proportioned, and by covering her up somewhat - a huge leap forward from the titillation that was associated with Lara's character back in the PS1 days. Returning to it now has completely shattered that perception, though. Sure, Lara isn't quite as well-endowed in Legend, but the game still seeks to flaunt her curves at every opportunity. The neckline of her default tomb-raiding outfit plunges much lower than you'd expect it to, the dress that features in the game's Tokyo level seems to be defying every basic law of physics in actually staying on her body, and one of the most demanding unlocks is a bikini outfit. I repeat - one of the game's highest rewards is getting to see this. How, as a sixteen-year-old lad, I didn't notice any of this is mind-boggling, and it completely debunks my memories of Legend as being a genuine attempt to take Lara's character more seriously.

Ignoring my complaints about the game's aesthetics and the clear sexualisation of Lara, there are a wealth of other minor niggles that have conspired to sully my original memories of the game - some erratic checkpointing, camera control issues, a middling story that's told with about as much indifference as it deserves, a surprising dearth of proper puzzles... None of these things amounts to much individually, but when collected together, they really start to impact the overall package, and consequently tarnish my idealised memories of first playing Legend. Add them to the main problem I had with Legend even when first playing it (an incredibly short campaign), and at times I'm almost left wondering if the game has any redeeming features.

Presenting the voice behind my favourite Lara

I don't want to give the impression that Legend is a bad game, because it really isn't, and of course it has plenty of redeeming features. In spite of the complaints I've levelled at it above, it's still a solid action-adventure game and, in the context of its original release, a huge leap forward for the franchise in terms of its gameplay mechanics and presentation. I really like the environment traversal, which for the first time in the series' ten-year history finally nailed the feel of Lara's athleticism and felt challenging without ever being too unforgiving. A lot of people give the game stick for its combat, which relies heavily on lock-on targeting and lacks any real depth, but it really doesn't bother me. I've always held the belief that combat is auxiliary to the tomb-raiding experience, and I think the simplistic nature of the gunplay in Legend reflects that perfectly. Also worth mentioning is the game's voice-work, especially Keeley Hawes' performance as Lara. The previous actress responsible for Lara's voice (Jonell Elliott) really didn't sit well with me, stripping her of her quintessential British-ness and replacing it with something generic and sultry. Hawes recaptures that achetypal British vibe of Lara's earliest outings, which is consistently great to hear. It may not be as great as I thought it was, but it's still a good game - maybe not worthy of the four stars I bestowed on it all those years ago, but definitely a solid three-star adventure.

I recognise that the Tomb Raider franchise is far from critically acclaimed, and as a result a lot of my fondest memories are probably tied to my love of the series than any excellence inherent in the games themselves. Towards the end of last year I re-visited another another Tomb Raider title I had fond memories of - The Last Revelation on the original PlayStation. Much like Legend, I found that my faded memories of the game didn't quite match up with the imperfect reality of what I was playing. At this point, part of me wants to return to Anniversary and continue my path through the Crystal Dynamics trilogy, but another part of me is reluctant to do so for fear of the same thing happening with what is undoubtedly my favourite game in the franchise to date. I'm quietly confident it will live up to my expectations, as a lot of the things I remember about that game are things which remedy the complaints I've made about Legend above - a longer campaign, better-structured puzzles, no frame-rate issues (as far as I can remember), and a default outfit for Lara that doesn't show any cleavage at all.

As I said above, I don't want to give the impression I didn't enjoy Tomb Raider: Legend. I've had a lot of fun with it over the last four days. It's just unfortunate that it didn't quite meet the standards my nostalgic mind put in place for it. In any case, returning to the series has got me interested to see what Crystal Dynamics do with the upcoming series reboot. Not necessarily in a way that could be described as either positive or negative - as much as I see potential for the game to take the series in brave, meaningful new directions, I see just as much potential for the shift in focus to rob the series of what makes it unique and special. Re-visiting Legend has provided me with a great refresher of what I love most about Tomb Raider, and I'll be following the upcoming game's progression over the coming months with cautious optimism. Thanks very much for reading guys, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend (PS2)

Posted by habster3

Now that you've brought it up, I really need to get back to Anniversary; over three years has just been too long!

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

I'm not seeing a ton of slowdown in the PS3 version. Some of the loading screens take an absurdly long time, and there was one battle within...hmmm... the water tomb (Africa?) that did slow down, but to be honest, given the game's age and the amount of explosions, water effects, and gunfire, I'm kind of shocked it didn't have more slowdown than what it did.

And after having played Yakuza 4 and Record of Agarest War last year, I might be officially desensitized to the sexuality of video game women. I certainly think the script does okay with Lara herself (I do actually like her personality in this game - it's a nice mix of femininity and tomboyish enthusiasm), but like you, I think the revealing outfits are a little ridiculous.

In any case, great write-up. I'm sorry to have been inadvertently responsible for the souring of one of your teenage favorites!

Moderator
Posted by dankempster

@habster3: Even though my rose-tinted nostalgia-vision might be clouding my judgement, I whole-heartedly recommend you give Anniversary another go. The Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider games definitely lack the calibre of the puzzles in the first four Core-developed titles, and Anniversary remedies that by lifting the excellent puzzles out of the first game and modernising them. It's definitely my favourite out of the three games in that trilogy, and well worth anyone's time.

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Thanks Sparky. I agree that there are definitely worse cases of overt misogyny in gaming, and that Legend is a huge step forward from the PS1 era (that image of Lara cuddling a pillow? A genuine promotional image for Tomb Raider III). I guess it just bothers me more because they appear to go to great lengths to shed that old skin - the new characterisation of Lara, the changes to her physical appearance, the removal of the sultrier voice in favour of Keeley Hawes excellent voice-work (I really can't stress that enough, can I?). Then they go and undo it all by forcing people to strive to unlock the ability to play Croft Manor with Lara in her unmentionables. And don't worry about getting me to take off the rose-tinted glasses. After my experience with The Last Revelation back in October of last year, I was kind of expecting this to happen, in a way.

Posted by Mento

You going to move onto TR:Underworld after this, then? It's a bit of a mixed bag, going with the larger free-form levels with multiple puzzle objects to find that made earlier games so distinctive. The plot's considerably dumber though.

Moderator
Posted by GunstarRed

I always liked Legend a lot, I bought it for both the PS2 and the 360. It's been a while, but I remember there being some great moments like finding the knights caves/dragon underneath a cheap museum in Cornwall (possibly?)and the bit where lara gets all emotionally angry in the final cutscene. Man, Laras voice in those last three games is great, is legend the one with the plane crash in the himalayas? that was cool I think.

Posted by habster3

@dankempster: Yeah, I know. It's just... I've fallen so far behind on games now that other aspects of my life serve as bigger priorities. I mean, I need to catch up on MGS4, Arkham City, Skyrim (stopped playing it once I found out about the lag; want to return to it, though), SC: Chaos Theory, etc.

Edited by dankempster

@Mento: I think I'm going to play the trilogy through, so yeah, Anniversary and then Underworld after that. Funnily enough, Underworld is the game in the trilogy that I remember the least about, so it will be interesting for me to return to. Your assessment sounds about right, though.

@GunstarRed: You're right on both counts - Legend is the one with the 'Arthur under Cornwall' stuff and the plane crash in the Himalayas. I do like the mythos running through Legend's story, and I guess the trilogy as a whole. I just find myself wishing it was woven into a more interesting narrative. Lara's voice acting and personality are great throughout the game, but I didn't really find myself caring about her plight at any point in the course of Legend, save for maybe right at the end, at the point you mentioned with the incredibly angry outburst. I'm finding it hard to articulate how I feel without sounding contradictory at this point, so I'll just close by saying I liked the themes, but wish the writers had done more to make me care about them. Legend also definitely has a stronger story than Underworld, which doesn't so much jump the shark as it does leap over a giant Nordic serpent monster on a motorcycle.

Posted by JJWeatherman

It's funny how perceptions can change so drastically over time. This is why it's my goal to leave as much as I can to my nostalgic memory! I don't want to realize that the framerate actually was awful in my favorite older games.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is the exception. I can't not play that game from time to time; I like it too much.

But back to Tomb Raider, I actually bought a Tomb Raider game on Steam a little while back and haven't played nearly as much of it as I'd have liked to. Unfortunately I don't have a machine to play it on at the moment, but this blog has gotten me excited to start that up again--hopefully soon! I've always been a Tomb Raider fan and I'm real excited about the reboot's potential.

Posted by Bruce

I used to play the second one on PC. I never had any idea what the hell I was doing. I don't think I ever made it out of the mansion.