marino's Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend (Xbox 360) review

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A Lesson in How to Successfully Revamp a Franchise

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Over the last decade, Lara Croft has become the most successful video game heroine in history.  But at the same time, Tomb Raider has become a huge joke in the industry.  The first two installments of Tomb Raider (1996-1997) were great games, but starting with the Tomb Raider III, the series got progressively worse through Last Revelation, Chronicles, and eventually the disgustingly horrid Angel of Darkness.  The main problem was that Tomb Raider's developer, Core Design, never evolved the game's architecture.  They were still using an archaic grid system on PS2.  Timing your jumps for three steps was acceptable 10 years ago, but by 2003 people had had enough.  The controls were so clunky the game almost became unplayable.  So in steps Eidos, the game's publisher since the beginning.  Eidos took the development rights away from Core (the series' creators) and gave it to another of its studios, Crystal Dynamics
Crystal Dynamics, best known for the Legacy of Kain franchise, has done an amazing job.  Tomb Raider is officially back!  They have masterfully revamped the game while simultaneously letting it still feel like Tomb Raider.  If you played the original game a decade ago, you will highly enjoy this one.  The focus is back on raiding tombs...what a concept!  Yes, there are a few areas where you will step out of the ruins and into a city, but they are rare.  If you've been looking for an adventure game, look no further than Tomb Raider: Legend.     
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Crystal Dynamics went with somewhat anime-inspired character models similar to those in Perfect Dark Zero, but it works well here.  And Lara doesn't have ginormous man hands like the last game!  Indeed, Lara has never looked better, and you'll collecting a ton of outfits for her to wear throughout the journey, but the real star of the game's graphics are the locales you travel to.  Your adventure will take you from pre-Incan ruins of Bolivia to the deserts of Peru, from Japanese skyscrapers to the gorgeous waterfalls of Ghana, from the icy clutches of the Kazakhstan mountains to 10th Century tombs beneath lovely England, and from the birthplace of Buddha in Nepal to Bolivia again.  Every location is beautiful at every turn as you would expect raiding ancient tombs would be.  The special effects are nice as well and the cutscenes are well done and entertaining.  You won't want to skip through them.     
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The absolute biggest improvement Crystal Dynamics has to offer the series.  Not only is the game easy to play, it's fun in a Prince of Persia kind of way.  Lara still has some of her classic moves such as swan dives and the pull-up into a handstand.  The invisible grids are gone and Lara is free to roam and leap where ever she pleases.  As you would expect, you'll be doing a lot of shimmying, vaulting, and swinging on ropes and poles.  All of this is done particularly well, especially with the addition of speeding up your movement by rhythmically pressing the action button.  This allows you shimmy faster or swing across a horizontal rope like monkey bars instead of hand-over-hand. 
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Guns also play a role of course, but combat is definitely not a big part of the game.  All guns make use of an auto-targetting system, but you can go into a stationary over-the-shoulder view if you want.  Lara carries her dual pistols at all times, which never run out of ammo (but still have limitations on the amount of bullets in each clip), but she can also carry grenades and one extra gun on her back.  You will find these extra guns from fallen enemies and they include the basic machine gun, sniper rifle, and grenade launcher type guns.  Lara has some handy new moves in combat that allow you to take out your foes in style.  Of course she can flip and roll in any direction, but she also has a new sliding soccer-style tackle that flips an enemy into the air for a moment allowing you to shoot him as you slide below.  You can also run up on an enemy and vault off there shoulders triggering a Max Payne style slow-down where your aim is more focused.  On occasion, you can shoot the environment to harm your enemies, and you do this by simply tapping the action button.  No need to stop and aim.  Overall, the gun aspects of the game are a bit weak compared to a FPS or third-person action shooters, but they're still fun thanks to simple controls and acrobatic moves by a nimble Lara Croft. 
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The game also makes use of QTE's on occasion, much like Resident Evil 4.  Certain cut scenes will call for you to quickly press certain button to safely remove Lara from a dire situation.  Overall, the gameplay is wonderfully balanced and easy to play, which is great for an action-adventure such as this.  It's a game that encourages you to explore, and in the past they didn't really allow you to experiment and do things your way, but you can in this installment. 
Lara also has a collection of gadgets at her dispense, all of which you can equip with a touch of the D-pad.  Her PLS (personal light source) is attached to her shoulder and is perfect for dark caverns.  She has binoculars with a special scanning function much like Metroid that allows you to locate movable objects in a tough puzzle.  And most importantly is her magnetic grappling hook, which works alot like Indiana Jones' whip as it allows you to swing across pits as well as pull things towards you (including enemies).     
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As soon as you hear the main menu, you know you're in for a grand adventure.  The music throughout the game is dynamic to your situation, which is a nice touch.  The voice-over work is hit or miss, usually on the hit side, but of coursre the one-liners are a bit cheesy.  The story is told well in the cut-scenes though.     
Replay Value 
Well, you can probably run through the game in 8-10 hours if you just haul ass the whole time.  But if you actual explore the game as an adventurer would, and find all the hidden trinkets, the game becomes significantly longer.  Within in locale, you will find a number of bronze, silver, and gold items which lead to unlocking more of the game's secrets.  Each level also offers a time trial mode to see if you can beat the clock.  Once you've beaten the game and the time trials though, there's not much reason to go back to the game.     
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It's awesome to see Tomb Raider finally back to the way we remember it.  Above all, the game is just fun to play.  They successfully revamped the entire franchise and still left enough classic stuff to make older Tomb Raider fans happy.  Remember the Croft Manor training grounds in the past games?  Well, Croft Manor is back but this time it's like a level unto itself.  Bronze, silver, and gold trinkets are hidden throughout the mansion much like a regular level, but of course there are no enemies.  Scattered through the computer lab, living room, hallways, gym, pool, library, and bedroom are an array of secrets and fun.  If you're a Tomb Raider fan from the past, I suggest picking this one up.  If you have a 360, go with that.  If not, get it on PC.  If you've never really played Tomb Raider, I'd say rent it for sure.  And lastly...thank you Crystal Dynamics!     
*** This is review was written for shortly after the release of the game. ***

Other reviews for Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend (Xbox 360)

    Less guns. More Puzzles. A nice 2nd chance! 0

    Ahh Lara back again I see.  I used to dread the release of another new Tomb Raider.  I knew how it would go, the game would be thrown together in a month or two the graphics would be chunky and pixely and Lara’s boobs would be HUGE.  And that was the extent of the game.  The guns started to play too big of a role and the puzzles were more of an inconvenience and a hindrance to the game play.  Soon it was like watching Breaking Bonaduce.  Danny Bonaduce, such a HUGE kid star who had it all in th...

    1 out of 2 found this review helpful.

    A refreshing suprise. 0

    When Tomb Raider was originally a big hit in the late nineties I was never a huge fan, although I was aware of its existence. My first contact with Tomb Raider was the version that came shipped with my very first PC, and as a mainly console gamer I’d have to admit to writing it off pretty quickly due to awkward controls and just generally spending more time playing Final Fantasy VII and Crash Bandicoot on my Playstation 1. Through the years my contact with Tomb raider was pretty sparse, I play...

    1 out of 2 found this review helpful.

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