One of the most recognized female stars in videogame history is set to go exploring again very shortly, and this time Lara Croft is taking her journey to the next-generation Xbox 360 console as well. Does this just mean Lara will have a prettier face or will there be exciting new gameplay mechanics as well?
Tomb Raider, for the past several iterations, has beenâ€¦wellâ€¦pretty bad. It takes the hardest of the hardcore Tomb Raider fan to stand up and say, “Hey, that last game was great! I love my Lara Croft!” Considering the fact that Lara herself controlled almost exactly like she did in her first outing (that archaic slow turn as if you were driving a bus around a hairpin corner), Tomb Raider: Legend has rewritten the gameplay while still staying true to the franchise.
Since this is a Tomb Raider adventure, of course Lara has to be the star, and it appears as if Lara has had some work done (for the better) cause she graphically looks better than ever. Given the iconic nature of Lara Croft, it could’ve been risky to change the woman’s appearance, but that is exactly what was done. If you recall Lara throughout her earlier adventures, the one area that you probably would have noticed were her breasts â€“ they were simply too big and disproportionate to the rest of her body. Sure, men ate it up, but it wasn’t exactly realistic. Though Lara is still quite ample in the chest region, she actually looks like a reasonable woman (her proportions are much better off in this installment). Also, her face has gone through the cosmetic car wash as well, and though the change isn’t as dramatic as the rest of her, her face is less rigid now while still keeping the “look” of the old Lara.
After the initial cutscene finishes, indicating that you’re about to go traversing through the jungle to recover a stone dais from some local ruins, you’ll notice that the biggest gripe fans have had with the series has been fixedâ€¦Lara moves like a real person! Yes, forget about having to gradually shift Lara so you can line her up perfectly for a jump, because now she moves in the direction you push her, so her movement is anything but clunky. While playing the demo, it was so easy to just run around, make a jump, and head to the next section without having to stop to shift her around so she is aligned with something.
Speaking of movement, Lara has quite the number of moves (familiar to fans of the series) at her disposal. Lara can run, jump, swim, climb ropes and vines, swing like Tarzan, hang onto cliffs, vault off poles, and several others. In a way, with the new fluid movements, Lara almost controls like the Prince of Persia (minus the wall runs and such) as it was always easy to make Lara quickly do what you wanted her to do. The only time Lara isn’t being an acrobat of the utmost grace is when she doesn’t get a good grip after a particularly daunting jump, where (based on an icon) you’ll have to press the Y-button to ensure that Lara hangs on for her dear life and doesn’t drop to her waiting death below. The Y-button is also used for several other movement based moves, as hitting the button in time with Lara on the screen shimming along an edge, will mean that Lara will move quicker, which can come in quite handy when you start running across traps.
Besides the adventuring and exploring parts of Tomb Raider, the game has also always been about the shooting, as not everything you run across through your journeys are the friendliest things around. In the demo, Lara runs across an assortment of bad guys wanting into the ruins, and so you’ll have to combat them with your pistols (never run out of ammo) or pickup one of their own weapons and use it against their friends. The lock-on ability is your friend when it comes to tackling these foes, because as you keep Lara trained on her target, you can continue to strafe around and do flips and jumps to avoid gunfire headed at you.
Though all this stuff is old hat for the series, Lara did learn some news moves from the transition from the last game to this one. For instance, Lara has some binoculars, which allows her to see great distances so she knows what is coming up for her. Not only that, but her binoculars have a secondary mode, that upon activation, will allow you to scan the environment so you can find the objects you need to interact with to complete the environmental puzzles. Besides the binoculars, Lara can also use the environment as a weapon, simply by pressing the Y-button when it appears on screen in coordination with an object you can interact with by shooting at it, such as shooting at a pile of logs to cause them to roll down a hill and crash into the enemies waiting below.
The crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me, however, is the grappling hook that Lara now has at her disposal. The grappling hook serves several purposes, with the two most important ones being a rope to swing on and to yank and pull objects. In some cases you’ll run across gaping pits you simply can’t jump across, which means that generally there will be an attachment point that will allow you to deploy your hook, latch on, and then swing safely across the chasm. You’ll also use the grappling hook to pull on objects, such as giant slabs of stone that might be impeding your progress. The hook is also used for combat as well, as you can attach it to an enemy to trip them up so they’ll quit firing just long enough for you to get a few shots in.
Based on the demo, the majority of the demo seemed to focus on the actual exploring and puzzle solving elements, which is a great thing to hear to this player, as it really makes you feel like you are actually “raiding tombs” instead of just shooting up random set pieces.
Perhaps it was the original Indiana Jones movie that started it all, but traps are a fascinating invention to me, and Tomb Raider has its fair share of them. Running up a waterfall and â€“ oops â€“ watch out! Here comes a boulder! Or how about, once you get inside those ruins, running when all of a sudden the ground gives way underneath you and you end up dangling over a pit of spikes. Part of the fun is learning how to protect yourself from these environmental hazards. For instance, a particular room features walls that constantly close and smash together, and you must learn how to get across this trap. Now, it is easy to get past one wall, but how do you get past the second one without becoming a pancake. Well, if you look around the room, you’ll find a cage that you’ll be able to grip onto and move around, which you can then drag with you through the collapsing walls, so they’ll only close the steel cage and not your pretty little self.
The game is full of these puzzles that you’ll have to figure out in order to precede. Another room features several pressure sensitive switches, but how do you get the boxes from the bottom level up to the second level? After you do enough analyzing (and I actually found this out by accident) you’ll find a teeter-totter of sorts; pull that cage out, place it on the end, climb to the ledge above, and then jump off to cause the cage to catapult up to the next level. Sure, it’s easy to do once you figure it out, but that “Ah ha!” moment is what makes it all worthwhile.
With so many improvements over the other games in the Tomb Raider series, I can’t wait to see the final build and spend a little more quality time with the iconic Lara Croft. I’ve got a hankering to do some more exploring, and Dora’s adventures aren’t going to cut it.