Tomb Raider: Legend (Last updated 25 November 2006)
Lara's back! Yes, our favourite 'chick-with-attitude' is back kicking butt in Legend, and I for one am very happy! (Unfortunately there is still no news on a Mac version...) On 2 April I managed to get my grubby mitts on a freebie PS2 demo of TR Legend (well, free when I pre-ordered the game but I was buying it anyway ;) and found it different, but very impressive. I bought the PS2 Legend on its release day in Australia, 13 April 2006, and immediately started writing a walkthrough. The PS2 Legend looks great, especially on a good modern TV - I switched to PAL 60 mode and there's little to complain about, except the definition is a little fuzzy, but that's to be expected from a comparitively low res PS2 game on a 60cm TV!
Do I like it? Is Lara top-heavy?!
Legend opens with a cinematic flashback of the aircraft crash in the Himalayas that took the life of Lara's mother when she was 9 years old, so this is the first hint that there's some depth in the storyline. Then there's a second cinematic of Lara free climbing some rather precipitous cliffs in Bolivia, while chatting casually with Zip and Alister on her comms headset. Showoff! At the end of this Lara is standing at the start of a narrow ravine heading into the mountains, with a series of waterfalls to negotiate before reaching her first ruins. Yes, ruins! Think TR 1 Peru (the very first TR level) on steroids and turbo-charged. I think the developers were very clever to take us back to a similar location to the origins of TR, and it looks and plays amazingly well! Those who have seen the pre-release gameplay videos on the web will get some idea of what it's all about, but playing it is a whole lot better than looking at it.
The first thing you notice is that Zip (from TR5) is back, but this time with a second friend Alister. The second thing you notice is just how good the terrain looks, even on a PS2 console! Considering that the PS2 is now obsolete, I can only imagine just how good this is going to look on a top end game machine like an Xbox 360. The word awesome comes to mind, and from some of the screens I've seen from the X360 that's no exaggeration. With a top end computer I'd expect pretty much the same. Think high definition graphics with realtime reflections and shadows on rippling water and you get the idea, although that would require a lot of hardware to run so for most of us it may not be quite so spectacular. May be a good time to buy an X360 and a video adaptor for my PM G4 :) On the downside I've heard comments that the X360 version isn't as good as it could have been, and that it may be based on the PS2 version with some added effects and a higher res. This doesn't mean that the more advanced versions are bad, just not as good as may have been expected when comparing to other new release games.
Legend takes us back to the old style longer levels of the pre-AoD days as the first level covers quite a bit of territory, and it's not the longest! The load time is also quite reasonable, another improvement on AoD, and the terrain is very complex and detailed with birds and insects flying around, and quite good water textures even on the PS2. Lara leaves footprints and you can see small debris falling off narrow ledges when she shimmies along them! Most of the controls are also very responsive, with the only exception being pulling up in a handstand, but this is the result of having to hold down the Jump button to trigger it (the normal pullup only needs a tap on the Jump button).
On the other hand there are not many levels in Legend - there are only eight main levels, and an extra 'level' in Lara's mansion. The mansion, Croft Manor, isn't simply a training area and does have a lot more gameplay now, but has to be unlocked by completing at least one level of the main game - prior to that you only get to check out the main hall and several locked doors... As for the small number of levels, there is a gigantic incentive to replay them. There is extra content that becomes available when you finish a level, more when you collect all the 'Rewards' (which are much like the secrets of old), with the last few once you have beaten each level in Time Trial mode. The extra content isn't just a few goodies as it once was, but a lot of significant extras such as heaps of different costumes for Lara, just as an appetiser. For example, get all the Silver Rewards in Bolivia (5x) and you win a 'Union Jack' outfit for Lara. Beat the Time Trial in the same level and you can add a green sports outfit to Lara's wardrobe. There are also bonuses such as character profiles, location concepts, game enhancements, weapons cheats etc. For the gamer who is happy to replay levels there is a great deal to work for! But if you don't want to bother with replaying levels then Legend may not have that much gameplay to offer, although what there is in those eight levels is a lot of fun!
Saving is different to other TR games. During the game you'll regularly come across 'Checkpoints', and if Lara dies you'll just be dropped back to the last one you passed, whether or not you saved the game. So unexpectedly dying is not as catastrophic as it sometimes was in the past (when you forgot to save...) Saving is manual, but when loaded puts Lara at the last Checkpoint she passed, no matter where you saved. As the Checkpoints are in sensible places and reasonably plentiful, I'm not finding this at all a problem. There are only four save slots in the PS2 game, but there are likely to be more in the PC/Mac games. Once you complete a level it is available for the rest of the game so it's not necessary to keep a large library of saves if you want to go back to replay a level.
What about the gameplay? Well it did take me some time to get my head around the controls, but this is partly because I don't have a lot of experience with this sort of game on PS2 (I mostly play PS2 racing games). But once you get used to the new moves, the dual stick controls are quite intuitive so I have none of the reservations I had with AoD on PS2. At least in the early stages of the PS2 game the player is given on-screen instructions for the normal controls so I wasn't totally lost once I got the patience to stop and read them ;) The camera still swings around Lara and can be moved to any position around her, and Lara's movement is relative to the screen rather than Lara herself (as in AoD on PS2), but although I had a lot of problems with this in AoD, the way it's implemented in Legend is giving me very few problems at all! And the AoD control lags have vanished, with the gameplay being very smooth now! It has to be said that a dual stick controller such as the standard PS2 controller is well suited to the gameplay style. Of course many people won't like that but it is quite easy to use in Legend as opposed to some other games... On the PC, as I understand, the mouse is necessary to play the game, which is quite different to any previous TR. To be honest, I suspect that this may be a good time to buy a PS2 style gamepad for your Mac - just make sure it has two sticks...
Lara's animations were developed from AoD rather than the classic TRs, as was the free-form terrain, so those traditionalists who want a return of the old Lara may be disappointed. But remember that it's now 10 years since TR came on the scene, and the game has to advance with the times! A new thing here is that Lara will do things if you leave her alone, like look around, check her bootlaces, adjust her belt, stretch her arms above her head etc., so just sit and watch to see what she does. This is not an uncommon game feature these days, but it does make the game look more 'alive'. The combat style is similar to AoD, with Lara sidestepping to avoid gunfire, and Lara can also do backjumps, sideflips, and rolls in all directions, but only when she's targetting an enemy. She also has limited ability to do a kick or slide attack, and there are some cool new moves such as the slow motion backjump-while-shooting. The old Handstand and Swan Dive are both in the game, but the crawl has gone, to be replaced by a crouching walk which is rarely needed (do I hear sighs of relief? No crawlspaces!) There are four preset configurations for the PS2 controller, but I stuck with the default and it suited me fine.
The most obvious new movements for Lara are the side and back-jumps to get from one crack to another to the side, or to jump backwards across a gap while hanging off a ledge, as well as the vault from a narrow ledge to one directly above. These are very fluid and work well, and make for much more realistic gameplay (if you assume that Lara can do things few mortals can!) For example, to get from a shimmy crack to a ledge directly behind, Lara releases one hand, turns sideways, and jumps with a twist to grab the ledge without the requirement for a backflip. But she also can backflip with an automatic twist between vertical chains for example, so there is a good variety of tricks she can do without the player needing three hands to control all the buttons! Lara can kick small boulders, and she now has complete freedom of movement for pushing/pulling objects which is great - no more 'pull back three squares, then change sides to pull sideways'! If you need to drag a cage around an obstacle, then onto a pressure pad out to one side, it is now a single fluid drag the whole way. She can even turn an object 180 degrees on the spot to change from pushing to pulling!
A nice surprise was a new animation where Lara can move faster in some places by tapping Action. For example she can shimmy along a crack a lot faster, climb chains faster, swim faster etc. This can help her traverse a crumbling ledge where otherwise she wouldn't make it in time, or climb a descending chain to get higher than she would otherwise be able.
In fact in the whole game there is only animation, or to be more precise one *combination* of animations, that don't work well - jumping while sliding down a steep slope. This always used to be quite fluid, but in Legend Lara stops, then jumps as if she's on flat ground. But considering how well they've done with the rest of the animations I suppose we can't be too harsh - maybe they'll fix it for the next TR? (And after Legend I think there will be more to come :)
Weapons targetting is much like it used to be, with the exception that the current target now has an aiming point superimposed on it. And this isn't only living targets, some inanimate objects can be targetted as well, like to get a rock rolling down a hill to flatten enemies (Lara can also kick rocks to start them rolling). You can even shoot out some barriers (like a stone wall) to get the bad guy sheltering behind them! Shooting now has effective ranges, so a target out of range will have the aiming point greyed out, then in range it turns red (quite close with the pistols early in the game!) This can be overcome with manual targetting, but this is only really effective on stationary targets. Also, the weapons are only ready when you hold the control - let go and they're put away (although this can be switched off).
Lara now has a personal light (PLS) clipped to her harness which lights the surroundings very effectively. It also has a limited charge but recharges very quickly so it's not a problem. Her default pistols are back to unlimited ammo (yes!), along with magazine changes as in the TR movies, and the other weapons have limited ammo but enough to do the job if you're careful. Her backpack now has limited capacity, so there's no more filling it with dozens of medipacks! She also carries a grappling line, which can be used from a distance to interact with some objects (like pulling a barrier out of a doorway), or as a rope to swing across gaps. And there's some new high tech binoculars which work well. Lara carries a PDA, which can be consulted at any time for information such as the currect weapons and ammo, level objective, Rewards gained & the total for the level etc.
I found the gameplay to be a lot of fun! Legend has taken some aspects of AoD (without the bugs) and blended them with some classic Tomb Raiding action, to make a game that has the potential to rejuvenate Lara Croft and Tomb Raider and provide the basis of her continuing success. It won't please everybody, and if you never liked TR it probably won't change your mind, but for the rest of us Legend could well be exactly what we've been hoping for, and maybe even more! It could even rival the best of the classic TR games, but that depends of course on personal taste. I love Legend, and it's probably my second favourite TR of all, right behind TR2, of course... But to compare it to the classic games is a futile exercise as they're so different - compare it instead with Angel of Darkness, which it beats hands down!
Playing the PC TR: Legend on a MacIntel (added 25 November 2006)
The following is not based on personal experience - I am unable to check this information for myself, so I can't give any assurances that it will work in your own setup. This is for information only, so try this at your own risk!
It's been said for some time that the PC Legend runs quite well on a higher end iMacIntel, so for those with an Intel Mac with decent graphics like a 20" or 24" iMac, MacBook Pro, or Mac Pro, the PC game should be playable by using Apple's Boot Camp and Windows XP. In some cases on high specced Intel Macs, it may be possible to run the PC Legend with all the next gen graphics turned on! Check your Intel Mac against the PC Legend requirements for more guidance on this.
However the bottom end Macs - the MacBook, Mac Mini, or base model iMac - all of which have integrated graphics rather than a dedicated graphics chip, are something of an unknown. Recently I received advice from 'Diego' that he's managed to get the PC Legend running in Boot Camp Win XP on a 1.66 GHz Core Duo Mac Mini with 2 GB RAM and Intel GMA950 integrated graphics. He says that it runs smoothly at a resolution of 1024x768 but only with all the graphic extras (full screen effects, shadows, reflections and water effects) turned off.
As I say I am unable to check this so if you want to try it then it's at your own risk. But I'd appreciate any feedback about running Legend in Win XP so please let me know about your experiences!
Walkthroughs (updated 7 June 2006)
I've completed and checked my Legend walkthroughs and gameplay information - I did the checking by playing the complete game again from start to finish, using the 'New Game' menu item so that it would be a completely fresh game with all Rewards.
I've also completed the game a third time, but this time on maximum 'Tomb Raider' difficulty, and I've added notes to each level about the extra challenges you'll face on this difficulty level.
There may be minor revisions in the future but the walks are already fully detailed and accurate and will enable you to complete the game and find all the Rewards!
Hints and Tips
Downloads (Mac game only!)