So we move on to "What is Tomb Raider all about?" The first Tomb Raider was mostly about you and your skill versus the tombs and traps of the ancients. Sure... there was a story about a business woman, some mercenaries and an Atlantean artifact, but the main thrust of the game was about how you were going to get through the next room, solve the puzzle, avoid the traps and reach the end of the level. The following games took away a lot of the tomb raiding, susbtituting visits to Venice, London, Area 51, Paris and Prague. They also introduced an increased number of human opponents, turning the game into more and more of a shoot-em-up, rather than an exploration and puzzle-solving platformer. This was perhaps a reaction to the negative attention Lara received due to most of her animal adversaries being on the endangered species list - none more so than the Tyrannosaurus Rex, of course. Casually offing rare animals never seemed to sit comfortably with Lara's character.
Legend is a mix of the two styles of play, there is definitely a strong exploration and puzzle solving theme to the game. However, the opponents that stand in your way are almost all human, there are a token number of animals to "defend" yourself from, but mostly you will be engaged in shootouts in and around the temples and buildings you are exploring.
This can distract from the thrill of exploration and sense of adventure that defined the first game and that you still get in various places here. It's as if the British army had slaughtered the Thuggees at the end of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, it wouldn't have spoiled the rest of the film, but it would have left a bad taste in your mouth.
To be honest, the combat system works well in this game, sure it's simple, but it's functional. Lara carries her trademark twin pistols of infinite ammunition at all times, but she can also pick up weapons dropped by her opponents. She can only carry one extra weapon at a time and a limited amount of ammunition for it, so there's no walking arsenal feeling like you got in the second and third games.
Lara can also carry up to four grenades, which are handy for removing several opponents at once and can be essential when some of them carry shields. In addition to killing enemies directly, Lara can shoot environmental targets such as rocks, trucks and the inevitable exploding barrels in order to remove opposition from her path. A final twist on combat sees Lara taking control of tripod-mounted machine guns to clear some areas of enemies.
The exploration side of the game has taken some cues from the recent Prince of Persia games, in much the same way as the first Tomb Raider was considered by many to be a 3D development of the original 2D Price of Persia game. Lara can now shimmy up pipes and poles, jump between them and onto ledges and ladders and perform acts of extreme gymnastics with horizontally positioned poles. In addition to this, she still has the same land and water-based skills she always had. Jumping, climbing, rolling and swimming are all much the same as they have ever been, except that some moves can be performed more quickly by tapping the triangle button in time with Lara's movements.
The puzzle side of Lara's new adventure is well catered for too, with the addition of a grapple device, she can now move things at a distance. Rafts, crates, levers and even electrical cables can be dragged, pulled or set swinging with this versatile device. In some places the grapple can also be used as a bat rope to allow Lara to swing across chasms and traps that she would otherwise be unable to pass. This tool alone adds so much to the game play it is a wonder that it wasn't introduced much earlier in the series.
Game play analysis continues over the page. Take five if you wish, we're only half way there...