I will admit, I was hesitant to buy this latest Tomb Raider game. Angel of Darkness, while I enjoyed the story and a few other aspects, was frustrating and seemed to enjoy punishing players. It wasn't really a fun game to play. But I finally caved in and bought Legend. I'm glad I did.
The story seems to be a reboot. I think Legend pulls a H2O and acts as if the previous games don't exist. The story in Legend is great. When she was about nine, Lara and her mother survived a plane crash. Lara stumbled upon a stone dais while searching for wood and activated it. Her mother pushes her aside, and gets sucked into a portal. Years later, Lara is seraching for clues as to her mother's disappearance. This leads her to various exotic places, brings her into conflict with a face from the past, and hinges around the tale of Arthur and Excalibur.
Simply put, the story is wonderful. Lara is a fleshed out person who is haunted by her past. The side characters are interesting, if not a little two dimensional. The two main villains, Amanda and James Rutland, Jr. aren't as fleshed out as I would've liked them to be, but they were still enjoyable heavies. All in all, the story was great and tied the game together quite well.
The gameplay has been totally revamped. Lara isn't a tank anymore. She's nimble and very easy to control. I love it. If you're a few inches off from what you're aiming at, Lara will reach out and grab it. All of her moves are just easier to pull off. Running, jumping, swinging, fighting, etc. If you die, it's more than likely your fault, and not that of the camera or the controls, as seemed to be the case in previous installments.
None of the puzzles are horribly difficult. They usually involve pulling levers, moving boxes, using your grapple to swing objects at other objeccts, etc. You also have handy new tools. Lara has a pair of binoculars that examines objects and tells you if they're movable, destructable, or useful in any way. She also has a grapple that can be thrown at metallic objects. Lara can swing from them, pull them towards her, swing them at other objetcs, etc. The new gadgets, coupled with the improved control scheme, makes solving puzzles and leaping about tombs easy and fun to do.
The game also features interactive cutscenes, a la RE4. You simply have to push the button that flashes on the screen to save Lara from a horrible fate, though most cutscenes have several button presses, and you may think you're out of danger and then wham! Lara has been sliced in half. They're all cool, and it's fun watching Lara pull off some insane stunts.
Lara has her handy pistols with an infinite amount of bullets. She can also pick up guns that the various thugs drop as well. Grenades can be used too, but nine times out of ten the enemies simply jumped out of the way or the grenades hit something and bounced back towards Lara. Lara can also slide towards an enemy, knocking them off their feet. Up close, she can also kick them. She also has one bullet time move. Basically, you face an enemy, jump, and kick. Lara does a backflip and unleashes with her gun. I would have liked more hand to hand combat, but the gunplay is good and Lara's added moves liven things up.
There are seven levels, exlcuding Lara's Mansion and the final battle, which takes place in a previous level. They range from South American ruins to an old Russian research base to a tomb right underneath the streets of London. All seven levels are beautiful and distinct, and none of them feel like the last one with a new look pasted over it. You'll never enounter the same traps or tombs.
The game features five boss battles, none of which are great. The first one is the worst. Basically, you're in a round room and you shoot at the enemy while dodging the blasts he sends your way. The second battle in a little better, since it involves more strategy. You have to destroy the four platforms that the enemy uses to recharge his stregnth. The third one is less a battle and more avoiding the enemy to complete your goal. The fourth is the best. You face off against a giant sea serpent. There are four steel cages you have to lure him under in order to smash them on his head. This is frustrating though because you have to use your grapple and unless you're facing a certain way and are at the right length it's going to miss, giving the serpent plenty of time to hurt you. The last battle was such a letdown, especially considering what's involved.
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The graphics are great on the PS2 version. Lara herself is animated very well. She's been made to look more like a real person, and not two big breats that happen to have a body. She also goes through several outfit changes, ranging from a black dress to biker gear to snow gear. There are other unlockable outfits, but I haven't unlocked them yet.
Legend is a short game. It took me about seven hours to beat the main game. But, each level has hidden objects that unlock extra content, like character bios, cheat codes, alternate outfits, gun upgrades, etc. Every level also has a time mode in which you only have a limited amount of time to beat the level. You can also explore Lara's mansion, which has its own puzzles and secrets to find. So there's enough to keep people busy for a while. And I'd rather have a short, great game than a long, crappy one.
In the end, Legend is a great game that manages to re-invent the franchise while sticking close to its roots. It has a great story, stunning graphics, an awesome, easy to use control scheme, and enough unlockables to keep players going back for more. I can't wait to see what the Crystal Dynamics team think up for the next game, especially since this one ended on a cliffhanger.