Hands-On Preview: Oooh, talk British to me
It might be hard to believe for some younger gamers, but Tomb Raider was responsible for pretty much creating the modern-day 3D action/adventure back in 1996. Sure the game was rough around the edges but people forgave it because TR was something so new and fresh, and had an instantly memorable main character in Lara Croft. Alas, riding the wave of their huge hit, Eidos saw fit to rehash the game every year afterwards, ultimately leading up to the first 'next-gen' effort in Angel of Darkness which was received with a mixture of reactions. Since that time, Eidos has made a very smart move realizing the problems of Tomb Raider, and have moved the franchise into the capable hands of Crystal Dynamics. And after spending some time with the new Xbox 360 demo of Tomb Raider Legend, it's obvious CD has treated this franchise with loving care; knowing what TR is all about, and modernizing it to be an enjoyable adventure and not a chore like the previous games had become. We don't need the full copy to give you the good word ? Tomb Raider is back with a vengeance.
The demo drops you into Bolivia, where our heroine is obviously looking to raid tombs for their treasure. TR Legend eases you into the game with a solid tutorial that explains the new control scheme, which thankfully is far less complex than Angel of Darkness was. As you'd expect, Lara can swing from vines and chains, swim, jump from ledge to ledge, and of course, move boxes around. New to the mix is the ability to swing from a branch or other extended object, like Prince of Persia, which is TR Legend's obvious inspiration. She's also got a ton of gadgets, like RAD goggles that point out important hints in any given section, a flashlight for dark areas, and a grapple hook which lets you jump over impossible gaps, and in some places has Lara using it to latch onto objects in order to move them out of the way. The main difference between this and past TR games is how fluidly Lara is controlled; no simulation of moving a tank around this time, as she'll move around without a hitch unless the camera gets into the way. The second you start playing it'll feel completely natural.
There's a new combat model for TR Legend, a necessity after AoD's struggles. Though it's still about raiding tombs, there is more fighting and it ties into the storyline that's not really discussed much here, but that's not really a surprise since this is the first stage and seems innocent enough. Anyway, Lara has a couple ways to handle enemies. Her default pistol has infinite ammo (there are other weapons in the game but those do have limits), so it's as simple as pressing the left trigger to lock on, and the right trigger to fire, with the right analog stick used to change targets. When locked on you can jump and dodge return fire, which is pretty handy. For the most part the lock-on was sharp but a couple times it switched to another enemy if they got in the way. Also, if you want to conserve ammo and effort, or just want to have fun, some parts of stages will let you use the environment. One part of the demo has you shooting huge boulders down a path, all killing the upcoming enemies at far less bullet waste.
Of course since this is Tomb Raider there's some puzzles to solve. The demo only has a taste of the action, but they're clever enough. One puzzle puts you in a hallway with collapsing walls. One you can run through without problem, but the other is too long and will crush Lara to pieces. Thankfully, there's a crate in the hallway, which can be used to stop the walls before they collide, letting you sneak past and wonder why some cheap little box can survive such a thing. In the next room a more challenging puzzle awaits; there's a door above your head, and it's impossible to get to. There's three switches you have to activate, and there's crates to do so, but only one is actually there, as 2 are in the water underneath with no 'obvious' way of getting them to your position. That is, until you find out that using the rock formation in the water as a catapult is not just fun, it's the only way to solve this tricky riddle. Once you reach the door, the demo ends with the promises of more Tomb Raiding in the future...like 1 week from now future.