Tomb Raider Legends Review

Up until someone named Lara came along, there were few, if any, female heroines in video games. But in 1996, one particular game personality commandeered the imaginations (and something else) of gamers all over the world. Of course, we’re refereeing to Lara Croft, the star of the Tomb Raider video game series.

The first TR game was an awesome demonstration of intelligent game development. It was filled with eerie music, brain twisting puzzles, a challenging, if not frustrating game control scheme, and one heck of an adventure. Years later, after some ups and more often than not downs in the game franchise, Lara made a comeback with the release of Tomb Raider: Legend. The game was just what the doctor ordered for the TR faithful who were bemoaning the fact that "Lara wasn’t the same as she used to be."

The Tomb Raider games are as much about thinking as they are about the action. The deep puzzle aspect of the franchise is what has set it apart from many other games in this genre. You simply do not move or travel from place to place — you must solve numerous puzzles to accomplish your short term and long term goals. TRL DS brings many of the strong elements of the franchise into a convenient handheld game.

The gameplay follows the tradition of the series. There is a deep emphasis on the timing of your jumps and leaps to transverse difficult terrain or death traps, and an equally strong emphasis on solving puzzles in the game. The puzzles take on the form of problems related to moving or pushing objects in order to activate or disable devices, the acquisition of special items in order to complete missions, and the shooting of numerous bad guys and attacking creatures.

TR fans will take to this newest title like a fish to water as the familiar mechanics and operation of the game will have them feeling right at home. However, those unfamiliar with the general principles of the gameplay may have a hard time in adjusting and figuring everything out, especially in this smaller version of TRL. Things which are obvious to longtime fans may be overlooked by newcomers to the franchise. For example, things such as hanging vines, grappling spots, double jumps onto crevices and overhangs are the bread and butter of Tomb Raider. But the uninitiated to Lara Croft’s world may experience some frustration in navigating or completing some of the levels or tasks. This wouldn’t be a big issue if the graphics were of higher quality, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, and we’ll get to this aspect of the game later.

As with all the TR games, the main point of contention has been, and seems to always be, the control system. With this new version for the DS, this issue remains alive and well. Basic moves for Lara involve the use of the d-pad in conjunction with the X,Y, A and B buttons. When used in combination or individually, they’ll produce actions such as climbing, jumping, shooting weapons, picking up items, driving vehicles, utilizing tools, and other essential actions. The lower screen is used as a control display for accessing the inventory, the PDA, and in showing second screen action. While the controls aren’t terribly bad, it will take a little getting used to — especially during those times where you have to be as accurate as you can in moving Lara through the more treacherous spots of the game. One false move or a split second off in your timing will bring the game to a halt and throw you back to one of the game’s numerous checkpoints.

Eliminating the baddies is a little mind numbing as they really have no chance at all in surviving the onslaught of weaponry that is at your disposal. Included in your arsenal of destruction is Lara’s signature double magnum pistols plus shotguns, automatic rifles and other tools of the trade. The game automatically zeros in on your enemies and you’ll transition an attack mode where the lower touch screen acts as your targeting display. You can use the stylus to place and aim your shots here, but I found this pretty cumbersome and just resorted to using my fingernail to accomplish this and other touch screen oriented tasks. Surprisingly, a couple of shots fired to the torso of the bad guys won’t kill them immediately, and you’ll need to place several more hits on them to eliminate them. After a while, I found out that if you can successfully pull off a head shot, the baddies go bye-bye really quick. This not only saves you ammo, but is quite satisfying if you can do it.

Speaking of checkpoints, there are ton of them in the game, and this is for good reason. You’ll be dying many times as you try to complete the tasks and challenges in the title. The checkpoint system acts essentially as a warning system that basically tells you that you are about to die. The puzzles in the game are rarely completed on the first try, and this is all part of the popularity of Tomb Raider.

The storyline of the game mimics its big sister version, albeit in a stripped down adaptation, and moves the game along quite nicely. One surprising aspect of this game, and most importantly for TR fans that haven’t played TRL before, is the plot of the game. While the series has always been known for the great puzzles and action, the strong storyline has been the backbone of the franchise. In TRL DS, hours will easily pass by as you play and get involved in the plot of the game. The game is simplistic, when compared to the full scale version of Legend, but as a stand alone handheld version, it holds its own pretty well.

The touch screen is used sparingly in TRL DS and this is a disappointment. You’ll use it to accomplish normal tasks associated with inventory control and attack mode, but the lower screen isn’t utilized as much as it could have been, making second screen use almost an afterthought in the development process. When it is used as in the case of Lara swimming underwater, the top portion of the screen shows the dry land while the lower screen shows her swimming underwater. There is an oxygen/life meter that ticks down to zero and whatever undertaking you need to do while you are below the surface line must be finished before you run out of breath. If you use up your supply of breath, you’re a goner. But even when the lower touch screen isn’t utilized, there are some interesting applications of the upper screen. In one of the levels, Lara rides a motorcycle while trying to blast the enemies. This requires some serious multitasking as you try to avoid objects, jump ramps, control your speed, and fire off shots to kill the bad guys.

Graphics for TRL DS are about as sharp and clear as looking though a dirty window. If you have a DS Lite, this will improve the situation somewhat, but if you own the original DS, you definitely will not find any graphical treats in this title. The cutscenes in the game, while ok in framerate, are so chunky that you’ll be able to see the individual pixels during playback. This is as ugly as it gets and you’ll wonder if the entire development team was infected with a bad case of myopia during the making of this game. Much of the game is seen from a side scrolling perspective, with occasional changes in camera angles, such as chase scenes with the bike. The camera automatically adjusts the angle of your perspective play, and does a pretty decent job of showing the action.

The mono chromatic nature of the backgrounds gives the game a washed out and dull look to everything. Ironically, this works quite well with the full screen version of the game, as this gives TRL a nice atmosphere, but on the smaller screen it just looks muddled and lackluster. The contrast of the graphics is pretty low, and sometimes gets in the way of actual gameplay because you’re not quite sure if certain objects or physical features can be used to navigate through the levels. After some serious time with the game, this will work itself out as you become familiar with the gameplay, but the graphics could have been used with more imagination and care by the artists. I was really bummed out regarding this particular part of the game.

One of the shining aspects of TRL DS is the audio. The music background is done extremely well and adds real depth and feeling to the game. Tomb Raider games usually have haunting and memorable music tracks, and this small screen version is no exception to the rule. The voice acting is spot on during the action portions of the game and the cuts scenes are exceptional. Using a pair of headphones will definitely enhance your enjoyment level of the game.

When it comes to replay, there are three difficulty levels to choose from and you may wish to replay the game to access the unlockable features related to viewing cutscenes, mini-games, concept art and time trials. You’ll also have the opportunity to enter cheat codes to make your journey through the game a little easier.

Tomb Raider Legends for the DS is an abbreviated version of the full blown game, and gamers who have already played Legends on the PC or on a console may have little use for a repeat performance in this smaller edition of the game. For new comers or Tomb Raider fans who haven’t played Legends, the title offers classic Tomb Raider action and should prove to be a fun title. But issues related with the extremely poor presentation of graphics and poorly designed AI pulls down the overall score of the game. Die hard fans who want a pocket version of Tomb Raider may be the only ones who enjoy this title in the long run.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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