The Tomb Raider series was amazing when it first came out, but after the third or fourth game (depending on your tolerance), it started to feel a bit stale. It still had all the right ingredients for a great game: ancient ruins to explore; environmental puzzles; human, animal, and supernatural enemies; and a kick-ass hero (who just happened to be female). But somehow, the next batch of games was just okay. Blah, even. Then came Tomb Raider: Legend. It was released in 2006 for all the consoles and handhelds available at the time, but the PSP version was the definitive one. This game is what I call an oldie-but-goodie.
Title: Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend
Developer: Crystal Dynamics/Buzz Monkey
Rating: ESRB T (Teen – Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence), PEGI 16+
Welcome Back, Lara
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Legend is the game that revitalized (heck, revived, even) the Tomb Raider franchise. The last few games in the series had just felt like more of the same, but Legend, even though it didn't really depart from the series formula, made Tomb Raider exciting again.
As with the other games in the series, the player takes the role of Lara Croft, English heiress and ass-kicking archaeologist (though "explorer" and "treasure hunter" are probably more accurate terms because, having studied archaeology, I can tell you that springing hidden traps and getting to the shiny big treasure before the bad guys is not really a big part of what they do). With each game, there's been some reason why Lara has to find a particular artifact before the other guys do--often there's some terrible thing that will happen if the artifact is used, so essentially Lara's saving the world. And like the other games in the series, in Legend you explore ancient ruins, solve puzzles, and shoot wild animals and bad guys.
You're Looking Good
Legend also has some modern-day settings to navigate, and here the puzzles aren't ancient booby-traps (obviously), but technological. One real triumph of the game is that all the puzzles feel natural. I don't think I ever reached a point where I thought the designers were throwing in an obstacle that didn't really makes sense just to keep the game going a little longer (which is exactly how I felt when I finally gave up on the original games somewhere in the middle of number three).
Graphically, the game looks a lot better on the big consoles than on the PSP, but it's no slouch on the PSP, either. If you compare the graphics from the original few games to Legend on the PSP, there's a huge improvement. And the visuals here are just about as good as the PSP can manage. It means, unfortunately, that the frame-rates sometimes drop in intense situations which is unfortunate, but the game is so good it's easy to forgive.
Legend makes good use of the PSP's controls, and there was never a point I felt that they were getting in my way. The one exception is the camera, which was generally pretty decent, but occasionally just wouldn't go where I needed it to be. But I don't think I've played a PSP game yet where the camera was always in the right place at the right time. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever played a game on any system where the camera was perfect.
Lara's abilities are much the same as in the previous games. She can walk, run, swim, dive, jump, climb, drive, and all those necessary things. And where would a Tomb Raider game be without the ability to to leap somersaults and shoot at the same time? I don't know about you, but that's how I defeated the toughest enemies. New to Legend is the ability to engage enemies without shooting them. Want to kick a bad guy or shove him off a ledge? Now you can. Another new, and welcome, feature is that you can now pick up and use the weapons the other guys drop. You can only carry one at a time, but you can switch to a new one any time you find one.
The Best of the Best
One really cool thing about Tomb Raider: Legend on the PSP is that it's the most complete version of the game. Sure, the PS2 or XBox versions might have better frame-rates and smoother graphics, but the PSP version is the one with multiplayer. And actually, this is something that should interest even the most anti-social gamer, because the multiplayer modes can also be played solo. "Tomb Trials" pits you against another player (or against the clock if you're playing alone) to see who can get through a tomb or find all the artifacts the fastest. It's a fairly modest multiplayer offering, but it's so much fun that doesn't matter. And it's fun even alone, as you test your skill in a race where even the smallest mis-step can mean the end.
So Tomb Raider: Legend isn't a perfect game, especially when compared with more recent offerings, but it is a darn good one. It made the series fun again, and it's a game I can see playing again just because I like it. And I'm pretty sure that when I get around to making my "Best PSP Games Ever" list, Tomb Raider: Legend will be on it.