We all know of the tragedy that befell Lara Croft. Having starting out in an exciting romp through ancient ruins in the original Tomb Raider, only to eventually devolve into the letdown that was Angel of Darkness, the poor girl has been through some trying times. We also know Crystal Dynamics has put itself to the task of revitalising the series with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Legend. Recently, a single player demo was made available for download and we've grabbed ourselves a copy to see whether the game is worthy of the title, Legend.
The demo begins with a cutscene revealing Lara Croft climbing up a precariously angled cliff face with the ease and finesse of a professional. Throughout this sequence, there is a distinctly cinematic feel presented through broad swooping camera motions and intimate close ups of Lara's convincingly emotive expressions as she responds to the advice fed to her by her home team. Already this early into the demo, you're given a good idea of how the game is aiming to deliver its story through these well choreographed, Hollywood-esque cutscenes.
After pulling herself up off the cliff side, you're given control of the leading lady. Thankfully, she no longer controls like Croft-Tank 2000 but moves around the environment with a fluidity you would expect from any decent third-person action game. The camera is player controlled and works very well, for the most part. Occasionally, the camera pulls in too close after hitting an obstruction Lara happened to be standing near, making movement difficult. Moving away from the obstruction lets you get your bearings back, however that brief moment of disorientation can make for more of a problem once the action starts to heat up, but more on that later.
As you jump, climb, shimmy, and swing your way deeper into the cliff side, you can't help but notice how convincingly Lara moves. Subtle touches like the shifting of her weight just before making a death defying leap go a long way in reinforcing Lara knows what she's doing. Or how, after a mis-timed jump, she swings perilously from a landing by her finger tips, barely managing to hang on. The game then quickly prompts the player for a quick button press to prevent her from losing her grip. Crystal Dynamics have done well to breathe life into what are normally would have been standard manouvres, and those 'Quick Time Event' style moments are sure to keep players on their toes.
With the brunt of the platforming out of the way, it's not long before the token bad dudes show up and Lara's forced to pull out her other big guns. Combat is simple in concept and execution. Press the fire button and Lara pulls out her trademark dual pistols. Press another button to lock onto a target. Evading their attacks is performed by pressing the jump and crouch keys in tandem with strafing to hop and roll respectively. The combat worked well, but essentially boiled down to keeping a lock on the enemy and hammering on the attack key until they drop dead; all the while Lara hops around them like a woman possessed.
There are some cool additions, like jumping towards an enemy then hitting jump again near them resulting in a bullet-timed backflip off of the stunned enemy which you would then empty a clip into whilst still in the air. Interactive environments also play a part. One instance lets you shoot off a chunk of stone off a pillar causing the debris to crush a those underneath. As for the intelligence of the enemies, they aren't exceptionally smart, but they're not stupid either. They'll shout commands like 'Draw her fire!' and 'Flank her!' which they would then do and subsequently get mowed down by the crazy jumping lady. Whilst the combat isn't that challenging in the demo, chances it should scale appropriately as the game progresses.
The final part of the demo brought up the puzzle aspects of the game and it was quite a pleasant surprise. The game sports a fully implemented physics system and the puzzle presented in the demo utilised this in full. Adding a twist to the now clichÃ©d crate-on-the-pressure-plate problem, getting the crates to the plates involved pushing the crates onto a large stone see-saw which you would then need to catapult onto the upper platform by jumping onto the opposite end of the stone slab. It was great to see the physics used in this manner and bodes well for the quality of the puzzles that lie ahead.
The game's environments look fantastic by employing such effects like depth of field, and Lara has never never looked better herself - neat touches, like her clothes darkening from the dampness after taking a dip in the river, help sell the experience. The soundtrack portrays the different emotive states such as exploration, combat and tension very effectively and the voicework is so far well written and performed. And yes, Lara is still a Brit. Thank god for that.
One of the coolest aspects of our time with the game has to be how likeable Lara is throughout the demo. Be it the witty dialogue such as when she irritably exclaims, 'Bloody tourists' once the mercenaries show up at the cliff top ruin. Or when she glances and smiles wryly at you, the player, after successfully sneaking by two unsuspecting guards; it really feels like Lara has personality. Crystal Dynamics went into this project with an objective of humanising Lara Croft and, if this demo is anything to go by, they've succeeded.
We walked away from the demo with very positive impressions and are eager for more. There are only a few more weeks before the game is released for the PC and all home consoles including the Xbox 360. We've got a feeling this is one comeback worth keeping an eye on so stay tuned for our review once that release date hits.