GAMING GREATS: Tomb Raider: Legend (2006)

Rod celebrates two decades of Lara Croft with her very first reboot. 

Who made it?: Crystal Dynamics (Developer), Eidos Interactive (Publisher).

Platform: PC, PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PSP.

Format: Optical disc.

Released: April 7, 2006. 

2016 marked twenty years since the world was introduced to the beautiful but deadly (if on the wrong side of her dual pistols) Lara Croft in the original Tomb Raider (1996). I arrived to the party late because I didn’t own a PlayStation until 1999, and the first entry I bought was Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999), the fourth in the series. I then went back and played the first three, and have been a fan ever since.

To celebrate the recent twentieth anniversary of Miss Croft, I wanted to take a look at Tomb Raider: Legend, which celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. All this time later, it still holds up as a fun, enjoyable and entertaining game, not only within the franchise, but among other games in similar series. This particular entry is the seventh overall, but it is the first reboot. Legend actually ties in with Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007), which itself was a remake of the original game, and so these two form parts of a trilogy, the third being Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008). In this one, we see another version of Lara’s origin story play out. On a plane flying over the Himalayas is a young Croft and her mother. There is a problem that causes the plane to crash, killing the pilots but leaving Lara and her mother alive. As the plane is about to hit the ground, we get a little insight into what type of character Lara has the potential to be, and the potential that she will go on to achieve as an adult, when her mother tells her, “Lara, close your eyes.” To which Lara replies, “I don’t want to close them.” Her response shows that she isn’t afraid to see what is going on throughout this traumatic experience, and that she has courage in the face of adversity, even at this precocious age.

After this opening sequence, we find Lara in present day on a visit to Bolivia. A friend, Anaya, has informed Lara about a stone dias that is very similar to one that young Lara and her mother encountered the day she disappeared in the Himalayas. Lara isn’t alone on this adventure, though, and has two allies. Zip, voiced by Alex Desert, and Alister, voiced by Jonny Rees, who was credited as Greg Ellis at the time. Alister and Zip are polar opposites, and while they both have digs at each other’s expense, it is never vindictive or meant to be taken seriously. Zip is a very casual type of guy, possessing both intelligence and confidence. He and Lara bounce off each other really well. The Zip character was actually in the original continuity, featured in the final level of Tomb Raider: Chronicles (2000). However, the previous version was annoying to me, and at times, even annoyed Lara herself! But this new and improved version of Zip is much better, and that’s due to the writing and Desert’s vocal performance, too. In regards to the voice actor for Alister, Rees plays him in such a way as to project his intellect, and he doesn’t really respond highly to some of Zip’s comments, but manages not to be a snob about it. He is just more interested in history and separating fact from fiction. As a trio of vocal performers, Alex, Jonny and Keeley Hawes as our heroine seem like they have good chemistry together, and that shows through in how well the characters interact.

What makes this first reboot different to the previous games, in terms of Lara and her backstory, is that it goes into more detail, providing a bit more depth. The original Tomb Raider introduces us to Lara and sets up the main story with a woman named Jacqueline Natla, who hires Lara to help her find an artifact. The only thing we know about Croft’s past at that point is that she had recently encountered Big Foot. And the beginning of Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation gave us a bit more insight into her past as you play her as a sixteen-year-old on an expedition with archaeologist Werner Von Croy, and the first level in that game acts not only as a prologue, but also a tutorial as well. But in Legend, we see the origin of Lara told at the earliest point in her life, and what happened to Lara and her mother in the Himalayas also factors into what the main story is actually about. The artifact that Lara pursues – Excalibur – is also a major part of the narrative. One of the levels even takes her to what appears, on the surface, to be a historical museum about King Arthur, Excalibur and everything else associated with the Arthurian legend, but naturally there is much more to it than that. I won’t spoil any major reveals, however, as one of the thematic elements of Legend‘s story is about Lara’s past and her digging up that past.

Before you begin the adventure, you can actually explore Lara’s Manor, just like you could in the previous games. However, you won’t be able to access every area without first having unlocked them by completing levels in the main game. While playing this “level”, you can find items which will aid you in finding certain rewards which are otherwise out of your reach, or are inaccessible. Throughout the main game, there are certain segments where you can control Lara’s motorcycle. These segments will involve dodging obstacles as well as shooting enemies that chase you, or simply get in your way. Speaking of shooting enemies, Lara is able to use a variety of secondary weapons aside from her trademark dual pistols. These include a shotgun, SMG’s, an assault rifle, grenade launchers, and grenades that can be thrown. Lara also has a magnetic grapple at her disposal that allows her to latch onto objects and then pull them towards her, as well as letting her latch onto certain rings you see attached to walls that give her the ability to wall-run and gain enough momentum to make a jump that she would otherwise not be able to make. You can even move Lara up or down whilst hanging on her grapple, and this can also be done when you use the grapple as a makeshift rope to swing across chasms, allowing you to position Lara so she’s level with the ledge she needs to get to.

Ms. Croft also has a PDA, which gives the player all sorts of information, ranging from the rewards that she has collected on each level to information about the gear she carries. There’s even intel regarding certain things she has encountered, acting like a diary of sorts. The R.A.D. (Remote Analysis and Display) binoculars give Lara the ability to see highlighted objects that can explode, which can then be moved, and also points to structural weaknesses that can be exploited. And the P.L.S. (Portable Light Source) naturally acts as a flashlight so that Lara can see in darkened areas. But this needs to be recharged, taking a few seconds to do so. One of the downsides to the gameplay, at least for some people out there, is the QTE’s (Quick Time Events) that require you to press a certain button that appears on screen at the right time. If you don’t get it right, you will lead Lara to her death. Personally, though, I felt it just added to the challenge, and besides, the buttons you need to press are exactly the same each time you replay that segment, so it’s not like you have to put up with randomly-generated options, which would be even more frustrating.

Since its inception, and up until the release of this entry, Core Design developed the Tomb Raider games. But due to the poor reception of Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003), which reflected in sales numbers, it was decided that future titles would be developed by Crystal Dynamics. At the time, the reason why gamers disliked The Angel of Darkness was due to the rushed nature of the product. This also meant that the game mechanics suffered as a result, especially in the controls department. The setup was difficult to adjust to and very annoying at times, especially when precision-jumping is required. Blame for the reception of the second Tomb Raider film, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003), was directed at the fan response to The Angel of Darkness as well. But that to me is just an external factor that doesn’t have anything to do with the actual film, which in my eyes, is deeply inferior to the first live-action Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), and yep, I do go against the grain on that one and think Simon West’s movie is one of the better video game to film adaptations. At the end of the day, though, the latest game at that time had no bearing on the film’s quality or vice versa.

Getting back to the positive aspects of the franchise, Lara Croft is an appealing character because of her personality. Yes, her physical attributes are also intended to be appealing as well. And some of the outfits Lara wears in the games accentuate this even more. Croft was even one of the very first characters to be depicted in sexy poses in magazines. However, there is more to Lara than her body and other attractive features. What makes her a very strong character is her sense of determination and her drive to not give up in whatever pursuit she has. It is a trait that I admire, not only in fictional heroes, but in real people as well. And added to this is her sense of humour, in which she uses sarcasm, wit and a very straightforward way of pointing things out. At times, Lara can be a bit of a smartass when she wants to be, but this is in no way a negative. It helps flesh out her personality even more, and really fits with how caustic she can be at times.

There has been a multitude of different voice actresses for Lara since her debut. In the original, she was voiced by Shelley Blond. Judith Gibbins then did the duties for Tomb Raider II (1997) and Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft (1998). Jonell Elliot would then be hired for Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, Tomb Raider: Chronicles and Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. In Tomb Raider: Legend, Tomb Raider: Anniversary and Tomb Raider: Underworld, Lara was voiced by the well-known Keeley Hawes. There are also two isometric arcade-style spin-off games titled Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (2010) and Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris (2014), in which Keeley also provided the voice. In yet another spin-off, a mobile game titled Lara Croft: Relic Run (2015), she was played by Abigail Stahlschmidt. And for the second reboot merely dubbed Tomb Raider (2013) and its sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider (2016), Lara is voiced by Camilla Luddington. I have liked every single actress who has provided the voice for Lara over the years, and Hawes is also able to nail the character in how she sounds. It matches her persona, and she is able to convey the wisecracking nature of Lara when the occasion calls for it.

There has also been a multitude of models posing as Lara avatars for publicity purposes, and not actually used as the basis for how Lara looks in the games, or even on the covers themselves. They are: Natalie Cook (1996), Vanessa Demouy and Rhona Mitra (1997), Nell McAndrew (1998), Lara Weller (1999), Lucy Clarkson (2000), Ellen Rocche (2001), Jill de Jong (2002), Karima Adebibe (2006-2007), and Alison Carroll (2008). As of the current continuity, there are no official Lara Croft models. I must also mention actress Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of the character in the two live-action films. I think Angelina did a great job as the character, even in the second one. As for the issues I have with The Cradle of Life, that’s for another review! Looking to the future, a reboot of the films is on the horizon starring Alicia Vikander and directed by Roar Uthaug. It will be based on the 2013 Tomb Raider game, although how much of an adaptation it will be is unknown. I think that it is a good jumping off point, because it has a Lara that experiences a completely different life-altering event than in Legend, but is nonetheless a very traumatic experience that sews the seeds of the adventurer Lara is destined to become. And seeing a Croft in live-action having to fight for her life and her very survival is something I would have loved to have seen in a third Jolie film.

The original Tomb Raider theme composed by Nathan McCree is a great one. For Legend, while a new theme was composed by Troels Folmann, for me it is no less beautiful, empowering and exciting. The entire score of this game is great, too, providing the final cherry on top. As a whole experience, Tomb Raider: Legend was a fitting return to form for the franchise. It breathed new life into it and paved the way for more great entries to come. Overall, Legend is definitely worth playing, especially if you were disappointed with The Angel of Darkness and promptly wrote the series off. The franchise has endured twenty years and counting for a reason. If you ask me who my favourite video game characters of all time are, Lara Croft is certainly high on that list. Long may she continue.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • Legend has the longest score of the series. It took nine months for Crystal Dynamics’ in-house composer Troels Brun Folmann to finalize the composing process. Over three hours of raw material resulted, becoming four and a half hours of in-game music via a process called “micro-scoring”, which is the idea of chopping the score down to very small components and triggering them in a way that compliments the game experience, including looping cues and individual accompaniments to cinematic scenes. All material was produced using software and Folmann’s personal soundbanks.
  • Following the success of another third-party game, Lego Star Wars: The Video Game, on the Nintendo GameCube, Eidos announced their decision to port Tomb Raider: Legend to that platform, marking Lara Croft’s first appearance on a home Nintendo console.
  • A version for the PlayStation 3 is included in The Tomb Raider Trilogy collection released in March 2011 and has been remastered in HD.

Rod Petrie

Gamer since 1988 at the age of five. First system was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Favourite retro systems - NES, SNES, N64, MegaDrive, PS1, and PS2.

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