Tomb Raider Legend: a retrospective

We look back at Crystal Dynamics’ first Lara Croft adventure
By Duncan Heaney

There’s an exchange early on in Tomb Raider Legend that sets the tone for the whole adventure:

  • Young Lara: “Are we going to crash?”
  • Amelia Croft: “Not unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

This is a game that’s infused to its very core with dry British wit, and an unerring sense of fun.

The return of an icon

I think it’s fair to say that when Crystal Dynamics revealed they were making a new Tomb Raider games, some fans were… nervous.

After all, until this point the series had been completely developed by Core Design. Crystal Dynamics, while a respected studio, had never worked on a Tomb Raider project before. Even worse… they were American! They wouldn’t ‘get’ Lara Croft, surely?

They needn’t have worried. Right out of the gate, Crystal Dynamics showed that they understood what makes the series great. Their first game - Tomb Raider Legend - wasn’t a complete reinvention of the classic series formula, but it was a significant refinement.

The central tenets of the series - sprawling environments, complex puzzles and fast-paced combat - were present and correct, but each was delivered with a more modern approach.

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A new and improved Lara

That focus was particularly evident in Lara’s greatly improved mobility. Movement was faster than ever before, both on the ground and when clambering around crumbling cliffs. Lara also came equipped with a whole range of new traversal options, such as the ability to jump off ledges in multiple directions and swing in 360 degrees with her grappling hook.

She also had far more options in combat - she could trip enemies with a well-timed slide or jump off them for cinematic slow-mo action shots., for example

It all combined to create a character that was fun and fluid to control. Even playing it today, it’s remarkable how easy it is to throw Lara around the world - it just feels good.

A more human Lara

But Tomb Raider Legends had ambitions beyond expanding Lara’s capabilities - it also wanted to deepen her character.

The game told the most personal Tomb Raider story to date - Lara wasn’t just searching for another mystical artifact, she was trying to figure out the events that led to the loss of her mother.

Her journey took her on a global tour through cliffs in Bolivia, skyscrapers in Tokyo, waterfalls in Ghana and beyond. As the journey progresses, we saw Lara’s obsession grow, and got a fascinating insight into the tragedies that turned her into the sardonic spelunker we know and love.

That said, the developer knew not to let things get too heavy - witty and fun, remember? So if they felt the need to throw a motorcycle chase into the mix to lighten the mood - hey, why not?

A more collaborative Lara

That witty tone largely came from Lara’s expanded social circle. Sure, Lara has had her fair share of friends and allies, but Legend was the first adventure where she brought a dedicated team along for the ride.

Zip and Alister were there to monitor Lara as she jumps, swings and hand-stands through the various locations in the game. They doled out advice, hints and knowledge - but more than that, they provided personality.

Zip’s the tech expert - he’s the one who builds and maintains Lara’s impressive array of gadgets. Alister acts as Lara’s research assistant and provides her with historical information about locations and artifacts.

You didn’t see the two outside of cutscenes - their presence is mostly felt as voices in Lara’s ear. Even so, the sheer volume of quips and banter made their characters and relationships crystal clear - they’re not just co-workers, but friends too.

Not every fan was fully on board with the chatter - some preferred the peaceful isolation of Lara’s earlier adventures- but you can’t deny that the dialogue zings.

Take this exchange from the second level in Peru:

  • Lara: “They don’t seem so keen on visitors these days.”
  • Zip: “Well, hey - you’re the one with the guns.”
  • Lara: “You can’t blame me for knowing how to accessorize.”

Or when the team is looking for an entrance to a temple in Ghana:

  • Zip: “Looks like they didn’t get in from this side. Any idea?”
  • Lara: “We’ll see. I do my best thinking plunging off cliffs.”

See? Witty and fun.

A Cornish odyssey

One level in Tomb Raider Legend that perfectly shows how these different elements complement each other is ‘King Arthur’s’ Tomb.

After journeying through ancient tombs in Bolivia and Ghana, and luxurious penthouses in Japan, Lara’s search for answers takes her to… Cornwall. Or as an incredulous Lara says, “As in ‘take the M5 to the A30’ Cornwall?”

The first step is to break into the world’s worst King Arthur museum (and can I just say - as someone who spent a significant part of his life in Cornwall, the team absolutely nailed the fundamental lameness of a local King Arthur exhibit) and uncover the entrance to a secret tomb.

While Alister has a mini-breakdown over the historical inaccuracies on display, you’ll have to climb your way around the displays, find a way to break into the tomb, solve the many puzzles within, and then fight a giant snake monster.

It’s a section where everything comes together perfectly. It takes you seamlessly from satisfying platforming to fantastic environmental storytelling, to classic Tomb Raiding, to tense combat - all accompanied by some of the funniest dialogue in the whole game.

Can I still play Tomb Raider Legend?

The good news is that Tomb Raider Legend is still available on a variety of current gen platforms.

It’s playable on Xbox One (via backwards compatibility) and Xbox 360. You can also get a copy for Steam directly through the Square Enix store:

What do you think?

So that’s Tomb Raider Legend - the title that reintroduced Lara Croft to the world and an important milestone towards the games we have today. But what did you think of it?

Share your memories in the comments, or with @TombRaider on Twitter.