Having made Lara lovable once more, the team then went to work on the movement. Where the old Lara moved in clearly defined blocks, with an awkward turn and then run dynamic, the action always felt stilted. It sometimes felt like you were programming moves one step in advance, rather than dealing with a truly responsive lead character. Cleverly, the new Lara has taken inspiration from the recent Prince of Persia trilogy, running, leaping, clambering, swinging and scrambling with a genuine fluidity, and with some nice touches that can save you from a long and painful fall just when death seemed certain. In fact, much of the ledge grabbing, pole swinging action in TR: Legend is going to seem pretty familiar to those who played The Sands of Time, while her new rope and grapple works in much the same way as the chain-blade in The Two Thrones.
Next – and this seems pretty obvious – Crystal Dynamics realised that Lara is at her best when she’s doing exactly what it says on the tin: raiding tombs. In other words, we get Lara hopping around in South American and African temples, hidden realms beneath the tourist traps of Cornwall, and icy complexes high in the Himalayas. These are familiar environments, full of the gushing waterfalls and monumental bas-reliefs we expect from the series, but they’ve been refreshed by the latest visual technology, with some gorgeous textures and HDR lighting in the Xbox 360 and PC versions for that authentic tropical/African/freezing cold feel. And when the setting takes a more modern turn – in a Tokyo skyscraper or a Russian research complex – the action still stays heavy on the acrobatics.
Maybe the levels are fairly linear, but you can’t argue that they’re short on big moments or grand locations, and each has a look and feel that’s all its own. Admittedly, there were moments when the words “unoptimised code” reached my brain, as the frame rate judders while the view rotates over a large cavern or grand temple vista, but these were few and far between.
The levels are also cunningly engineered to keep you thinking. As with Prince of Persia: The Sand of Time, you spend a certain amount of energy just pondering the question “how do I get there from here?” but there are also great moments where you’re stringing together moves in a stunning display of grace under pressure. And you’ll also find yourself up to your knees in puzzles. Now, normally I can’t use the words “block puzzles” without a shudder of disgust, but here I’m going to make an exception, for the simple reason that these real-world physics based conundrums are actually fun. OK, so you’re still shifting blocks from one pad to another or rolling balls into divots to activate a door, but the new emphasis on weight, momentum, timing and balance actually makes you stop and think what you’re doing. You’re operating complex mechanisms, not just re-arranging the stone furniture.