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After years of waiting, Tomb Raider: Legend finally gave Lara fans the game they were waiting for. It was an admittedly short experience, but one never short on thrills. As a new start for the franchise Eidos couldn’t have dreamt for a better game. PSP owners sadly missed out on all the fun a few months back, but the good news is that the PSP game is surprisingly faithful to the PC and home console smash hit.
With a new team at the helm (although Lara creator Toby Guard returns) it makes sense that Legend is something of a new beginning. The story centres on an ancient sword and the ‘death’ of Lara’s mother, as Lara travels around the world to find missing sword parts and piece together the mystery surrounding what happened when she was a child. Bar the opening puppet-like cutscene the story is told well enough, using the in-game engine to good effect. There are some rather obvious twists along the way and one of the most blatant sequel set-ups in recent memory, but seeing as Lara’s back on form, it’s hard to complain.
Gameplay is a nice mix of platforming and combat, with the emphasis firmly on the platforming. On home consoles the cumbersome Lara of old was nowhere to be seen, with her movements being precise and incredibly fluent, but the PSP game suffers slightly from twitchy controls and the lack of camera control via a second analogue stick. You simply don’t feel as in control as you do playing with a controller in your hands, and while the free-look camera can be controlled by holding down the ‘square’ button, it’s by no means a substitute for a second analogue stick.
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It’s fair to say that Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia series has been used as a template, with Lara feeling more acrobatic than ever before. Whether you’re rope swinging, leaping over large holes or simply shimmying along a cliff edge, everything feels right and extremely natural. You do occasionally feel like the game cheats slightly, making certain ropes reachable only if you jump from a set location, but it’s rarely a problem, and getting to where you need to be is never a chore.
Combat is pretty simplistic, with target lock-on making enemies more of a distraction than any real challenge. Even boss battles are relatively simple once you’ve sussed exactly what you need to do, which is never too taxing. On the PSP the lock-on combat is a godsend, eliminating any problems that would have arose from any implementation of manual aiming. Some close-quarters moves are available if you need to use them, but you generally don’t. While Lara’s standard pistols aren’t great, there’s a regular supply of ammo for the more powerful weapons, meaning you can usually pick off enemies with ease. At times it feels like the action sections were included simply because it was the expected thing to do, and although they’re not bad by any means, the platforming and puzzle solving is where it’s at.
There aren’t any brain melting puzzles, but a few are more than mildly tricky. The key is that they’re never dull; however they’re solved, you never have to do any tedious tasks over and over again. This doesn’t help the game’s length, with most players probably able to breeze through in less than eight hours, but there’s never a dull moment. The odd motorbike sequence is mixed in (which control terribly in this PSP version) and there are a few interactive custscenes that may well catch you off guard. Once you’ve finished the story you can go for 100 per cent completion by tackling each level in ‘time trial’ mode, and there are plenty of artefacts to be found throughout the adventure. PSP owners get the addition of wireless time trial play, as well as a treasure hunt mode.
I had expected the PSP game to look significantly different to the PlayStation 2 version, but the port has been handled incredibly well. Legend looked great on PlayStation 2, with large environments and a steady frame rate, so it wasn’t going to be easy to bring that to the portable without making sacrifices. The biggest difference between the games can be seen in the frame rate. Legend tends to bog down a little on the PSP, which is a shame, as the environments generally look remarkably close to their PlayStation 2 counterparts. The majority of PlayStation 2 to PSP ports can clearly be identified due to a significant downgrade in character model quality, but Lara doesn’t appear to have suffered much at all, with her model looking as well sculptured as ever. On the whole this is one of the most visually impressive games available for the PSP.
Spooks star and British starlet Keeley Hawes voices Lara, and, while not an obvious choice, her voice fits Lara perfectly; so much so that’s it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Other characters don’t seem to have had the same care over casting, with a few larger than life performances, but seeing as Lara gets most of the lines it’s not really an issue. The soundtrack is also excellent, although there’s a slight secret agent vibe to it at times. Overall it’s another job well done for the development team.
Tomb Raider: Legend might not be an epic or set new standards like the original game did ten years ago, but it’s thoroughly entertaining for its duration and is an impressive package on the PSP. While ports of games already available on other systems aren’t exactly what the PSP needs right now, it’s no bad thing that one of the action titles of the year has finally made it to Sony’s handheld. Slight control issues mean this isn’t quite as much fun to play as the console versions, but few handheld action games reach Tomb Raider: Legend’s overall quality.