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Tomb Raider: Legend

Tomb Raider is, indeed, a legend. Conceived for the first generation of Playstation back in 1996, it swiftly became a games icon, marking one of the first mainstream breakthrough hits for that platform and put publisher, Eidos, on the map.

Successive versions of the game all went downhill, however, with the last installment - Angel of Darkness - getting absolutely panned in the press and by gamers alike. The franchise got so bad, in fact, that Eidos pulled Lara away from her roots in Derbyshire with Core Design and handed over responsibility for the latest version to San Francisco-based developer, Crystal Dynamics, also owned by the publishing giant.

Crystal claims to have spent a year researching the original games before even starting to code this version, and their stated aim has been to take the series back to basics and to put the enjoyability back into the game. Have the succeeded? In a word - yes. But let's not pre-empt our conclusion. Let's start with the things that Tomb Raider: Legend does well.

Plot LOL

Yes, there's a plot - and actually, it's quite a good one. The game starts with a flashback to Lara's youth, and throughout the game you'll actually be thrown into playable flashbacks of Lara's former adventures, where the context is deemed necessary for the storyline. You'll actually feel some compulsion to finish the game and find out what happens because the story keeps throwing new things at you.

Tomb Raider: Legend Tomb Raider: Legend
The individual scenarios also feel appropriate for the character and the game world. There is a very film-like feel to the game, with Lara raiding tombs one minute and then jetting off to a cocktail party in Japan the next. The game constantly introduces new ideas to you - you begin the Japan level at said cocktail party in the tightest of tight dresses, meaning you can do nothing but teeter around the room on your high heels and talk to people. When all hell breaks loose - as it inevitably does - Lara pulls a couple of guns out of her handbag, kicks off her shoes and gets down and dirty in a sequence that is reminiscent of (ironically) the recent Angelina Jolie / Brad Pitt flilm Mr and Mrs Smith.

There's a great range of locales in the game and the action is always varied. The levels sport unique design, with Japan being made up of buildings and mostly indoor areas, Peru being rocky outcrops and crumbling tombs and the like. The graphical styles of each are distinct and add to the immersiveness of the game.

Pu. Zzles?

Tomb Raider has always been big on the puzzles, and this marks a return to the classic style - pull levers, manoeuver blocks onto trip switches, align stones etc etc. There is a new dimension added to the puzzling with the addition of a grappling hook to Lara's gadget belt. This can be used not only for helping Lara to reach the parts other gadgets can't reach, but for solving interesting problems too. Big block of stone in your way? Grapple the hook to it then give a mighty yank to bring it tumbling down in pieces.

The problems you're asked to solve usually require some thought but are nevertheless straightforward. If you're a veteran of the genre, there will be nothing here to tax you immensely - until you get towards the end of the game when the puzzles get suddenly more obscure, to the detriment of enjoyability.

Tomb Raider: Legend Tomb Raider: Legend

But what about the action?

When you're not puzzling, you're exploring or shooting things. Thankfully, the control system has been completely revamped and getting Lara exactly where you want her (well, not exactly, but hey...) is now easier than ever. Control feels far more natural thanks to new, fluid animation, with jumping, ledge-climbing and tricky combinations never leaving you frustrated. If you miss something, it will be your fault, not because you forgot to back-up another couple of pixels.

Combat is rudimentary and blatantly designed for consoles. Pulling out your guns and looking at an enemy will cause the targeting system to lock on, and then it's just a case of circle strafing and pounding the fire button to make sure he/she/it gets dead. If you want to change target you just have to swing your view in the direction required and the lock on will change appropriately. You can cycle targets in your field of view with another button if you really feel the need.

Lara has a range of new close combat moves including a slide kick, but you'll never need them - with infinite ammo for your trademark pistols there's little need to resort to manual bashing. Combat isn't a massive part of the game, so its lack of sophistication won't cause you too many hassles, but it could be a lot better.

We touched briefly on the fact that the levels are all fairly unique and appropriately stylised, but we still can't help but feel that making your way through them is too convoluted. This is one beef we've had with the series since the early days and there's no difference here. Need to get to another building? Oh, there's a series of window cleaning platforms neatly positioned next to a flag pole I can swing off onto a drainpipe which is inexplicably the only drainpipe on the entire building. Need to get across a massive chasm? How handy that there's just enough ledge on either side for Lara to grab and fingertip her way across.

The game even mocks itself in places: Lara suggests that the rooftop, in amongst construction gear, is a bizarre place to keep a performance Ducati bike. She is quite right - the only reason the bike is there is to enable you to rev up and soar across a partially completed walkway to another building. The game really lacks a sense of real-world-ness in places like this - why not just have a giraffe on the roof that can bend its neck to allow Lara to walk across to the next building? It would be just as plausible.

Tomb Raider: Legend Tomb Raider: Legend

It's good though

But for all its implausibility in places, the game is definitely a good'un, albeit perhaps a little short. The plot keeps you playing, the gameplay is compelling enough to keep you raiding and the diverse levels and good mix of action and puzzling means you don't get bored. If nothing else, you'll keep playing just to hear more of the gorgeous Keeley Hawes (Lara's voice talent in this version) and see if the bizarre lesbian undertones the game throws at you in some of the story sequences actually play out into anything substantial.

The game, in this sense, does trade off the trademark sex appeal of Lara, even to the point of making her spend one level wandering around in (visible) lacy knickers. However, unlike previous iterations of the game, this isn't all the game has. There's a background of competence in the rest of the game that means the sex appeal is the icing on a very tasty cake, rather than the entirety of the cake.

Tomb Raider: Legend isn't perfect, but Crystal Dynamics has done a great job in re-invigorating the series and making Tomb Raider a great franchise once again. We can't wait for the next one.