It's fair to say that Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise have taken one hell of a battering in recent years. After her hugely successful first outing, the square-breasted aristocrat must have felt nigh-on invincible. Sadly, years of subsequent abuse at the hands of uninspired games developers, not to mention a couple of dodgy movies, have worn down the lady's veneer of perfection, and the series has degenerated into something of a sad joke in gaming circles.
But all that is set to change. At least, it is if you believe what publisher Eidos is saying. Yes, yes, we know this is the same company who promised the horrifically bug-ridden Tomb Raider: The Angel Of Darkness would reinvigorate the third-person sepulchre-looting genre, but this time it's got an ace up its sleeve in the shape of original Lara Croft creator Toby Gard, who's been hired as lead character designer for Tomb Raider: Legend.
As these screenshots show, Gard has applied a touch of what film directors often describe as a 're-imagining' to Lara. She's unmistakably the same feisty posh bird we all enjoyed accompanying on her mausoleum-robbing sprees all those years ago, but she now carries frag grenades and sports a pair of non-ridiculously-sized norks (although her shorts appear to have shrunk in the wash). It's a new Lara for a new generation, or something. As well as the new character model, she's also getting freshly-animated moves, expressions and abilities, and neat little features like reactive eyes.
You'll also get plenty of gadgets to help make your catacomb-based thievery go smoother than ever. Aside from the famous dual pistols, Lara's now packing communications gear, binoculars, a magnetic grappling thingummy and something that Crystal Dynamics refers to as a 'personal lighting device' - what's wrong with 'torch'?
The developer is also making noises that suggest a return to Lara's old-style crypt-burgling antics is on the cards, and this can only be a good thing in our eyes. The team has poured over the reactions to each previous Tomb Raider title, replayed them all and conducted new research in an effort to unearth that elusive fun factor. In our humble opinion, a well-balanced mixture of exploration and puzzle-solving was the cornerstone of the first game's appeal, and if Crystal Dynamics can successfully recapture that, then we could finally see a new Tomb Raider game that lives up to the Lara legend. Full playtest soon.