Previews

Tomb Raider: Legend

We join Eidos' Greg Hounsom, senior producer of TR Legend for hands on test of the 360 version of Lara's latest

Lara steps gingerly onto the stone walkway. It looks rickety and unsafe; ancient Peruvian workmanship was somewhat lacking. Let's be frank, it wouldn't pass a Health & Safety inspection unless your Uncle Huaracina was on the council.

It collapses (of course it collapses) and an Up arrow appears on the screen. Fail to press it and Lara gives a pleasant little whimper and plummets to her deep and distant death. (We kill her a good three times before the appalled PR moves us on - those whimpers are so alluring!) Press it and she leaps to a nearby statue, and following a few more time-sensitive button presses (with equally neat death sequences), pogos to the relative safety of a broad stone courtyard...

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So, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend - is it an interactive movie then? We thought the interactive movie was dead after such painfully dull titles as Myst and Plumbers Don't Wear Ties, but last year's Fahrenheit proved oddly popular, despite the player's lack of involvement. Well, fear not. You'll be relieved to know that Lara hasn't been turned into a barely controlled pouting movie marionette; she retains all the action-adventure elements we're used to, from outrageous acrobatics to ranged combat to physical puzzles. She's even got stretching idle animations that we could watch for hours. Literally, hours.

We're sitting in Eidos's headquarters in Wimbledon, London, (decorated with lots of obscene ex-Lara leotards) being shown two levels by Greg Hounsom, senior producer on the project (and of the great LEGO Star Wars). "Angel of Darkness was a bit of a consumer letdown," he admits. "Lara hadn't evolved since the early days, and the ways she'd changed weren't right. The animations in particular had been the same since the first game, so we decided to go 'back to basics'." Lawks, Tomb Raider inspired by a 1980s Thatcherite policy? She'll be paying Poll Tax next.

That said, that revisionist approach has borne wholesome fruit. Anyone who saw the E3 trailer, or indeed the E3 waterfall screenshots, will have wondered if they were real, assuming them to be renders. They're not. "Crystal spent nine months in pre-production," beams Hounsom, "taking feedback from consumers and developing their tech and artwork." The first level we play is a walkthrough of that Ghanaian waterfall area, starting from the cliff face that Lara was standing on. We leap off the cliff face into the water with Lara's trademark swan-dive (we're not sure how that differs from a normal dive in terms of twists and pikes and stuff), which feels very Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and then it's straight into the first of the puzzles.

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In front of us on a small island in front of the Niagra-style waterfalls, is an ancient apparatus sealed into position by a sunken counterweight. We run Lara to the side and she instantly demonstrates the new fluid movement system, as we clamber her up onto a small ledge and she sways, pulls herself up, drops down, and shows a full range of movement vis-a-vis a ledge. To be fair, it doesn't look that different from Splinter Cell or Prince of Persia, but Hounsom seems to regard it all as amazingly revolutionary, so we don't dare contradict him. (He's very serious.)

When we get Lara up to the top of this little mound, we make her leap for a rope dangling from the top of the apparatus. As Lara hangs onto it, her weight (from the new physics engine) drags the counterweight out of the top of the gate. However, that doesn't mean it will open, just that it could - but we can't get down to push it open without letting go of the counterweight. Hmm. Hounsom then points out Lara's new swinging abilities and with a Tarzan-like whoop, we swing her into the gate, knocking it open. As it does so, it triggers a mechanism that dams the waterfalls above, opening up a huge, ancient, vault-like complex, hidden for centuries, riddled with traps, puzzles and all that. You know the score, adventure!

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