Previews

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend

Lara drops into our laps and lets us fiddle with her particulars

With Lara Croft's triumphant rebirth as the queen of gaming heroines all but a few months away, it's with a palpable sense of fatherly pride that Eidos has been showing off its most prized set of assets. And while the story behind Lara's latest adventure is still a better guarded secret than Prince William's mobile number (apparently Lara is searching for a mysterious artefact that is somehow tied in with the death of her parents - why, we have no idea), we did get to witness several surprising new features in our latest hands-on session with the game.

Revelations such as surprising new feature number one: despite the very public effort to bring Lara back to her roots - that is, crawling around sites of significant archaeological interest while wearing a Barbie doll T-shirt and shorts combo - don't expect every level to be set in a crumbling old tomb. When she's not dodging Inca deathtraps and keeping the local leopard population under control with her trademark twin pistols, Lara can be found running around South American shanty towns and chic Tokyo cocktail parties, not to mention other, even more exotic and dangerous locales.

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And that's not forgetting surprising new feature number two: that being the return of Lara's penchant for speed in the form of a souped-up motorbike with tyres the thickness of elephant legs. Needless to say, plenty of tense moments can be expected on the back of this mechanical beast.

But more importantly still, now that we've had the chance to sit down and properly, erm, grapple with the new-and-improved Lara Croft for ourselves, we can confidently state that Tomb Raider: Legend bears all the hallmarks of a classic piece of third-person action-adventure. You can forget the franchise's chequered legacy straight off - the development team certainly has, pretty much wiping the entire Tomb Raider slate clean, in favour of a completely new back-story and cast of characters, and settle down for what promises to be a good old-fashioned treasure hunt.

What's really impressed us about Lara is the way she handles in the new game (steady, gents). With much of the challenge coming from simply navigating the convoluted tombs and natural obstacles before you, getting Lara to go and do exactly what you want is vital, and Tomb Raider: Legend seems to have this down to a fine art. It sounds obvious, but getting Lara to jump from one precarious ledge to another really is as simple as tapping a button.

Likewise, getting her out of heavier scrapes (read 'gunfights with dodgy relic-smuggling types') is equally straightforward. Gunplay has always been central to the Tomb Raider ethos, but Legend has really gone to town on the experience. At its simplest, Lara can run, leap, dodge and roll about, squeezing off round after round of ammunition, but get up close to an enemy and she can vault off their shoulders, turning mid-air to target them in a stream of slow-motion bullets. Alternatively, target one of the special context-sensitive areas that litter each level and you can set off a chain-reaction of events that will ultimately cause much bad guy pain and death - shoot down a particularly shaky looking stone column, for instance, and you can crush a crowd of no-goods in deadly falling masonry.

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But there's so much more to Tomb Raider: Legend than just running around and shooting. It's also a damn fine puzzler in its own right. The majority of the mental challenge in the Prince of Persia games came from figuring out how to get from one point in the environment to another. Tomb Raider: Legend has that and a whole range of devilish object-manipulation teasers as well. Using a combination of moveable items (rocks, pressure pads, pulleys and pivots, to pluck a few at random), Lara's useful new grappling hook and some very clever physics effects, Crystal Dynamics has created the ultimate combination of looks, action and problem solving. To play Tomb Raider: Legend is to be a true modern day Indiana Jones (with boobs).

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