Anyone here played Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness? Anyone? No? Good for you. It was a bit like having your back rubbed with malicious intent, using coarse sandpaper - a deeply unpleasant experience, and completely unnecessary. It also marked a once great game series' tragic fall from grace - the only series which could, alongside our beloved Mario, claim to have shaped the 3D platformer as we know it.
That was three years ago. After a brief hiatus, this once proud series has been wrestled from the grasp of original creators Core, by Crystal Dynamics - developers of the respectable Legacy of Kain and... um, Gex 64: Enter the Gecko.
Back to raiding basics
Whatever their pedigree, you'll be hard pushed to find anyone who's played Tomb Raider: Legend on Xbox or PS2 and isn't full of praise for Crystal Dynamics. They did do the decent thing after all - take Lara Croft back to her temple-raiding roots, putting the emphasis more on exploration and environmental puzzles, and less on misplaced 'sex appeal' and CPU-straining mammary polygon counts. Now, it's on GameCube - and our exclusive shots show that everything's intact.
Legend harks back to Lara's golden days - crumbling stone walls, ancient artifacts, block-pushing brain teasers and the kind of rock-climbing athleticism which defies every preconception we ever had about archaeology.
Nice and nimble
But gone are the old pixel perfect jumps and rigid rules for movement and climbing, and in their place is the kind of dynamic animation that made us go all foamy in the gum-department back when Sands of Time was released. Climbing, grabbing, swinging and running movements all blend beautifully, giving exploration a kind of nimble grace that the original Tomb Raider could only have dreamt of. The combat system has also been vastly improved - it's far more fluid, much more intuitive, and (crucially) is actually enjoyable. There's a huge range of pistol-toting moves at Lara's disposal, so you no longer dread the moments where you have to aim at some poor beast that's crossed your path.
Pleasingly, Lara's character has also been given the once over, both physically - in that she's no longer as freakishly inflated - and also in terms of giving some backstory and insight into who she is. The cutscenes are ace, and the GameCube graphics overall are virtually indistinguishable from the Xbox version - lavish levels take you from ruined temples in Bolivian jungles, to a swanky Tokyo nightclub, to the ever-glamorous Cornwall, somewhere off the A30.
In truth, there's not much to say about the GameCube version that isn't along the lines of "This works as superbly as it did elsewhere". We'd have liked some new levels or other GC-specific extras, granted. But even as a direct port, sexy archaeology isn't done better anywhere else.