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Tomb Raider: Legend

Lara's Nintendo debut is a GameCube title to treasure

From a trailblazing 3D platformer on Sega Saturn to the cover of The Face; from an icon for the PlayStation Generation to Angelina Jolie and a steady decline into gaming mediocrity... Lara Croft has had a busier decade than most videogame characters.

Although she hasn't been reduced to starring in Mario Kart rip-offs, the Tomb Raider titles are generally acknowledged to have been on the slide ever since the fi rst sequel. Lara remains a household name, but the effect of successively weaker follow-ups was threatening to ruin years of good fortune.

In an effort to restore credibility, an entirely new development team was hired and Lara was freed from some of the old-gen constraints that had kept the series from moving with the times. The clunky control system, slow pace and pedantic insistence on pixel-perfect accuracy were consigned to the bin, and the acrobatic fluidity of Prince Of Persia was borrowed wholesale.

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They adopted the interactive cutscenes from Resident Evil 4 and some of the polished presentation of EA's 007 titles. The things that hadn't worked for 10 years were chucked out and the whole concept was brought bang up to date. They even managed to fl esh out Lara's history and make her a character players could actually care about. In short, Tomb Raider: Legend is arguably the best game in the entire series.

Lady Debut
And it's also the first Tomb Raider title to appear on a Nintendo console. For one reason or another, Ms Croft completely skipped the N64 and has finally arrived on GameCube, late in the day, with a conversion of her most celebrated game since the very first one. She may have taken her time but, to be honest, we weren't really missing much with most of the previous Tomb Raider titles.

A spot of mountainside training kicks off a world tour that takes in locations as diverse as Tokyo and Cornwall during eight large levels. The Prince Of Persia influence is immediately apparent, with smooth sequences of poles to swing across, gaps to hop between and deadly tumbles prevented by a fingernail-ruining grasp at a crumbling ledge.

Time-consuming tasks, such as climbing ladders or monkey-clambering along overhanging pipes, can be speeded up by tapping the Y Button in time with Lara's movements. The same button is also used to save mistimed jumps if she only manages to grab a hold with one hand - fail to press it in time and she falls. A spot of ragdoll physics makes Lara's many deaths look suitably painful.

It's easy to get the hang of, and after a while you'll be swinging from beam to beam without stopping, launching into instant jumps between fingerholds before they break away from the wall. For a truly stylish finish to a good acrobatic sequence, you can even make Lara perform a slow, physically impossible, amusingly gratuitous somersault that ends with her doing the splits.

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Superwoman
Lara's implausible physical strength means she can kick boulders like footballs and slide enormous cubes of rock as if they were empty boxes. She also seems to weigh a ton - an early puzzle has her propelling heavy iron cages off the end of a granite seesaw simply by jumping on it. Realism might be the last thing you'd expect from a Tomb Raider game but there's a lot of inconsistency in what she can do in some situations and can't do in others.

Back at the Croft manor - Lara's house and training level - her stay-at-home American male sidekick watches the action unfold on some kind of magic video monitor while offering witty comments that tend to set her up for a cringe-worthy Bond-style quip. You can visit the house (and him) between levels, exploring whatever part of its vastness you've just unlocked in search of bonus items, but sadly it's not possible to shoot the gibbering fool to shut him up once and for all.

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