Tomb Raider 8
As much as Xbox World dug Legend (especially Lara's new yummy mummy guise), it was always an uncomfortable halfway house between old gen and next gen - both in graphical and gameplay terms. Still, execrable bike riding sections aside, at least new developers Crystal Dynamics managed to thoroughly nail those platforming mechanics which, let's be honest, were slowly driving a stake between Lara's heaving, voluptuous... Well, yes. But what's the next step?
Truthfully, most Raider fans would be chuffed to bits if this eagerly-awaited eighth instalment simply melded the perfectly poised, cerebral genius that comprised Anniversary's level design with - say - the state-of-the-art animation flaunted by Altair in Assassin's Creed. The reality? Legend's idea of a more high octane Lara, who dived with relish into large-scale pitched firefights, bounded around like an adrenaline-junkie during chase sections and went in big-style into the occasional skyscraper-sized boss ruck, will be continued in the next game. But, puzzles will also play a bigger part, in a nod to the classic Lara games of yore.
The first game was slick, but lacked the epic feel of the previous games in the series, so Crystal Dynamics will be looking to God of War and Prince of Persia for inspiration. Rumour is, there may even be some faffing about with gravity when Lara makes her inevitable journey to the dreamy Isle of Avalon in her search for her missing mater. Oh, and proper next gen sweat. Mmm...
Developers IO have only twice strayed from the series that made their name. Once for Xbox squad shooter Freedom Fighters, and now with this month's Kane & Lynch - and both times the reception has been a little... disappointing.
Freedom Fighters scored well, but failed to sell; and Kane & Lynch... well, check out the score on page 67 - and we'll have to see how it sells. Certainly, neither have met, or are likely to meet, with the critical and commercial success of Hitman, a multi-million-shifting franchise that's so big it's even sprouted wings and headed for Hollywood.
It's little wonder, then, that after dishing out a couple of dreary Dead Men, IO are heading back to the security of Codename 47's Silver Ballers for their next party trick. Already in development for a year and a half, Hitman 5 is exciting for two reasons: one, it'll be the first time the squeaky-headed murder-maker has been developed specifically for next gen; and two, the switch of generations marks a real opportunity for IO to advance a blueprint that, while still beautifully structured and remarkably clever, is undeniably starting to show its age.
So: new things. Improved AI is definitely 'on'. There will be a genuine unpredictability to your actions this time around - enemies surprise you, additional problems arise on the back of decisions you make, and when things go all-out shit-shaped, you have to call on improvised methods to get you the hell out. In Blood Money, while the levels' multiple routes were well done, AI reacted to you in pretty much the same way it had done four years earlier in Silent Assassin: they only ever come at you. This time round they'll be far more devious, and with less of a death wish, ducking, hiding and running away for back-up. Hitman 5's watchwords: you'll be up against it, all the time.
Also: you'll be getting a more easily accessible inventory - it would be nice to select weaponry while still moving around the levels, rather than having to enter a pause screen, which disrupts your flow. Oh, and the return of the gun shed from Silent Assassin is a FREAKING MUST. We had a taster of it in Blood Money with 47's cellar - but the original gun shed, set against the idyllic surroundings of a monastery was still the best place for ammo storage.