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If you're looking to make a good third-person action game, there is no better teacher than Core Design. The original Tomb Raider was the world's introduction to the genre and boy, was it a great way to discover it. Although Core became a part of Eidos years ago, what remains of its design prowess is evident with the latest title in the franchise - Tomb Raider: Legend.
Staying true to the style of previous titles, Legend is easy to get in to and fun to play. Although the numerous aerobatic abilities available to the player through Croft may seem daunting at first, the context-sensitive nature of these abilities makes executing them incredibly simple.
Unsurprisingly, Legend has Lara chasing after a mystical artefact that can serve as a powerful weapon. Having personally experienced the destructive capabilities of the ancient, evil device, there's no way she can let it fall into the wrong hands. So, it's up to gaming's most famous and buxomest export to save the day and with a great graphics engine, slick controls and a stomach you could bounce Spanish doubloons off of, Croft is well-equipped for her next adventure.
Lara has undergone a bit of a remodelling - although still proportioned with dimensions that would make even Aphrodite jealous, she's much more realistic-looking than previous outings and her, ah, fans out there will be more than pleased.
Gameplay consists of the player making good use of the gorgeous environment by jumping, climbing, shimmying, swinging, pushing and swimming. Once you have the hang of the control system, it's no trouble to seamlessly transition from a hand-over-hand expedition on a rock ledge to a daring leap through the air to a nearby vine.
Physics also make a welcome addition. No longer do objects abide by a weird set of Newtonian laws - expect to find solutions to puzzle that go beyond pushing a box onto a pressure switch (think catapults!). We guarantee this will serve as a source of frustration when you first start the game but with a bit of play time, you'll start thinking like an amateur physicist, much in the same way as Half-Life 2 demanded.
The inventory and information interfaces have been streamlined and selecting your weapon, torch light or health packs is as easy as a simple press of the D-pad. Assisting you along the way are pop-ups that show which buttons you need to press in order to complete an action so you aren't left running in circles wondering what you can destroy, grapple or otherwise manipulate. Weapons are also less complex - enemies will drop guns you can use, as long as you continue to scavenge the appropriate ammo of fallen opponents. As always, Lara's dual pistols have unlimited ammo, so the focus is all on the action.
The combat system takes a few fights to nut out but, once you have the strafing, locking and firing buttons memorised you'll be dodging bullets and throwing some of your own back in little time. The controls in this case are close to perfect, something that's crucial in any action game void of a first-person perspective.
The Tomb Raider series has always been famous for its puzzles and traps, and Legend is no exception. Although the difficulty isn't so bad, you'll still need to put your thinking cap on to solve the tricker ones. Oh, and the traps - taking a leaf from the awesome Resident Evil 4, Lara is placed from time to time in 'on-rails' situations where the player must hit the right combination of keys to survive. Kind of like Dance Dance Revolution except instead of losing the beat, you lose your head.
As great as Legend is, it still suffers from extreme linearity that's always plagued the series. There's only one path to get from A to B, so if you don't figure out the right combination of jumps or objects to be pushed straight away, you'll spend a lot of time sitting distraught in front of your TV. It would have been nice if the developer, for once, entertained the idea of multiple solutions to each puzzle to reward creative and lateral thinking. Because of this, Legend doesn't have an extreme amount of replayability, unless you're happy to just up the difficulty and charge through again. The other option is to fill out 'Croft Manor'. Here, unlockables reside including new levels, cinematics and other tidbits. The better you do on each level, the more you'll be granted access to.
Tomb Raider: Legend, while not exactly inspired, sticks like gum to the tenants of the genre. The result is a game that refines everything we've come to expect from a third-person action adventure and makes it just that little bit better. And the fact the protagonist is Lara Croft doesn't hurt either.
This Review appeared in the June, 2006 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine