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Lara bounces back

First INQpressions Lara Croft Tomb Raider Legend
Mon May 15 2006, 19:42
IT DOESN'T SEEM possible that Lara Croft has been on our PC screens for nearly 10 years now, writes Jonathan Parkyn.

A decade is an eternity in showbiz. But, unlike many real-life starlets, the voluptuous videogame icon has the unique ability to get better looking with age.

And that's the first thing you'll notice when you start up Tomb Raider Legend (or Lara Croft Tomb Raider Legend to give the game its slightly uncatchy full title).

Window-on-the-world-

Both the game and its - ahem - titular heroine look absolutely stunning when played on a PC running a decent graphics card. But, while Lara herself is clearly none the worse for wear, the Tomb Raider series has been getting progressively worse over the years.

So it's hard [ahem -Ed.] to get too excited about a new instalment, especially since the last game in the series - The Angel of Darkness - is widely understood to be an unmitigated disaster.

A lot has happened in the world of third-person action gaming since then, and Eidos has learned not only from its own mistakes, but also from the success of other adventurers like Ubisoft's Prince of Persia.

This is particularly evident in the way that our Lara handles. Where once she had all the manoeuvrability of a ten-tonne truck, old hotpants now has a graceful, fluid set of moves that are genuinely enjoyable to wield.

The game is distinctly better when you switch your keyboard and mouse for a gamepad. And, unlike in previous outings, you'll rarely be moved to throw things at the screen in frustration.

There are a couple of slightly misjudged motorbike-chase sequences and the occasional annoying 'interactive cutscene' to cope with. No doubt there will be a mod to liven those up. But, during all the climbing, jumping, swinging and shimmying that makes up the majority of the game, Lara's behaviour is impeccable.

Story-wise, there's the usual hokum about some missing artefact or other. It's not exactly original or even particularly coherent, but it certainly serves as an adequate backdrop for Lara's globetrotting archaeological adventures.

Both the script and the voice acting are worth noting. Casting Keely Hawes (last seen in BBC One's Spooks) as the voice of Lara is a stroke of genius for which someone surely deserves a medal. The actress's clipped feminine tones bring a whole new warmth to Croft's curves, adding a further, as yet under-exploited, layer of sex appeal to the character.

All in all, Legend is a tremendous success and goes a long way towards restoring the Tomb Raider series' slightly tarnished reputation.

The game is a fairly short experience (about nine hours in total) with relatively little in the way of replay value. Apart from collecting hidden treasures and unlocking new outfits for Lara to wear, there's not a lot to keep you coming back. There's no multiplayer action either.

The brief Croft Mansion standalone sidegame, however, is another of the Legend's highlights. ?

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