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Review: Lara Croft returns to form in 'Tomb Raider: Legend'

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

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Lara Croft returns to her roots in "Tomb Raider: Legend."

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She's back -- and this time, she won't disappoint.

Lara Croft, once one of the world's hottest video game vixens, stumbled in her last quest (2003's forgettable "Angel of Darkness"), but the femme fatale regains her cool in "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend."

Consider this new adventure a rebirth of the 10-year-old franchise. Now under the care of developer Crystal Dynamics, "Legend" proves there is plenty of heart and soul left in this once-coveted series.

Returning to her roots, the explorer again travels to some of the world's most exotic locations, such as Nepal, Bolivia and Peru, in search of ancient artifacts.

But in doing so, she uncovers an international conspiracy that is eerily tied to her mother's death in the Himalayas when Croft was 9 years old.

Viewed from a third-person perspective, Croft is an agile adventurer who can perform moves such as scaling cliffs, swinging from ropes across chasms, sliding down precipices and swimming through rough currents. She also can fire two pistols at once at enemies -- even while jumping through the air -- or use her grappling hook to lasso a bad guy so she can finish him off with a swift kick.

While Croft's capabilities may seem overwhelming, controlling her is a breeze.

The first level of the game serves as a comprehensive tutorial with plenty of onscreen instructions to familiarize players with the controls.

Croft also can walk over and pick up items such as health packs or collect three different "reward" icons that unlock extra game content, concept art and other bonuses. Once one full level is complete, players also can unlock access to Croft Manor, as seen in past "Tomb Raider" games.

Pressing the select button on the video game controller opens your PDA (personal digital assistant), which lists your objectives, outlines which rewards you've collected and provides a thorough description on how to use Croft's gear.

Aesthetically speaking, "Legend" is the best-looking "Tomb Raider" yet -- even on the aging Sony PlayStation 2. Naturally, a lot of effort went into making the heroine look gorgeous, but all the environments look spectacular as well. The game can be played in wide-screen mode or with progressive scan using the proper video cables and an HDTV for even higher-quality visuals.

The only graphical issue is a sometimes finicky camera that makes it difficult to see what's going on, such as when you're behind a waterfall or in small rooms.

Audio is top-notch, however. The enjoyable orchestrated soundtrack makes "Legend" feel more like a motion picture than a video game, as does the professional voice acting.

"Legend" isn't a long game nor a difficult one to play, so seasoned gamers may be a tad disappointed in this regard. But it sure is a memorable ride as it manages to recapture the magic that made this series a beloved one.

Croft is back, and better than ever.

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