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Tomb Raider: Legend

When I went in to pick up Katamari, I wandered by the PC aisle, and found the recent advertising hype for the latest Tomb Raider game washing over me in an irresistible wave. The last time I touched a Tomb Raider game was a decade ago -- after having finally gotten on board with this whole crazy "3D card" revolution, I tried out the demo of the first game, and found myself hopelessly lost and confused.

The series has had a strange history -- the notional game is hugely popular, but every recent game has been considered mediocre at best. So, as time has passed, my curiosity has grown as the series has declined. So now, finally, comes an entry that not only is supposed to be good, but is also designed for the so-called next generation of consoles -- how could I resist?

I have nothing to compare against, but so far I'm finding the game quite enjoyable. I'm probably a third of the way through, and I've found the gameplay all I'd hoped it to be. The core of the game is exploration and puzzle solving, and the puzzles have all been suitably satisfying and epic. The platforming elements are entertaining and well done. The scenery is breathtaking -- the most recent level I've played shifts from scaling up a waterfall to scouring the innards of an ancient temple in a suitably cinematic way. The game employs a depth-of-field technique to great effect, and gets little details like water spray right.

The game's not perfect, by any stretch: gunplay is diverting but simplistic, the camera can be frustrating, and the console mechanic of save points is, as always, infuriating. It can be especially infuriating during the occasional motorcycle sequence, sequences which are brutally unforgiving to poor steering. But these faults, while irritating, aren't dealbreakers. Ultimately the game's action movie sensibilities win out over the imperfections -- there's a sense of adrenaline-fueled pacing that pulls you to the next sequence quite effectively.

One last note on the cinema angle: the cutscenes take a page from the Indigo Prophecy school of interactivity. It's not as involved or distracting as in IP, but it hooks right into that same idea of breaking down the empathy wall and making you believe you're a stakeholder in what's fundamentally a canned action scene. It's great.

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