By Christine Jeavans
Lara Croft, the ballsy, under-dressed first lady of gaming returns to glory in Tomb Raider: Legend.
With the seventh in the Tomb Raider series, it feels as though the sorry mess of the previous episode, Angel of Darkness, has been wiped away like dust on an Inca relic.
'Hmm, do I backflip to that rock or use my new magnetic grapple?'
Three years have passed since we last met Miss Croft. In that time, Eidos have dropped original developers Core Design from the project and brought in Crystal Dynamics, best known for the Legacy of Kain series.
So, a new design team. But from the word go, Legend feels like the vintage game the world fell in love with in Tomb Raider I and II.
It is not without fault, but it has an engaging plot, neat puzzles, epic landscapes and a nifty new trick or two tucked in Lara's holster belt.
After a James Bond style title sequence, we are even treated to some character development. Legend starts with a flashback in which a young Lara and her mother are travelling in their private plane, discussing Yetis, naturally, when it catches fire and crashes.
It soon becomes clear that Lara's present-day hunt for artefacts will also be a quest into her own past.
The game starts in classic TR territory: a pre-Incan palace on a mountain top in Bolivia which hides some Arthurian magic.
From there, Lara visits Peru, Japan, Ghana, Kazakhstan, England and the Himalayas, solving puzzles, meeting old adversaries and blasting baddies along the way.
The graphics are smooth, particularly on Lara, who has had quite an overhaul, and the scenery is rich and varied with a different feel on each level.
TOMB RAIDER LEGEND
Format: PlayStation 2 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Xbox, PC, PSP (due spring)
Enduring appeal: 9
The first level is a chance to try out some new moves and kit, including a set of binoculars and a magnetic grappling hook.
The gameplay is fluid. Lara is easy to control and she has a much-improved range of movement. It is usually fairly obvious which is the next ledge or rope to grab hold of, although you will have to work hard to find the gold rewards.
There is less prescriptiveness than before in the moves. For instance you don't have to take off in exactly the right spot to pull off a leap.
While this all speeds up play and helps avoid some of the more frustrating aspects of earlier Tomb Raiders, it can also feel nannyish at times.
When it comes to combat, Lara still has the trademark dual pistols with unlimited rounds. She can also pick up guns dropped by enemies and use grenades.
All weapons have a lock-on facility so our trigger-happy heroine can blast away to her heart's content.
Actress Keely Hawes is the voice of Lara
She is also prompted to shoot objects such as the fuel tank of a lorry to take out a job-lot of foes.
The dialogue is excellent and Lara's cut glass English tones are the real thing, provided by Keeley Hawes of Spooks fame.
In fact, the sound throughout is magnificent with satisfyingly spine-tingling music and depth to the effects.
There are some gripes. The early challenges feel too easy and it also grates that Lara is in constant radio contact with her base team who interject inane "be careful now" comments along the way.
But for a legion of Tomb Raider fans who have been waiting patiently for Lara to get back to what she does best, this is unlikely to disappoint.