Scantily clad archaeologist Lara Croft is back for more danger and hidden treasure in "Tomb Raider: Legend." This T-rated game ($49.99 for PlayStation 2 and Xbox, $59.99 for Xbox 360, $39.99 for personal computers) revives a long-suffering franchise.
The decline began with two dismal movies starring Angelina Jolie: "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" in 2001 and "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" in 2003. Also in 2003 came "Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness," with its tedious controls and glitchy graphics.
It seemed as if Croft's glory days from a decade ago were over. But with "Legend," Eidos Interactive has liberated this brainy super heroine by letting Croft do what she does best: raid tombs for treasure, solving puzzles along the way.
This rebuilt Croft still wears her skimpy outfit consisting of combat boots, shorts and a tank top. Her revealing physique remains, too, though she's more athletic and not as outrageously proportioned as before.
This fitter, happier, more productive Croft translates into a game that's much more enjoyable to play than previous games in the series.
The controls are more crisp and precise than they've ever been: Croft jumps, slides and dangles off cliffs and swinging vines like a circus acrobat. (Though swimming is still a bit clunky.)
As the name implies, "Legend" explores some of Croft's roots, beginning with a plane crash with her mother in the Himalayas when she was just 9. Then there's some odd story involving sword fragments, but really this isn't a game you'll buy for a deep plot.
Croft's known for dual-wielding pistols, and packing heat certainly has its uses in the booby-trapped environments she'll explore in Bolivia, the Himalayas, Japan and other spots around the globe.
One of her niftiest new gadgets is a magnetic grappling tool. You can use it to shoot a cable in the distance to grab enemies, pull open stone doorways and to swing Tarzan-style across otherwise impassable chasms.
"Legend" uses real-world physics and many objects can be used strategically: piles of rocks can be pushed down a hillside to crush foes, for example.
There's little difference between the various versions in terms of gameplay. The Xbox 360 edition certainly has the best 3D graphics, and it should considering the $10 price premium.
If there are any faults to be found, it's the ease with which I breezed through the game.
Two days of casual play and I was done. But it's a good sign that I was left wanting more.
A franchise that was risking irrelevancy has made a strong return with "Legend."
Three stars out of four.