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Tomb Raider Anniversary - sexy new impressions

Of the levels we've seen so far, our current pick is The Lost Valley. It's here that the free-form level design is most evident, the sheer number of routes through the caves offering a very real hope that Tomb Raider: Anniversary will boast the kind of shelf-life that Tomb Raider: Legend so desperately lacked. The Lost Valley level is also the most impressive in visual terms. Suffice to say, the first time you emerge from the cramped interior of the pitch-black caves into the harsh light of the valley itself is a moment that'll stay with you long after you've dispatched with the Jurassic-era nastiness that lurks within.

And Botta insists that The Lost Valley is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Tomb Raider: Anniversary's revised, rebooted and improved level design. For his money, the current pick of the crop is Egypt: "It's got a lot of fun traps going on - and it really forces the player to stay on their toes and utilize all Lara's abilities. It's the third chapter in the game, so when you get there it starts to get a little tough. By then we've introduced the player to all the mechanics, they've had time to ramp up on them, and now we force them to use it and it becomes really fun and challenging. Once you try the new system, you won't go back!"



Continuing on our "same only better" theme, we come to Tomb Raider: Anniversary's music. Or lack thereof. As anyone who has played Tomb Raider recently will tell you, the original is a quiet game, the sparse orchestral score only sparking into life when something interesting happens. All of which contrasts sharply with Tomb Raider: Legend and its constant, never-ending, concentration-hogging soundtrack. It's something that Botta is keenly aware of: "We're conscious of how they used music in the original. Our composer re-orchestrated all the scores from the game and added more. Where there might have been one combat music for all the enemies in the level, we've made individual micro-scores for each enemy… to keep it familiar, but also to add some variety."

We enjoy a taster of this midway through our exclusive playtest. Seconds before we exit the caves, blinking and gasping, and step into The Lost Valley, we encounter a lumbering, slobbering bear. Instantly, the suffocating ambient sounds are replaced with a pulsing, racing combat score and, in an instant, the whole atmosphere changes. With the bear slain, the music diminishes, the unobtrusive background music returns, and the sense that we're all alone in a big scary place returns.

The realistic sound effects are just as impressive - the faint echo of Lara's hand-smacks as she struggles to gain a hold on the granite surfaces adding immeasurably to the atmosphere.

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