With her trademark grace and charm, Lara Croft has completely reestablished herself as the supreme heroine of third-person adventure gaming. Whether solving mind-wracking puzzles, gunning down foes with chilling ruthlessness, or exploring everything from steamy jungle waterfalls in Ghana to a frigid military base in Kazakhstan, the lady who vaulted the PlayStation into stardom has returned to recapture our hearts.
Throughout Tomb Raider: Legend there is a palpable sense of a perfected experience. Lara feels on target all the time - she's a whirling dervish of gunplay, gymnastics and personality unleashed with the flick of your finger on the controller. Lara's controls are so refined that the early tutorial-style levels are predominantly geared not toward teaching you the controls, but to training you to look for clues to solve the game's myriad puzzles. Only a few techniques take practice. Finally, Lara is as responsive and agile as her occupation requires, and developer Crystal Dynamics' experience with third-person action adventures (Soul Reaver and Whiplash, to name a mere two) is evident in every jump and roll.
Everything about this game pushes you towards the conclusion of Lara's ever-expanding quest. Each puzzle room has a little hint-movie that pans the camera around, showing off some of the room's points of interest (usually the path you'll need to follow to get out). Ropes, grappling hook attachment points and interactable objects get a shiny sheen to highlight them as possible solution options. Legend wants you to beat it - it wants you to restore Lara Croft to her position at the top of the tomb raiding heap.
Lara now has a genuine personality. Beyond the usual throw-away one-liners, this game delves into Lara's past, uncovering telling tidbits that add dimension to her character. Her friends, Zip and Allister, contribute to the story by filling in clever quips and giving Lara hints from time to time. Although Ms. Croft generally maintains an even-temper throughout the game, there are moments when she gets angry and her narrowed eyes and gritting teeth barely contain her raging fury ... until she unloads it in the form of a searing barrage from her trusty pistols on some hapless thug.
The plot of Legend takes a minute to get going, but it's universally engaging and supremely motivating once it breaks out. Between the underlying sub-plot of Lara's mother's mysterious disappearance and the over-arching storyline following the search for her long-lost friend and co-worker Amanda, Lara is caught up in an emotionally charged, globe-trotting escapade of non-stop adventure.
The bottom line for Tomb Raider: Legend is that it accomplishes its goals thoroughly and masterfully. Every second of this game screams skillful design and the result is a liberating game world that feels open and responsive. Nearly every object in the game reacts to Lara's influence, and this applies to the gamer holding the control pad as well - it's impossible to play this game and not fall under its tempting spell.