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by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Tomb Raider: Legend, Rated Teen, PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360, PC, 3 out of 5 Stars & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he goal of the Tomb Raider games is to keep Lara Croft alive. This is harder than it sounds, since Lara is an extreme player of that children's game known as "Lava" or "Don't Touch the Floor." She spends much of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend dangling from cliff ledges, swinging from a grappling hook and setting herself aright with sultry back flips. Lara is an archaeologist with a taste for crumbling temples, and apparently such maneuvers are required in her line of work.


Lara's spider monkey antics give me ample opportunity to see her from every angle. Viewed from above, she resembles a three-leaf clover. But seen from the front, Lara has been made to resemble her cinematic counterpart more than ever. Bulk has been transferred from her bust to her lips. They've shrunk the eyes and extended her thighs. As Lara strides through the game's booby-trapped hallways, she looks strikingly like Angelina Jolie -- a similarity strengthened by the fact that they both go around the world collecting things (artifacts, children) from Third World countries.


After a decade of Tomb Raider games, Lara has pretty much run out of tombs to raid. So this time around, she ransacks roadside attractions and abandoned Soviet laboratories. In the game's sweatiest-palm level, she clambers over neon signs and swings from television antennae on a skyscraper miles above Tokyo. Occasionally she fights. Her enemies are competitive archaeologists who are clearly evil because they look like Eurotrash. But these battles are little more than trigger-finger interludes. The game's best action is above the field of battle.


When Lara dies, she lets out a range of death wails, some of which extend dramatically past her death. Most of her deaths are due to my incompetence, but I can occasionally blame them on the overcompetence of the graphics. Legend is filled with so much visual detail that it's difficult to tell the difference between ledges that Lara can hang from safely and ledges that hold her like a virtual oil slick. Lara's best deaths, however, occur during the game's cut-scenes. Moments before she is about to encounter a disaster, I'm suddenly asked to press a specific button. If I don't, I watch her suffer some stupendous, digitally prefabricated end. It's often worth botching the job just to see how Lara Croft dies.





THE GOOD: Legend equals or excels the past Tomb Raider games in terms of setting, action and cleavage. Most importantly, the gameplay in Legend is consistently satisfying. Puzzles that seem helpless one moment, with Lara running aimlessly around an ancient room, click into place moments later. This is the upside to having puzzles that fit together one way: Just do the next thing you can, and the game almost plays itself.





THE BAD: Despite the game's regularly occurring shooting sequences, none of the foes ever presents a challenge, making the gunfights superfluous. Even with Lara's agility and range of weaponry, there are no elaborate kill-moves, and enemies hit directly in the head take exactly the same amount of damage as enemies shot in the foot. I can't take that seriously.





THE BOTTOM LINE: Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend may be the world's greatest Barbie doll with matching play-set.

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