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Tomb Raider: Anniversary Preview (February 4)

Lara Croft has not only transcended the game that created her, but the entire medium. She is as much a cultural icon as Pac-Man and Mario, starring in everything from films to fashion shoots. She has turned a Topshop worker into an international model, and a collection of pixels into the world's first true virtual sex symbol.

With all of that going on, it's easy to forget her roots. Most of her games have met with commercial and critical success, but none made more of an impact than her first outing; Lara Croft Tomb Raider. Her infamous bosom and slender figure made her the unofficial mascot for the PlayStation generation, and her athletic ability and well-spoken English accent lent her the status of a new Indiana Jones.

Lara's back to her roots

The press and public were so dazzled by her persona in 1996 almost nobody noticed that she invaded untouched sacred relics and riddled endangered species with lead for a living. It's hard to imagine she's been successfully two-timing the hardcore with the mainstream for 11 years now, and Eidos is celebrating this fact with the release of Lara Croft Tomb Raider Anniversary for the PS2,PSP and PC.

This remaking of the original Tomb Raider is set to be far more than a simple port with a new skin. Based on the newly unveiled Egypt level, Anniversary is already looking like an epic reinterpretation of the first game. Though the transformation is not quite as drastic, the best analogy to demonstrate what Crystal Dynamics have to done to the classic Core title is to compare it with what Peter Jackson did with the original King Kong.

Lara Croft's trip to the land of the Pharaohs, for example, is still set in a dusty labyrinth of sandy catacombs and chambers, but now involves far more exploration and adventure. 11 years ago you could dash through the city of Khamoon in a lunch break. Over a decade later, finding just one of four keys needed to complete the primary objective of the equivalent area took well over and hour, and involved new puzzles and platforms at every turn.

If Egypt is anything to go by, then the feel for playing the first Tomb Raider has remained intact. Again you must leap and roll your way through a series of complicated tombs filled with switch-and-lever-based brainteasers. Most of the memorable locations and scenarios from the first game appear again, enhanced in scale and style by new technology. Happily this means that for those who are familiar with Ms. Croft's first outing, Anniversary will be no walkthrough. Whereas before you may have had to clamber up a couple of blocks, this time you will have to traverse dozens more varied platforms and ledges.

Lara is once again dressed in her iconic turquoise top and khaki shorts, but her acrobatic abilities are a more developed version of the Tomb Raider Legend model. Her new moves allow her to shimmy up poles, leap and balance nimbly on the top of towering pillars, and use her grappling hook to perform arching wall runs and vertical abseils. Legend's Dynamic Movement System returns, giving you a control set-up that is fairly forgiving in general, letting experienced players cruise through the more pedestrian acrobatic set pieces, whilst throwing in the odd stumble on Lara's behalf, to prevent any over-confident complacency.

Other new gameplay elements include the addition of a basic bullet time function that in no way dominates the game, and the removal of the shiny coating that once drew attention to the interactive scenery elements.

Set in the time frame of the original, continuity seems intact. Pedantic devotees to the series will remember that even though you could not use a grappling hook in the first game, it did appear in a cut-scene, demonstrating just how much attention to detail Crystal Dynamics is paying.

It is also refreshing to hear that the game's publisher has really listened to the die-hard fan base that the game has always garnered. Based on consumer input, Eidos has made sure requested features such as the ability to switch off Lara's auto-grab ability are included, allowing the hardcore to experience the game as they feel it should be.

Visually, Anniversary is looking like it's making the most of the aging PS2 hardware.

Tomb Raider Anniversary, out in late May, is looking like it is shaping up to be an enormous adventure. Based on the two levels on display, and the promises from Eidos, even the quickest run through should exceed the 20-hour mark. With plenty of multiple routes and hidden caves tucked away in every area, a thorough exploration should clock-up even more of your spare time, dwarfing the size of the original immeasurably.

Despite all of the improvements, there's also plenty included to sweep you back to the mid-nineties and evoke a feel for the good old days when the PSone still packed some impressive technical punch. From the look of the medi-packs to the sound effects and inventory layout, there are plenty of nice little touches that will transport you through time. The creator of Lara Croft and Core staff member, Toby Gard, is now at Eidos, and it would seem that he has had some input, as the feel that you are in the 1996 game universe appears to have remained intact.

Technically, it is worth noting that Tomb Raider Anniversary is looking incredible on the PS2 considering the console is now 'last-generation'. As we quickly become accustomed to the Xbox 360 and PS3, it is nice to see there is still some effort being put into high quality PS2 games. The lighting and dust effects are fantastic, and the dynamic sound is one of the better examples of audio that adapts to the onscreen drama and action.

The PlayStation brand was defined in part by Tomb Raider, so it's nice to see Lara Croft looking her best as she gives the PS2 one of its last major titles. With the enormous and dizzying Egypt level on display making only one of the four tombs awaiting Lara's questionable raiding, it looks like this anniversary release could be a glorious ray of light in the fading of the PlayStation 2.

Source: pro-g.co.uk, by Will Freeman