ON YER BIKE
The Flashback level progresses next via a vehicle section, that was unfortunately not quite ready to show off, but features a frantic motorbike chase. Lara will have complete control of the vehicle while being able to fire her weapons, and simultaneously has to avoid obstacles and use jump ramps to catch Anaya's kidnappers. Eventually, she arrives at an abandoned excavation site flooded with water, where we get our first glimpse of Lara's enhanced swimming abilities.
Unlike other underwater sections in games, the control system isn't fully 3D (to avoid players getting confused) - default movement has Lara swimming at the same depth, while you can use the direction keys to move her up and down. You also always have two speeds of movement for Lara, as many of the game's puzzles are time-based - underwater this means you have short breast-strokes for a medium pace and long breast-strokes for zippier moves.
In the first of the new underwater puzzles, Lara has to operate four crystal switches which lower the water level and reveal a clue to the mystery of the tragic event from her history. You're then into the first area of the Queen's Tomb, where Lara's 'personal light source' (a torch to you and me), illuminates the dark caverns in realtime. You're soon traversing ledges and fluidly leaping from wall-to-wall, with the animation of Lara giving physical feedback to you about what moves are possible, such as her head turning and looking at a reachable area. A shiny object on the ceiling of the cavern indicates a metal area that Lara can attach her metal grappling hook to and use realistic momentum to swing on the rope across a pitch-black chasm.
Suddenly, the haunting atmospheric music moves up several gears and the removal of the health bar and HUD shows that we're into one of Tomb Raider: Legend's new action sequences, used to catch you by surprise and up the tempo at unexpected points. Rather like the interactive cut-scenes in Fahrenheit (or Dragon's Lair for older coin-op fans), they force you to make critical control inputs at specific times. In the Flashback level, the scene is a series of collapsing platforms that Lara has to leap across, triggered by you pressing the key shown on-screen - do something wrong and she'll plunge into the depths below.
BY ROYAL CONSENT
If you manage to complete the sequence successfully, Lara enters the main chamber of the Queen's Tomb, a breathtaking wide-open area with ornately carved stonework, pockmarked walls and cobwebbed corners dimly lit by slivers of light streaming in through distant cracks. Crystal Dynamics wants to bring back the awe and wonder from previous Tomb Raider adventures, presenting you with a massive area to explore at your leisure, until you figure out what the hell you're supposed to do.
In this case, walking over a pressure plate triggers the slight opening of an ancient door - yep, it's a physics puzzle where you have to find and move heavy stone balls around to complete the task. The first ancient sphere is easy, as it's on ground level, but the others have to be reached by climbing and jumping around the level, using your binoculars to spot areas for your handy grappling hook. Once you complete the task, a sphinx rises out of the ground directing the light beams around the tomb, and the door opens to reveal an ancient artefact. However, Lara's obvious joy at the discovery is short-lived, as she receives another crackly message on her headset that the militia-men have discovered her whereabouts...
In short, Crystal Dynamics seems to be doing a sterling job with Tomb Raider: Legend. The team has gone back to what made the original games so addictive and immersing - the Indiana Jones-style mix of tomb exploration, conspiracy, puzzle-solving and edge-ofyour- seat combat - and added an intuitive control system and interactive cut-scenes. Finally, the whole package is being wrapped up in a stunning graphics engine that's being fully enhanced for high-end PCs - as you can see from these first true hi-res screenshots.