Lara Croft is returning to the PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox this year with the release of Tomb Raider: Legend. Development duties are being handled by Crystal Dynamics, and the new developers sound like they're trying to take the series to the proverbial next level without sacrificing the things that people liked about the early games in the series. Therefore, expect to see Lara Croft shimmying sideways until there is room and performing all sorts of other acrobatics.
There isn't much specific information available about Tomb Raider: Legend. The story has Lara attempting to recover an old artifact, and her quest will put her up against enemy forces that are led by an old foe that was thought to be long dead. Aside from the raiding of numerous tombs, you'll also make your way through outdoor jungle, snow, and mountain ruins areas. And yes, Lara can still bust out two pistols and gun down anything that gets in her way.
The gameplay specifics are even more difficult to come by, but after taking a look at it, it looks like it will bring the series back to the same sort of gameplay found in the first games in the series, with a heavy focus on acrobatic environmental navigation and some occasional gunplay. As you might expect from a game being released in 2005, there's a fairly heavy focus on realistic physics, with a special eye being turned toward making fire and water behave realistically.
Tomb Raider: Legend is currently targeted for a late 2005 release on the PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. An Xbox 360 version is also said to be in development, but it's unknown if this version of the game will be released during the same time frame.
[UPDATE] The good folks at Eidos were kind enough to give us a tour of one of the game levels today, one that showed off a huge variety in the game’s environments and puzzles, and, of course, Lara herself.
The demo mission we saw is actually the game’s fourth level, which starts off with Lara running down a path until she encounters a cliff overlooking an absolutely massive waterfall. The streaming water effects of the falls really are amazing looking and are just one aspect of the game’s intricate and lifelike environments. It wasn’t long before Lara made her way down the cliff slope—in typical swan-diving fashion--and found herself at the mouth of a cave, and this is by design. The development team at Crystal Dynamics (the same folks behind the popular Soul Reaver games) have gone away from the urban environments that were featured in previous Lara Croft games (remember the half empty streets of Paris in Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness? Yep we do too.) in favor of the underground action that is at the franchise’s core. In essence, though Tomb Raider: Legend will feature eight locales to explore, the majority of your adventuring will be done underground, which is perhaps as it should be.
After making her way through a few cavern tunnels, we came upon the actual central theme of this particular level in the game--a massive (and likely, ancient) underground structure full of grassy ledges, perfect for climbing up and leaping upon by our buxom heroine. From the looks of the game, Lara will have a much more fluid set of motions for her; if you believe the game's producers, the days of stiff, unresponsive controls in a Tomb Raider game are finally behind us.
In addition to some nicely animated moves, the game's design seems to be one that always helping the player succeed in the missions. For one thing, during tricky ledge sequences where it may not always be clear where to go next, Lara will turn he head to provide a visual clue as to the next ledge to leap upon or bar to swing from. Furthermore, the camera system seems to be very friendly this time around--always attempting to give you the best angle of the action at the current moment, and panning smoothly as Lara moves from ostacle to obstacle. You will have control of the camera using the thumbstick, however, and you'll likely be using it often to search for clues in the game's puzzles. As one producer told us, "you won't need to control the camera in the game, but you'll be able to anyway."
Lara's arsenal of high tech gear is back in Legend--you know she'll have her dual pistols but a couple of new additions are also part of her equipment list--including a set of high-powered binoculars, a shoulder-mounted camera that switches on automatically when Lara enters dark sections of a level and a new magnetic grappling device that will have a number of cool uses. In one section, Lara used the device to grab onto a raft and pull it towards her so she could cross a small underground lake. Why would a raft be in a supposedly abandoned underground cave, you ask? Because the bad guys got there first; so naturally it's time for Lara to get her shootin' on.
In terms of combat moves, Lara will be able to go town with her twin pistols and will often warm up her foes with a quick melee in close quarters. She'll also be able to steal a weapon off a defeated foe, but only carry one rifle at a time. Gunplay will involve lock-on mechanics so you won't have to worry about hitting your target; however there will be some interaction with the environments when your blazing bullets. When firing, you'll notice any destructible items (such as the ubiquitous exploding barrels) noted with a triangle button over them (on the PlayStation 2 version of the game). Press the triangle button on your controller and Lara will blast the barrel, taking whatever baddies unlucky enough to be around with it.
Details are sketchy on the plot of Tomb Raider: Legends, though producers did say the game will revolve around an episode from Lara's past during an adventure in the Himalayas; something that made Lara Croft who she is today. There will also be an online presence for the game which, despite our most ruthless torture techniques, the game's producers remained mum on beyond admitting the game will be XBox Live aware. We hope to learn more about the online game, and get a chance to try it out for ourselves before its winter 2005 release, and will report back our findings when we do.