Lara Croft, that cultural icon, cover girl, and scourge of wildlife everywhere, was last seen buried beneath an Egyptian pyramid at the end of Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. Despite this apparent demise, Lara returns in Tomb Raider: Chronicles, an adventure that features previously unseen episodes from her career. Old friends of Lara who have gathered for her funeral and to swap stories about her exploits introduce the episodes.
The first level is set in Rome, and is classic Lara: plenty of jumping and puzzle solving, with a minimum of gunplay. It's reminiscent of the very first "i"Tomb Raider--it even features the comedy bad guys Pierre and Larson from that game. This chapter also serves as an introduction to Lara's various moves, and is a real nostalgia-fest for longtime fans.
The other chapters have distinct themes: on a spooky deserted island, an unarmed teenage Lara must get through by wits alone; an action-packed level takes place on a submarine; and, most intriguing of all, Lara infiltrates a high-tech building and utilizes various stealth techniques. This is very Metal Gear Solid-esque, and possibly indicates the direction that the series will take in the future. (Lara's not really dead? Now, there's a surprise.)
Unfortunately, the difficult control system remains, and the graphics have been given only a slight polish. An array of customary new moves have been added--this time, Lara can use a tightrope, for example--but these essentially are cosmetic. The gameplay overall hasn't evolved much, but, thankfully the puzzles are less obscure this time around, and the tightly designed levels cut down on the aimless wandering that was common in the middle games of the series.
"p" "i"Tomb Raider fans will be very happy with what probably is the most purely enjoyable game since the series' first. Lara-phobes will take more convincing, but all of the hype that surrounds her shouldn't obscure the fact that the divine Ms. Croft hasn't appeared in a bad game yet, and Tomb Raider: Chronicles
is no exception. --Michael Bartley