Lara again in good shape

Although female gaming icon Lara Croft was nearly done in by the awful Tomb Raider sequel named Angel of Darkness, she has literally bounced back in this very good third-person action game 10 years after first appearing as an intrepid, nimble and shapely archeologist hunting for hidden antiquities. Legend was produced by the Crystal Dynamics software company when Core Design was ousted for its failed program after a decade of producing new versions almost annually. This time, the heroine - looking increasingly like actress Angelina Jolie, who has played her part in two movies and will soon appear in a third - travels to Bolivia, Nepal, Peru, Japan, Ghana and England. The environments are stunningly beautiful, and the voiceovers and sound are better and more realistic than ever. Lara has been accorded new weapons, gadgets, skills, foreign languages and fashionable outfits as she collects ancient artifacts despite constant danger. The game, which can be played at three levels of difficulty, begins with a scary animated flashback scene of the fictional Lara as a nine-year-old girl from a wealthy British aristocratic family. She is flying with her mother over the Himalayas when the plane crashes, killing her mother. Lara miraculously survives and makes a 10-day solo trek to Katmandu. She is raised by her father, archeologist Richard Croft, until he dies when she is only 18; she inherits her parents' Croft Manor but decides to eschew a leisurely life by risking it in global searches for ancient treasures. Although she is alone most of the time, she keeps in constant touch with Zip (a hacker) and Allister (an archeologist) via her PDA. Wearing hotpants with fragmentation grenades attached to her belt and holstered with her two trademark pistols, Lara maneuvers her body like Spiderman. She runs, does handstands, dangles from ledges, kicks, shimmies up ropes, swings from horizontal bars like an Olympic gymnast, swims and dives underwater without a snorkel (and when she emerges from the water, her skin has a lifelike wet sheen). The control system that is part of the game's new engine is best utilized with a gamepad, but you can do perfectly well with an ordinary keyboard and mouse. Click a key to turn on and off her personal lighting device or another to operate her magnetic grappling device, which drags any metallic object towards her. Toggle other keys to see through binoculars, make use of health packs to restore her strength and switch weapons. The ponytailed brunette can also recover carbines and submachine guns from enemies she has killed, but unlike her pistols, these have only restricted amounts of ammunition. As in previous Tomb Raider games, you earn usual bronze, silver and gold rewards for making unusual finds in out-of-the-way places. The basic game can be completed in six or seven hours (which is too short) or you can painstakingly uncover all the secrets in about a dozen hours (which is still not long enough for an action game of this type). There is plenty of shooting, but absolutely no actual shedding of blood, which may disappoint many teenage boys but could attract a neglected software audience - teenage girls - who can identify with Lara's feminist image. Religious parents who view the game generally as clean fun and solving puzzles as mental exercises for their kids will probably be put off by Lara's big-bosomed body and navel- and thigh-revealing costumes (she also occasionally wears little black costume dresses and other fashions). Hed Artzi, which distributes the game, should take a lesson from foreign gamemakers, which usually produce readable user's manuals; the Hebrew translation of Legend's manual uses a cursive-Hebrew font in small print that is almost unreadable.