Tomb Raider: Underworld Preview
There was a time when the Tomb Raider series was in desperate need of a drastic overhaul; the novelty of the original and sequel had long since worn off, and most action/adventure fans had plenty of better options on store shelves. But Tomb Raider Legend managed to help resurrect the ailing franchise, and when the next-gen Tomb Raider Underworld drops, everyone’s favorite action heroine should take yet another step towards ultimate redemption. Recently, we’ve been able to uncover new presentation and gameplay details that should entice any and all followers of the long-running series, and there appear to be plenty of new additions and enhancements. The number of animations jumps big time, for example, and the gameplay should be more diverse than ever. These games have always boasted action, platforming and puzzle elements – in true action/adventure fashion – but Crystal Dynamics aims to take everything to a whole new level with Underworld.
”What Would Lara Do?” It’s a central theme of the new game, which immediately hints at more player freedom. Obviously, there will be a linear path to follow, but depending on the situation, the busty, agile treasure hunter will have multiple ways of bypassing certain obstacles, be they enemy or environmental. We’ve heard there will be a great deal of fluidity when it comes to the gameplay, as Lara will automatically prepare herself for jumping, clambering, rolling, or any other number of acrobatic maneuvers. It’ll be up to the player to determine the timing of each move, though, which means you’ll have to keep a close eye on her actions as she’s carefully working her way up or around a particularly tricky obstacle. For example, when you’re leaning in a certain direction for a death-defying leap, Lara will drop her arm when she sees a safe spot to land. As for the design of the levels themselves, the developers once again went above and beyond the call of duty, as they actually sent professional photographers down to Cambodia to take pictures of the landscape. The designers then recreated those parts of the game based on that research, so everything – not just Lara’s physically realistic movements – should be look and feel very authentic.
So in regards to the background, you can expect a great deal of amazing detail and even different ways of attacking the path. But in terms of attacking enemies, you’re going to have to deal with enemies that are not only aggressive, but also intelligent and well versed in the ways of primal combat. You’ll be battling everything from sharks to tigers, and at your disposal will be everything from simple handguns to automatic weapons. But let’s not forget about Lara’s supreme acrobatic ability; she can utilize that skill with great effectiveness if you can master the detect and evade controls. Furthermore, if you have a problem shooting a big kitty in the head, there will be tranquilizer rounds that will safely put the dangerous cat to sleep, and you can move on. But be careful: tigers on the prowl will use strategy and pack tactics reminiscent of the way they hunt in real life, so you’ll have to get used to that. Or, if you’d rather find a flashy and easy way of dispatching any enemy, you can always crack out the adrenaline.
Adrenaline fills whenever you land a shot with a firearm, and once you’ve maxed out, you can send Lara into a controlled rage that will eliminate all threats with great speed and panache. This is something you’ll have to keep an eye on via the HUD, which conveniently disappears when engaged in combat. We can’t really be sure about the rule for gaining adrenaline; while it seems evident that only successful bullet shots will increase adrenaline, there may be other ways to store it up. For instance, what if Lara finds special adrenaline-related items, or she may dispatch a particularly tough opponent and receive more adrenaline upon securing victory. But beyond adrenaline and fighting, we really do believe it’s going to be our immersive interaction with the sweeping and realistic environment that seals the deal. Lara even gets a grappling hook this time around! No, we don’t believe it can be used as a weapon (ala Bionic Commando), but it does add a whole new dimension to the platforming aspect of the game. Just think of all the various uses for a grappling hook when traversing jungle cliffs…
Finally, according to IGN’s recent hands-on time with the Thailand part of the game, we also know about a certain central area called Bhogovati. They call it a “hub area” of sorts, which means you’ll have to solve several smaller puzzles in order to take bite-sized steps in the process of solving a large, all-encompassing puzzle. Furthermore, you won’t be able to explore all of Bhogovati right off the bat; as you progress through your adventure, you will unlock more sections, thereby giving you access to more pieces of the puzzle that will lead to discovering the ultimate goal. More enemies await your presence there, though, as the likes of bats, spiders, and even Nagas were mentioned. If you’re at all familiar with the Heroes of Might and Magic series, you know what Nagas are: they're basically half female, half snake, and they’re…uh…quite large, if we remember correctly. And depending on the adversary, you should probably attack and defend in different ways. You might even be able to use the surrounding landscape to your advantage, as we wonder if attacking from higher ground really does give you the edge as it would in real life. There are a number of questions we have that have yet to be answered, but we’ll be on the sharp lookout for more details in the coming months.
Authenticity, fluid and realistic action, and a blending of adventure elements should make this particular action/adventure title very appealing. Tomb Raider Underworld is scheduled to arrive in the U.S. on November 18, and if it comes through, it’ll be one of the essential holiday titles for 2008.
8/18/2008 Ben Dutka