Tomb Raider: Underworld Preview
The Tomb Raider series has been in a bit of a slump over the past few years, with a lot of the games simply not living up to their potential, with perhaps the worst offender being Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness. Thankfully the series has been looking progressively better, with games such as Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Anniversary bringing the series back on form. This comeback is looking set to be complete with the latest title in the series, Tomb Raider: Underworld. I was recently invited to take a look at the title, and it is really shaping up nicely.
Let’s begin where the game kicks off. It all starts with the trailer that was shown at this year’s E3, of Lara blowing her mansion up in spectacular fashion. Following on from this you are thrust inside that burning mansion for the tutorial. It really is a nice change of pace to have a tutorial set in such an intense location, with flames everywhere and parts of the mansion collapsing. Once you have made your way through the mansion you are taken back in time, to a week earlier, and this is where the game beings proper, on a boat, in the middle of the sea. Without giving too much of the story away, you begin by diving down into underwater ruins in order to find Thor’s Hammer, and that’s about all the story info I’m going to give you.
I will however give you plenty of info on the various game mechanics and features, starting with just how great the game looks and sounds. Light cascading off the surface of the water, vines growing on rock faces, dark, damp rocks inside some ruins, it all looks amazing. When combined with the dynamic music score, which changes as you enter different areas of the game, there are some truly amazing moments. It feels great as you wander out into some jungle ruins for the first time, with the sun burning down on you and the music kicks up a notch as it introduces you to this mysterious place.
This great feeling doesn’t just stop with the environments either. From the first time you get control of Lara you are in for some brilliant character movement. The most impressive aspect of this movement is how fluid and realistic it all looks, and that is the result of hundreds of motion captured movements. Every step, jump and somersault all look fantastic. It truly is beautiful to watch as Lara jumps and swings her way through the game. To aid with this swinging is Lara’s trusty grappling hook, which has various different uses. You can of course use it to grapple on to things to swing across chasms and the like, but it’s also a valuable solving tool this time around, with the ability to grapple onto objects, and then pull them.
Speaking of puzzle solving, there are plenty of different puzzles to be solved throughout the game, and some nifty little tools to help you. If you find yourself getting frustrated at a puzzle because you don’t know what to do, or if you are lost and don’t know where to go, you can open up the game menu and use the tools found within. The most basic of these is the hints system, which gives you either a small hint, or a larger, more spoiler like hint. Whilst I doubt I will be using it (I like solving puzzles), those who are more into the action side of the game will no doubt find this very helpful. I do however really like the other tool, which is a sonar mapping system. Basically, when you open up the map, it takes a sonar reading of your surroundings and then displays them as a sort of 3D mesh. It looks great, and is a nice change from the standard maps found in most games.
So, we’ve talked about puzzles and exploration, but what about combat? One of the best features about the combat system is the ability to aim at 2 different targets simultaneously. It might not sound like a big feature, but it makes the whole experience more intense when you are popping off shots at different things at the same time. There is also an adrenaline system which allows you to use adrenaline built up during combat to slow down time to make some killer shots. Add to this the ability to jump and flip about like nobodies business and some nice melee attacks, and you have a pretty sweet combat system. Of course none of this really matters if the enemy AI sucks, but I’m glad to report, that is not the case. Enemies will chase you over obstacles and up walls, and constantly keep you under pressure. On top of this, the enemies seem to come at you from out of nowhere, often while you are in the middle of trying to figure out a puzzle, which really keeps you on your toes.
Having been a Tomb Raider fan most of my life I am really excited about just how good Tomb Raider: Underworld is looking. If the whole game is as good as the parts that I saw then we could be in store for the best Tomb Raider game in a long time.