Tomb Raider: Underworld - First Look review

0 out of 5
£49.99

For

Graphics, Lara Crofts movements, strong storyline, options for different types of gamers

Against

Too early to tell

Tomb Raider fans are eagerly awaiting 21 November when the next instalment of the genre-defining Tomb Raider lands on almost all formats. Pocket-lint went along to a preview day to check out the new game and some of the hype surrounding it. Let's look at the Tomb Raider world before the new game.

Tomb Raider has become so much more than a just a video game. Not only has the heroine been portrayed on the big screen by Angelina Joile, but there has also been a fairly long line of real life Lara Crofts ready to step into the firing line and meet the fans. It’s a winning formula, as nothing makes people part with their cash faster than presenting them with their fantasy girl, keen to whip out her guns.

That may sound like Eidos are being rather mercenary about the promotion of their latest title and I’d be doing them a disservice to say so. But there is something hugely compelling about Lara Croft that you just don’t get from a guy dressed as Master Chief or Solid Snake. And it isn’t just about being a hot CGI chick in tight shorts (although that helps). No, it’s about being eminently human and this is why Alison Carroll works as the real life Lara Croft, playing her part as possibly the world’s most iconic heroine.

Being able to pull off some of the slick signature gymnastic moves that Lady Croft is known for definitely adds credibility to the role and worth checking out if you are lucky enough to get the chance. Like you need telling. The human element runs into Underworld: you get a real sense of personality from the cutscenes which makes it even more compelling, bringing Lara Croft to life on-screen.

The teaser trailer leads perfectly into Underworld (not to be confused with the lingerie factory in Coronation Street) as it forms the opening scene of the new game. The idea was to give you a safe training environment without being too staid. You are then transported back a week to start the game proper, opening in the Mediterranean level.

This gives you the chance to get some swimming action and, of course, the opportunity for some interesting clothing "physics", which will certainly whet your appetite if nothing else. We had our hands-on the Xbox 360 version, and the first thing you’ll notice is the stunning graphics.

Earlier in the year many comparisons were drawn between Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Tomb Raider. When looking at Uncharted, we couldn’t help but think about Tomb Raider. Now we are on the flip side: Underworld looks like Uncharted. We can unashamedly admit that we liked Uncharted so this is no bad thing. Stunning vistas lie in wait for next-gen gamers and it is a treat for the eyes: great cutscenes and substance to the storyline and keep the action moving along.

Lara herself has been improved as well - movements are much more fluid thanks to motion capture and she now has new skills to make the game more immersive. Free climbing, both up and down walls looks fantastic and when you come to climbing (as in many aspects of the game) there is no one route, you can pick your next move and might be rewarded with sights and rewards you’d not noticed if you had chosen a more direct option. You can also abseil with the grapple giving you another option for getting around.

Lara can also now deploy her guns to better effect with the ability to split the pistols and engage two enemies at one time. Hand-to-hand combat skills are also enhanced with random things like being able to kick vociferous birds from the sky as they swoop in to attack you. These enhancements provider greater variety than ever before to the game.

Variety was a core element in the development of Underworld. There is no one right way of doing things. This becomes apparent with the puzzles and a hint option that can help speed you to a conclusion if you don’t like too much puzzling. This aspect should make Tomb Raider appeal to those who want to keep moving and not just those who crave the puzzles. Hardcore puzzlers can just battle it out and find a solution and ignore the hints.

One sunstantial hint option is to use Lara's PDA sonar ping, which will give you a 3D map of your environment, so long as you have line of sight. You can be standing on a pillar of rock and ping the area to find a ledge to jump to, so you aren't just taking the death plunge each time.

Verdict

The real question is whether there is enough here to please newcomers. Fans of Tomb Raider will love getting their hands on Lara Croft again, but can it attract a new range of gamers? The other key element will be longevity: Uncharted suffered because you could finish the game in a weekend and undoubtedly fans of Tomb Raider will demand more.

Although we didn’t have much time to really get into the game (a full review will follow closer to release) from what we saw, Underworld looks like a cracking title, and sure to be on many Christmas lists.