Ridiculously disproportionate breasts aside, Lara Croft undoubtedly remains the iconic first lady of gaming (screw you, androgynous Ms Pac Man), and now she’s back for her eighth official adventure, Tomb Raider: Underworld.
Underworld is a direct sequel to Tomb Raider: Legends, so expect to see such familiar faces as Zip and Allister, and a resolution to Legend’s cliffhanger ending. Eidos is keen to stress that Underworld’s game engine is distinctly ‘next-gen’ - there are reportedly ten times more polygons in Underworld than there were in Legends. Light and shadow has been rendered as realistically as possible, and Lara’s figure is lit accordingly. If she walks into a forest, sunlight reflects off the leaves of a tree and bathes her face in natural light, adding an ethereal element to the ‘woman-alone’ experience the series is so famed for.
The complexity of Lara’s relationship with her environment extends to such intricate little touches as mud that sticks to her shoes, water that remains wet on her body and even small fragments of flora and fauna that leave marks on her clothes. Eidos wants to create a living breathing environment and, to the fanboy’s delight, a living breathing woman in Lara. Her expressions have evolved beyond her trademark ‘sardonic sexy’ look, so expect to see the effort of a mean leap or a brutal gunfight echoed in her face. The renowned tight bod has also been given an overhaul – Lara now sports a more athletic build, a more accurate representation of a woman who actually can swing on a trapeze, as opposed to Tyra Banks in tramping boots.
Beyond the graphics, Eidos is keen to point out that the main development of the series is greater freedom for Lara as she journeys through her adventure. In previous Tomb Raider titles, there was usually only one way to solve a puzzle, often highlighted in a different coloured rock, for example, or a hidden switch. In Underworld, Lara can basically free-climb on any textured wall, and create new paths for herself using poles that are able to be embedded into receptacles. She is more flexible, and is now able to wall kick, balance on poles, and generally move with greater fluidity. This means puzzle solving and exploration will be less linear, as Lara has more tools at her disposal to find a solution. Count on the challenge to be as creative as possible.
Along with freedom in movement, combat has also been given a makeover. Lara now has the option to use her dual pistols to shoot at two targets simultaneously, or hone in on a single enemy. Her hand to hand combat skills have improved, so expect to see her kick more ass tae-kwon-do styles, as well as use objects in her environment as handy weapons.
As is usual with Tomb Raider games, expect Lara to be traipsing all around the globe in her usual stylish way (hopefully the developers bring back that dinner dress she was wearing in Legends, that was bad-ass). At this stage, details on the game’s story remain sketchy, but it is rumoured that Lara’s latest task is to discover enigmatic ‘Underworlds’ of ancient cultures. Whatever the case, anticipate Underworld to be a leaner, meaner Tomb Raider game, an evolution of a series that just seems to be going from strength to strength.