Crystal Dynamics has been hard at work trying to ensure that Underworld
lives up to the high standards that Anniversary
set before it. From what I played – an advance version of the demo that will be on show at Games Convention in Leipzig – it’s looking like the studio will succeed a third time running.
The main treasure that Lara Croft is seeking in Underworld
is the Thor’s Hammer, and our heroine has to travel across the world solving the clues that her father has left behind in a typically cryptic fashion. Cue exotic locales and ancient relics that can be all yours for the taking. My hands-on was situated on the coasts of Thailand, which is also confirmed to be the game’s second level.
Starting off in a boat by the cliff side, the immediate objective in front of you is to swim across to one of the rocky façades ahead and climb up. What’s instantly noticeable, if not here then much later in the level, is the vast improvement to the graphics and the engine since I last saw Underworld
. The visuals back in January were quite impressive, but here amongst the greens, blues and yellow hues it looks quite stunning.
Lara can perform a whole host of new moves as well, and is freer to access her surroundings than in previous games. The game is full of what are being called ‘freewalls’. These are surfaces that can be climbed on no matter the circumstance – if it looks like Lara is able to shimmy around on it, then you can make her grab on and shimmy to your heart’s content.
What I was told as I was crossing chasms using the classic method of clambering up, around and over pillars with grace, was that there won’t just be one basic method of overcoming obstacles. Many of the puzzles and problems you will face will have alternative ways around them for different skilled players. If, for example, you can’t quite make that jump to the higher ledge you can cross using a lower one and detour at the cost of a cool treasure or reward.
One of the moves that has been focused on a bit more this time is the wall jump. Before, Lara could only perform the move once and there wasn’t much call for the manoeuvre. In Underworld
, you’re going to have to use all the tricks you have to overcome the human puzzles in each area, and you’re going to have to be quite eagle-eyed and use the camera to progress.
Wall Jumps can be used more than once in quick succession to get to higher ledges and platforms, and changes in animation will give clues as to whether you can successfully achieve certain leaps of faith. If Lara is able to cross to a ledge behind her or across from her, you’ll see her drop her arm. If you want to leap upward onto a higher precipice, Miss Croft will put her feet on the wall ready for your command.
After I used the grapple hook to swing from a large gap in a cave area, I ran around the corner and just had to stop for a second to take in the view. Tomb Raider
is traditionally one of those games in which you can take your time exploring each crevice in a world. Seeing the amount of detail Crystal Dynamics has put into the surroundings here makes me wonder if you're going to want to spend double the time just looking at the horizon.