Previews

Tomb Raider: Underworld

The face that launched a million PlayStations is coming back home this year with a new look, all-new moves and a whole lot of attitude

Those gravity-defying boobs may be smaller, the body a few pounds bulkier and the trademark green top and khaki shorts replaced by a dark brown halter top and black shorts, but this is still Lara as you know her and at her feistiest best.

And she's lost none of her daredevil spirit. Tipped off by a family friend that her father discovered the co-ordinates of a ruin on the floor of the Mediterranean, Lara grabs a boat, straps on her scuba gear and takes the plunge where she discovers proof that the Norse underworld did exist and Thor's hammer is real. And the mythical hammer just happens to give its wielder the power to destroy the gods, turn mountains into valleys and generally lay waste to all civilization. Well, you can't really blame her for being a bit nosy, can you?

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My time with the game begins with
an almost ethereal descent to the bottom of the Med, Lara's skimpy scuba gear letting me enjoy the anticipation of what may lie beneath (er, at the bottom of the sea, not under the outfit!) instead of worrying about running out of limited air as in previous Tomb Raiders.

Smile, you son of a bitch!
No sooner had she reached the bottom and spotted the ruin's cave-like entrance than she was attacked by sharks - one of the game's new enemy creatures. Fortunately, Lara was prepared for the worst and impaled them with a spear gun, shot them with her trusty dual pistols (though their range is near-useless underwater), and even blew them up using sticky grenades. For the more eco-friendly player, and no doubt to appease animal rights groups who've criticised Lara's past one-woman crusade against tigers and jaguars, she can also fire tranquilisers at animals.

The underwater ruin provides the game's first puzzle in the form of a door that can only be opened by rotating three wheels so each one's open eye symbol matches up. Easier said than done when two of the three axels are missing. It was here I used two of Underworld's new beginner-friendly features: the first is a 'Help On Demand' option on Lara's PDA, which you can access to reveal either a hint for the current puzzle or the solution.

In this case, the answer was to explore the area marked by luminescent jellyfish, which led Lara to one of the axels right away. The second is her new Sonar Map, which shows a pulse pinging off the 3D surfaces of a map of the surrounding area that highlights anything of interest. Here it was a new passageway disguised by seaweed and kelp, but you can also use the sonar to find secret items. Neither helping hand was really needed for such an easy task this early in the game, but both will definitely come in useful later.

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Home and dry
Slotting in the axels and matching up the symbols opened the door, at which point Crystal Dynamics skipped the story forward about half-an-hour to find Lara deep within the ruin, but now on dry land. Given it was now about 40 minutes into the game and still on the first level says a lot about how huge Underworld is.
I moved Lara a few steps forward and suddenly a giant tentacle lashed out from below, which belonged to a Kraken blocking the next door she needed to get through. It didn't stop her filming the hapless creature on her video camera though. Say "Cheese!"

From here it was typical Tomb Raider with a twist as I had to find a way to raise a giant sun disc held in place by bridges at either end of it, which in turn were locked in place by pillars, which in turn had two of the Kraken's tentacles wrapped around them. Phew! The twist was there was no set path through the giant puzzle, so if I hadn't had the developer talking me through it all I would have had the freedom to explore and work things out in any order. Unless I resorted to the 'Help On Demand' option of course. Not that I did. Oh no. Not once.

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