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The new real-life Lara Croft model Allison Carroll has been attracting a lot of media attention over the past week. And after a hands-on playtest, we can confirm that new Tomb Raider is every bit as sexy as its new real-life 'face of'. And here's why...
It's every bit as pleasing on the eye
Even at this early stage, Tomb Raider Underworld looks better than Uncharted on PS3 (we were playing the 360 version). The temples and trees seem more organic than any previous games in the series, lending some natural beauty to the gameplay. We were particularly impressed by Lara's flashlight (now with unlimited battery life) as it picked out detail in rock carvings and gold like never before. And to cap it all off, the water effects are superb and even affect the gameplay. Wait for a swell to bring you close enough to that high ledge - now you can climb out.
It's like our first date with Lara again
Lara's new game is a traditional Tomb Raider title. She's alone, free to explore an exotic location with only her pistols (and a few technical gubbins) to keep her company. Well, unless you count the plethora of familiar enemies such as bats, tigers and spiders. Of course, spiders weren't in the original, but it's great fun to let them crawl on Lara's face and watch her squirm. Yeah, we're mean like that.
It's all natural
Great efforts have been made to ensure Lara looks like she's truly present in her environment. We already know about coloured light playing over her body as she moves past bright surfaces, but there's more too. She even reaches out with her arms to push ferns away from her as she pushes through bending undergrowth. And if you've got a gun out, she only does it with her free hand.
Lara can fire in two directions at once
The original Tomb Raider from 1996 was intended to have dual targeting but the feature never made it into the finished game. Underworld has finally incorporated the ability - and it works a treat.
When an enemy is within the crossover range of both arms, she'll lock onto it with both guns. But when two enemies face her at slight angles, two crosshairs appear and she can fire on both at the same time. The adrenaline shots make a welcome return and you can now trigger slow-motion at any time once you've filled a gauge in the corner of the screen, giving you more time and increased firepower to see off your foes.
Lara loves animals
We're sure Allison would disapprove of killing endangered species and now Lara's got similar leanings. Some people (not us, we might add) thought that virtual tigers and leopards need to be conserved too. So to keep them happy, Lara is bringing along tranquiliser darts instead of bullets. These will be optional and will also work on humans. But, being mere tranquilisers, the effect will wear off after a while. So you'd better hurry unless you want to get your face chewed off by a tiger.
Lara's got the sexiest maps ever
Too many times, we're given a 2D map of a 3D world and expected to cope. At best, we're given a 3D map that's simplified to the point of looking like a sequence of coloured cubes. In Tomb Raider Underworld, Lara's map uses sonar. Hit the Back Button (Select on PS3) and choose the map, then watch as sonar pings map out the area they can 'see' in glorious, detailed 3D. You can then zoom in and move the camera around. It looks great, shows up structural weaknesses and even adds more detail as you move and ping again. In short, we love it.
Lara's not just a pretty face
'Field Assistance' can be selected from the in-game menu, offering varying degrees of help – all fully voiced by Lara. Firstly, she'll tell you the problem you're faced with, such as: "The lift is broken - I need to find a way to fix it". If that's not enough, you can ask again with the Y button (so you don't do it by accident) and she'll give more detail, such as "I need to find a way to fix the mechanism on both sides".
Then, if you're really stuck, keep asking and she'll practically tell you exactly what to do. Thousands of lines of dialogue are said to have been recorded for this feature alone. Sure beats trawling the net for a walkthrough.
Lara always comes back for more
When you die, the game takes less than a second to reload at the last checkpoint. Every time. Just like hitting the refresh button on Allison with a broadband connection. The checkpoints are frequent and work in the same way as Legend and Anniversary, so you'll rarely find yourself far from your last position, if ever.
Lara's a natural in front of the camera
The game features a new photo mode, accessed through Lara's binoculars. Pictures can be viewed from the main menu or even shared over Live or PSN. But the best part is it's got a timer function! So you can set it beeping, run around to the front, then snap Lara doing whatever you want her to be doing. No, leave the dead animals alone…
Enjoy the rest of the new screenshots and we'll bring you more on this as soon as we can. Believe us - it's worth getting excited about.