Tomb Raider: Underworld hands-on

Our favorite formidably endowed, morally questionable Indiana Jane is back. Underworld is an account of Ms. Croft’s search for the Hammer of Thor (“Mjölnir,” for the Marvel-inclined), a powerful artifact with a mysterious connection to Lara’s past. In our demo, we traipsed through areas ranging from the burning rubble of Croft Manor, to Celtic ruins in the middle of the Mediterranean, to an ancient temple in Thailand, to Mayan ruins in Mexico; each based in different myth, but all built on even older ruins that link them to the same underworld, apparently. Eric Lindstrom, Creative Director for Crystal Dynamics, says the team’s mission for Underworld is based on the motto, “What Could Lara Do?” In gameplay, that will include targeting two enemies at a time, shooting while climbing, and throwing objects like poles.

But it also means moving fluidly and intuitively in the field: our heroine platforms with the grace of a certain Persian prince, and combat is better than ever, with Lara’s ever-increasing arsenal and“adrenaline moments” (replacingearlier games’ interactive cut-scenes). In dangerous situations, time slows, allowing Lara time to duck, run, or tumble out of harm’s way. You can also trigger adrenaline to perform slow-motion headshots with Lara’s dual pistols.

The levels we explored followed a rough pattern of fairly linear paths in semi-open environments leading to stadium-sized set pieces complete with oversized architecture, ancient traps, and puzzles. So huge were the sets, in fact, that Lindstrom took the reins several times to no-clip through puzzles in the interest of showing us more content. “If I wasn’t telling you where to go,” he said, “we wouldn’t even be able to get through a quarter of what I’m going to show you today.”

Lara’s mercenary attitude seemed to stand out, too. Maybe it was shotgunning endangered cats, kicking apart millennia-old pottery to see if there’s something shiny inside (like Gordon Freeman crowbarring crates for ammo in the British Museum), or sinking a tanker after slaughtering its crew. Can’t say they didn’t warn us, though - this is Tomb Raider, not “Polite Archaeologist.”