E3 2008: Tomb Raider Underworld

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I wasn’t technically scheduled to check this game out, but it was one of the titles that’s been on my radar since its announcement.

If you haven’t played Tomb Raider Legend I honestly think you’re missing out. It was one of the 360′s earlier titles, but it also signaled the video-game resurrection of one of gaming’s most socially relevant characters. For the uninitiated who only know Lara Croft through the Angelina Jolie movies, know this — Lara was a game character first. The story in Legend was solid, the voice acting was outstanding, and the gameplay that reminded everyone of the contemporary Prince of Persia series lent itself nicely to the newer, streamlined Lara design.

Now comes Tomb Raider Underworld, which focuses a lot on the concept of the “underworlds” of the globe. This isn’t the underworld in the sense of demons and armies of the undead, but rather subterranean civilizations. The demo I checked out started off Lara in the middle of the open sea, where she essentially had to dive down and work her way into some underwater ruins. She’s got full scuba gear, so she can swim to her heart’s content if need be. She’ll also be able to fight sharks and other underwater denizens with her new harpoon gun. Water’s going to be a good chunk of the game, but nowhere near the whole experience. They wouldn’t put a number on it, but other people at the show estimated about 15 percent.

Out of the water, we got to see some puzzle solving regarding ruins that had be overtaken by a giant octopus, whose tentacles were jamming up gears and doors. We got to see how Lara moves differently in this edition, thanks mainly to the fact that see was motion-captured for the first time (they used a gymnast). They figured since Lara is a world-class athlete, she might as well move like one.

I didn’t hear too much about the story, other than it IS going to be loosely connected with Tomb Raider Legend. Your support team from the first game is back, but definitely in a diminished role, which kind of saddens me — I really enjoyed the over-the-headset banter between Lara and her team, so I hope at least some of that is still there. Overall, pretty tight demo.