Speculation of near enough everything around the new Tomb Raider was at an all-time high this week when American games magazine Play released the online version of their world exclusive a week earlier than planned. The magazine went into great detail about the realistic new effects we are in store for.
So what exactly can we expect from Lara's eighth expedition (Crystal Dynamics' third installation to the series)? Well so far we know that Tomb Raider Underworld is a continuation of Legend. Lara will travel across the globe to various locations, one of which being Southern Mexico where she will explore Mayan temples... Naturally. But wait, there is more! Lara is much more realistic this time around. Well, ok that was a given, this game *is* being made for next gen consoles but her realism runs much deeper than just her aesthetic qualities.
The next gen system has opened many windows for the Crystal Dynamics team; now that the series has left the technological achievements of the 'current gen' consoles of the 90's firmly behind, Crystal Dynamics are able to concentrate solely on the higher quality aspects of the game, hopefully making for a better and more in-depth adventure.
A brand new system has been developed for the game. This system not only gives much more realism to Lara herself but also to her surroundings and foes, after all, what's the point in looking human if your surroundings are less than realistic? For the first time ever Lara's animations are lush and seamless thanks to the inclusion of motion capture. No more dodgy jumps and obscure shimmying, Lara really will move like a human.
Rain cascades gently down Lara's body
As well as allowing incredible realism in Lara's movements the system also allows Crystal Dynamics to develop upon the little things that add even more realism to the environments. Torrential rain, clouds and even a good thunderstorm coupled with a healthy dose of lightening are just some of the improvements to the vast new environments. The complexity of the system means that it is now more intelligent than it previously was, in a sense the system has a memory. As Lara slips on the wet ground, her knee hits the muddy floor. Mud is left on her knee waiting to be washed away by the gently pouring rain (which, incidentally gently cascades down Lara's body like never before).
This complex new system allows room for features that have been requested for years. The enemies you choose to gun down will no longer vanish; neither will the structures and objects you
decide to desecrate. With the introduction of this new system, we think the player will more than likely be forced to consider the effects before damaging certain parts of the environment, or suffer the consequences. A way in which this could work is, firing at a pillar may cause it to fall blocking your route, which could cause you more trouble than you need! Although this hasn't been at all confirmed it would be an interesting feature to include and would help to make the game less linear.
These lush new environments wouldn't be complete without an injection of foliage here and there and guess what? Lara knows how to tackle it this time around! As well as having a much more intelligent engine, Lara seems to have learnt a few new tricks in her year off. She is now able to shield herself from her surroundings. As she sprints her way through heavy foliage she will not only shield her face but brush it away as she makes her way through.
Combat has stepped up in this game with Lara being given the ability of hand to hand combat to help ward off unsavoury enemies, although if a swift kick to the groin isn't doing the trick Lara has her arson at hand. This time however, she is able to aim at more than one target at a time. The dual aiming has finally made an appearance! Little is known at present about Lara's arson in this game although so far it is suspected that she will be equipped with twin pistols and grenades.
Even less is known about the bottomless backpack which made a welcome return in Tomb Raider Anniversary, however with the new slant on realism trying to be achieved by Crystal we'd say they have laid the bottomless wonder to rest. It has been hinted at that Lara will no longer be collecting medipacks, they no longer exist. If this is true how she will heal is a mystery, perhaps the suggestion from Tomb Raider Legend that Lara should heal using the plants in the environment will play a part in this game... In true Crystal Dynamics style we can expect to see a healthy number of outfit changes both throughout the game and on the re-play. Based on imagery we have seen so far Lara no longer has her headset, which will probably come as welcome news to most of us. Exactly how Zip and Alistair will fit into the game is yet to be seen.
Of course, we will have more information on Tomb Raider Underworld for you when we demo the game in a few weeks time. For now prepare for Play's exclusive on Tomb Raider Underworld in their December issue, due for release next week.