Crispy Gamer

The Five: Tomb Raider Underworld

Lara Croft is back in Tomb Raider Underworld, Crystal Dynamics' third take on the TR series. The developer rescued the franchise from its deathbed with TR: Legend and continued its revival with TR: Anniversary. Will this latest outing keep the spelunking going in a positive direction or will Underworld put the series back underground?

1. Expect to spend more time in the water. And it's not just an excuse to have Lara hanging out in -- and hanging out of -- a swimsuit. Unlike previous games, where swim sequences were a test to see if you could get from Point A to Point B before your breath ran out, a new scuba tank will let you do your adventuring underwater. If you're used to the walled-in gaming for which the series is known, you'll dig the freedom of the open water.

2. Lara gets dirty. Literally. If she does a lot of rolling around in caves, she's going to get dirty. It's just one part of a very impressive graphics upgrade the game has received. Development wasn't sure if the final version of the game would run in 1080p, but the mid-alpha/pre-beta (take your pick) build I got to wrap my thumbs around showed off some very sweet visuals.

3. In past games, it was sometimes difficult to locate hidden doorways and hallways. Using the new sonar device -- which gives you a sort of 3-D topographical map -- lets you quickly get a feel of the layout of your environs.

4. Use the in-game digital camera to take and upload pictures of your most dramatic and poignant tomb-raiding moments to a TR community Web site. Or just use it to take pics of Lara's boobs. This one is interesting: Call up the camera and either begin snapping away from Lara's point of view, or set it on a timer and have 10 seconds to get her in the picture. How this won't end up simply being a boob-a-thon, I have no idea.

5. Wii owners will get more motion-controlled action this time around. The tool kit from Anniversary has been expanded to include a torch, a can of compressed air, and a pair of pliers. The result is a mini-game element that's being attached to a lot of the problem-solving situations.

In the hands of its original developer, Core, the wheels started to loosen on the Tomb Raider series by the third game. Based on what I've seen of Tomb Raider: Underworld, history doesn't look to repeat itself with Crystal Dynamics' third -- and most ambitious -- TR release.

This preview is based on a hands-on demo of the game at E3.