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Lara’s Shadow — A Stunning Mix of the Old and the New March 11, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfangirl in 360 DLC, Underworld.
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laras-shadow-smallThe Doppelganger is awesome!!!  That is all.

Alright, alright, I’m sure you’re expecting a more detailed review so here we go 😀  Lara’s Shadow presents the Doppelganger’s story after Underworld, starting with the last time we saw her in the main game.  We see that cutscene again, then we have to work our way through the final portion of Helheim from the main game (except it is in ruins).  From there we go to another Helheim-esque Atlantean ruin full of Eitr in which we have to activate a giant machine.  We then have a short time lapse which skips us to the ending cutscene from Beneath the Ashes (nothing from BtA is playable in LS, although we do find out what Lara said to the Doppelganger this time around).  After that, it’s back to the Atlantean ruin to retrace our steps and play with the machine some more.  This part was a bit repetitive and I would have preferred if it was a bit different somehow so that the second time through the area wouldn’t be nearly identical to the first, but this wasn’t enough to detract from the level for me.  The positives far outweigh the negatives.

The Doppelganger can jump much higher and farther than Lara could in Underworld.  Additionally, the Doppelganger has a meter for Shadow Power which can be used to climb certain rough walls, run quickly along a wall while holding onto a ledge with one hand, sprint and speed up her actions relative to enemies and the environment.  The Shadow Power can also be used in combat as a sort of bullet-time move when firing pistols, or as a power attack when punching or kicking.  The Doppelganger’s melee attacks are rather strong (although not as powerful as Thor’s Hammer, so the thralls are harder to kill than they were towards the end of Underworld with Mjolnir).  The combat was fun, but towards the end of the level I felt that there was too much of it and I would have preferred having fewer enemies to bother with while I was exploring the level.

The level design focuses extensively on traversal.  The environment is huge and requires taking a long winding path jumping all over the place and using the Shadow Power to climb.  There aren’t any actual puzzles, at least not in the sense of the puzzles found in Anniversary, Underworld, or Beneath the Ashes.  Lara’s Shadow focuses a lot more on seeing a place in the distance, figuring out how to get there, and then activating a mechanism, very much like the first few Tomb Raider games.  I prefer having dedicated puzzles in general, but for a DLC level it was a fantastic nostalgic feeling to have the Doppelganger running, jumping, climbing, and getting around levels just like the classic Tomb Raider games.  The braid was a nice touch toward furthering that nostalgic feeling as well.  Hopefully the next game will combine these positives with the kind of thought-provoking puzzles from BtA.

Overall I really enjoyed Lara’s Shadow.  I spent about 3-4 hours to win it with all 20 artifacts and the relic (plus I died a lot during the combat).  The Doppelganger looks and jumps like Lara used to in the older games and the level really made us run around and backtrack a bit like the older games required while the Shadow Power attacks were brand new along with the ability to seemingly slow down time (or increase the Doppelganger’s rate of perception) in order to get through environmental hazards.  As a result, Lara’s Shadow is a stunning mix of the old and the new.  Not to mention, the Doppelganger is truly badass in the cutscenes.  The Doppelganger is awesome!

Lara’s Shadow vignettes show superhuman speed and thrall-kicking action March 6, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in 360 DLC, Underworld.
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Eidos has released two new gameplay videos of Lara’s Shadow, one showing the doppelganger’s superspeedy traversal abilities (YouTubified here) and the other showing her shadow combat powers (shown above). Hop on to Tomb Raider Chronicles for the HQ version of the vignettes. Lara’s Shadow goes Live on 10th March.

Now, excuse us while we entertain a long-distance call from Persia.

Lara’s Shadow Developer Diary Gets Released March 5, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfangirl in 360 DLC, Underworld.
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ls

A developer diary has been released for Lara’s Shadow.  You can find it on the official Tomb Raider site here.  A big thanks goes to adventurerLara for reporting it on Tomb Raider Forums.  The footage from the level looks great and does not seem to spoil any puzzles.

The Doppelganger will have greatly expanded physical capabilities and the level designers seem to have used this as an excuse to make much larger and more difficult levels, which sounds fantastic to me.  Plus, I’m pretty sure I saw her jump at least as far as Lara could in the first six games, so I’m psyched to have that back.  The melee combat looks interesting too.

As a Tomb Raider fan I have to give the obligatory complaint that the people mispronounced Lara’s name repeatedly throughout the developer diary, but in all honesty I don’t care about that as long as they deliver on the level design and gameplay, which so far it looks like they have.  We’ll find out for sure on March 10th, which is only a few days away  😀

Fan Feature: Doppelganger goes all Phoenix-y March 4, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in 360 DLC, Fan Pulse, Underworld.
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To celebrate the upcoming release of Lara’s Shadow, which has thus far been confirmed to star Lara’s doppelganger who will have shadow-y superhuman abilities, Priscilla of Tomb Raider Forums (DA page here) has created a sublimely wicked render of Lara’s evil twin.

Posed through Dusan’s brilliant XNA Lara program, the doppelganger is set against a backdrop of the burning Croft Manor. She was made to have the same pose as Phoenix of the X-Men series as she appears on the Phoenix Endsong cover. You can see comparison shots here.

Be sure to drop by our Fan Pulse bundle of posts to have a look at the best of the best the Tomb Raider fandom has to offer.

Don “virtually fashionable” designer outfits on March 10th for free March 4, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in 360 DLC, Underworld.
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Virtually FashionableEidos has released word that Lara Croft will be donning designer outfits in the upcoming Lara’s Shadow DLC for Xbox360. While the main DLC game will cost some points, the outfits will be for free. The bonus costume pack contains two of the best entries in the “virtually fashionable” Festival Arcadia event last December, one of which you voted for.

The fresh set of costumes goes Live on 10th March as will Lara’s Shadow. Hop on to Tomb Raider Chronicles for previews of the other add-ons to Lara’s wardrobe.

Lara’s Shadow gives you ability to use “Shadow Powers” and “Shadow Fire” February 28, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in 360 DLC, Underworld.
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The official site‘s just put up an update on Lara’s Shadow, the second of two 360-exclusive DLC for Underworld. From the sound and looks of it, the doppelganger will be packing more than the twin pistols and Lara’s 13-year old acrobatic skills.

Now you’ll be able to slow down time and “massively increase the speed and force of her devastating melee attacks.” Gunfight will be replaced with the “Shadow Fire” feature, which is basically a weapon with “speed, accuracy and impact” that “shatters impossibly dangerous enemies into pieces.” You’ll also be able to go to places “too dangerous” for Lara to ever reach using the doppelganger’s “Shadow Power”.

It’s sounding like the most un-Tomb Raider-ish iteration of the series ever to be conceived. Funny thing is, that’s what’s getting us hyped for it. More screenshots through the official site jump.

Be sure to drop by the 360 DLC news bundle page to brush up on the latest on Lara’s Shadow. TombRaiderFangirl’s Beneath the Ashes review can be read here.

Tomb Raider Fangirl Review: Beneath the Ashes (It’s Epic!) February 26, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfangirl in 360 DLC, Underworld.
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beneath-the-ashes-preview

I just finished playing Beneath the Ashes, which is the first downloadable expansion pack for Tomb Raider Underworld (the DLC is exclusive to Xbox 360, although the main game came out on several other platforms as well).  I had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed the level.  As a general warning to everyone, you MUST make a manual save if you want to turn the console off, otherwise it will not keep your place when you turn it back on (unlike the main game which made permanent autosaves).  I will now give a more detailed review, but I will refrain from spoiling the puzzles or the storyline.

The level does actually have a bit of a story which seems to be setting the stage for the upcoming DLC entitled Lara’s Shadow.  This second expansion level is due to be released on March 10th (I am looking forward to that even more now!).  Lara’s headset is back, which I am not too thrilled about as it completely ruined the atmosphere of Legend and greatly spoiled my enjoyment of that game, but it was not too bad in Beneath the Ashes.  There was a cutscene at the beginning of the level and one at the end, and the headset was only used twice in between that I remember (and only a few lines of dialogue each time at that) so the level was essentially silent except for the wonderful ambient noises.  The sound effects were brilliant and really enhanced the experience for me.

As for the graphics, I cannot give an honest review of that.  I have not yet set up my Xbox 360 to use a high definition monitor so I had to make do with a tiny 13″ standard definition TV set.  Beneath the Ashes looked great anyway (about the same as the main Underworld game looks on this TV set) but I am sure that my TV did not do it justice.  Additionally, the game was obviously designed for a much higher resolution as I had trouble reading the words on the screen.  To make them fully legible I had to fiddle with my TV settings so that everything was dim and nearly black and white.  This was only really necessary to read the journal that Lara’s father wrote (accessible via the PDA).  It is an interesting read and adds a bit to the feeling of the level, but unlike the Underworld Journal, the BtA Journal gives away hints and tells you what you will see in advance.  I suggest reading it at the end of the level as I did so that you get the full experience without the spoilers.

In any case, aside from reading the journal, I played the level with my TV set rather bright with maximum color saturation.  The level was quite beautiful this way, which I was not expecting given that it’s a dank stone dungeon.  The floor was slick with water and gave a faint iridescent shine of red and green.  The walls had bits of green moss growing on them.  There were faint hints of color all throughout the level.  Everything was eerily beautiful.  Combined with the ambient sound effects and overall lack of distracting dialogue, this provided a fantastic atmosphere which really absorbed me.  It brought me right back to one of my very first experiences playing Tomb Raider, which was the Tomb Raider 3 demo in the South Pacific in which you have to traverse a partially water-filled cave.  I can’t explain it in more detail, but the feeling of exploration was the same.

The level design was quite good.  I never got thoroughly lost, but still it was a lot of fun figuring out how to get through the areas and I loved the fact that I had to go back and forth between different areas.  For example, I was in one room with a giant waterwheel (which is completely different from the Wii version’s waterwheel room) and I saw a place I wanted to go but it was too high to reach.  I went on with the level in another direction and eventually I found myself back up where I had wanted to go before.  That’s the same sort of magic that made Palace Midas so wonderful in the original Tomb Raider game, to have that instant realization of familiarity and accomplishment when I realize that I have managed to get somewhere that was previously inaccessible.  This sort of level design is so much better to me than a more streamlined approach in which the player has to solve one room at a time and then never return.  I truly hope that Lara’s Shadow and future Tomb Raider games will take this more complex, intertwined approach to level design.

Concerning the puzzles, there were only a few challenges that I would really consider to be puzzles but they were incredibly clever and I really enjoyed them.  I am a little bitter that one of the puzzles was spoiled in the Developer Diary (and the launch trailer as well, although I did not watch that one until after I had won the level).  I know that puzzle would have taken me quite awhile to figure out on my own, but I instantly knew how to do it from the trailer.  However, the other puzzles were really good too so I am very relieved that they were not spoiled in anything that I saw prior to playing the level.

The combat was essentially identical to the combat in the main game (same guns and same abilities).  As in the main game, you get a choice of which secondary gun to take with you.  As for enemies, we get a new type of thrall which seems to be a Crusader knight, plus we see the return of the bats, small spiders, and giant albino spiders.  I have played the Wii version of Underworld more recently than the 360 version, so I found myself getting a little annoyed at some of the enemies as I would rather be left to explore in peace without distraction (the Wii version of the main game has far fewer enemies than the 360 version).  However, the combat wasn’t too much of a distraction overall.  It provided a bit of action to the level without being overly frustrating, so it was alright with me.  Plus, I loved making the small spiders scream…

As for a few other loose ends which may be interesting, the game has 125 points worth of achievements, which you get for completing the level and finding all secrets.  There are 28 artifacts and 1 relic.  I didn’t keep track of an exact play time, but the level took me several hours to win since I tried to explore every inch and I found the relic and all but two of the artifacts.  I discovered that if you start BtA over again after you win it, then it keeps track of all the secrets you found the first time.

There are also six new outfits that come with BtA.  There is the awesome Casual Explorer outfit which can be seen in the official screenshots and trailers (it has a blue shirt, brown pants, and boots).  There is also a gray version of Underworld’s main shorts outfit which is alright I guess, and then there are four bikinis which aren’t my style.  BtA also lets you choose from a few of Underworld’s main outfits, plus the free DLC outfits, in case you don’t like any of the new ones.

That pretty much wraps up my review for BtA.  I was thoroughly impressed by it and now I am really looking forward to Lara’s Shadow, which comes out in less than two weeks.  Before I had played BtA, I expected Lara’s Shadow to be better based purely upon the general information and the concept of each one.  Now, I’m not so sure.  I would love for Lara’s Shadow to be even better, but BtA set the bar rather high.  I am now expecting Lara’s Shadow to be completely different because of the new gameplay mechanics which are supposed to be in it, so I don’t even know if it will be possible to compare them.  Honestly though, it won’t matter as long as Lara’s Shadow is great in its own way.

Beneath the Ashes launch trailer tours you through Croft Manor underworld February 24, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in 360 DLC, Underworld.
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Videogamer has posted the exclusive first-release launch trailer of Beneath the Ashes, and Lara Croft seems to have quite a few things to say about the new artifact she’s about to uncover.

Ron Rosenberg, senior producer of Ashes, has told Eurogamer that Lara will be “sifting through the remains of her father’s secret study which contains information about a hazardous artifact he was safeguarding,” and our heroine seems intent to unearth the dangerous relic, as, in her words, “nothing stays buried forever.”

Lara will have to go through the deadly traps in daddy Croft’s study though, and by the looks of it, it won’t be an easy task. Make the Videogamer jump for the trailer in HD to see for yourself. The DLC’s now out and Live.

Lara’s Shadow to feature superhuman game mechanics February 24, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in 360 DLC, Underworld.
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Eurogamer‘s scored an interview with Underworld DLC senior producer Ron Rosenberg.

He unveils new details about Lara’s Shadow, sharing that “the release is a great example of using DLC to innovate and try new ideas and I can’t wait to hear what the fans think of it,” and that the Doppelganger’s abilities “make the experience different than any other Tomb Raider game.”

Rosenberg also shares new details about the story of both DLCs as well as other juicy bits of the exclusive deal and the content and length of the add-ons.

Make the Eurogamer jump for the full interview. Also, check out Tomb Raider Chronicles for the latest screenshot release for Beneath the Ashes.

BTA Countdown: Albino arachnids lurk Croft crypt February 23, 2009

Posted by tombraiderfanboy in 360 DLC, Underworld.
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Still counting down to Beneath the Ashes. Yesterday’s screenshot showed a massive wheel mechanism in Lara’s basement, today’s show a massive spider lurking the depths of Lara’s manor. The DLC goes Live on February 24, by which time you’ll have the chance to shoot the arachnid to its death.

As always, you can hop on to Tomb Raider Chronicles for the full image.