Though November's "Tomb Raider: Underworld" is ostensibly a faithful continuation of the franchise featuring everyone's favorite buxom adventurer, there is one fundamental difference: You can now customize the gameplay to fit your play style by making certain aspects of the game easier or harder.
These mid-game difficulty weaks are presented in addition to the standard pre-game Easy/Normal/Hard options.
Let's try to get through this without confusing you...
At a demo in a New York City hotel yesterday, Crystal Dynamics creative director Eric Lindstrom showed me the "Player Tailoring" menu. It included a set of options such as enemy health, ammunition capacity, damage to Lara, and time for saving grabs. Each of those parameters could be set to Less, Normal and Extra.
And though the menu can be accessed at any point during the game, Lindstrom said that changing these options in the middle of a fight -- like during a battle between three tigers, for instance -- won't affect anything until the next encounter.
For those concerned about Achievements, changing these settings won't prevent you from being able to get any of them except for one; the "Master Survivalist" Achievement is only obtainable if you play the entire game with the options on the hardest settings.
For those concerned about Achievements, changing these settings won't prevent you from being able to get any of them except for one.
If that doesn't alleviate any stress you might have expected to have had in the game, there's more. "Underworld" sports an option called Field Assistance, which gives the players hints about where to go. Lindstrom said the developers thought it was better to include a built-in hint system to avoid having players look at walkthroughs online, because they were often confusing and worse, had spoilers. He said that hints wouldn't be that explicit and are optional to the player if she/he so chooses to check out the Field Assistance in the menu.
Additionally, players will also have access to a sonar map, a chart that shows the environment in a colorless grid. The sonar map will help players find hidden crevices in the environment to find collectibles or merely learn where they need to go. But not everything is revealed on the sonar map; Lindstrom said that the map will fill out more according to how much the player explores.
"Some players get mad that eight year-old Timmy can set the game in a way to beat something that they can already do on their own."
After showing me all these features, I asked Lindstrom what he'd say to players who might think these options make the game too easy. "I hear that all the time," he said. "Some people are excited, some people are upset. The thing to understand is that some players have an easier time than other players. And some players get mad that eight year-old Timmy can set the game in a way to beat something that they can already do on their own."
All these helpers, Lindstrom argues, actually allows the game to be tough. "Without the assistance feature, we could not make the game as hard and as challenging as it is," he said. "It's sometimes more difficult than most games and other 'Tomb Raider' games purely because of Player Tailoring feature. Adding [the Player Tailoring feature] was the only way to appeal to a broad spectrum of players and feature more of what hardcore gamers want, not less."
Gamers, what do you think of these new options for "Tomb Raider"? Should more games go this route or does this make gaming too easy?