E3 2008: Eidos

We had to return to Eidos' room twice to be able to see all three games in detail, but it was worth cutting the lunch hour short to do so. Here are our previews of Tomb Raider: Underworld, Battlestations: Pacific and Monster Lab.

Tomb Raider: Underworld

The latest of Lara Croft's adventures begins underwater, where she finds out that Thor's Hammer is more than just a myth.

Underwater, we watched how Lara can defend herself from vicious sharks: using a harpoon, tranquilizer darts, or sticking them with grenades. Her movements are very real, a lot of motion capture has been done, especially for swimming. You have little scenes where she swims, carrying an object in one hand, and moving the seaweed and kelp in her way with the free hand. It looks very real.

Lara has a handy PDA with a sonar map, which shows a 3D representation of the area around. This is mostly a tool to help exploration, since it will reveal passages that may be hidden by vegetation for example. The PDA also offers a few handy hints.

Inside the cave, the first obstacle was a puzzle door that required a few keys to turn the pieces and open it. After exploring the cave, dodging giant jellyfish that are hazardous but give out some helpful light, finding the objects and open the door, Lara comes to a large room whereshe can finally remove her scuba gear. The goal is to progress through a door blocked by a giant kraken, and here your traditional Tomb Raider platforming action begins.

She can jump, climb walls and pillars, dangle on edges and spin on horizontal bars. She can also sprint to jump longer distances, and grab on to ledges after a jump. She also has a grapple hook that can help her climb down of tall places or pull objects. There is plenty of puzzle solving to be done overall, but in this particular stage there were levers and gears, plus a spiked platform that was obviously hanging above the kraken for a reason. The puzzles are connected and build upon each other.

You have full control of the camera while hanging from difficult spots so you can see what your next step will be. There are adrenaline moments, occasions when something deadly is about to happen, and the action happens in slow motion.

The game relies a lot on sound for atmosphere. Underwater, there was a pleasant tune playing, while in the cave, there were only environmental sounds, like small water splashes, water dripping and little echoes. Thoughout the game Lara will mostly be visiting places where no one has been before, so some of these places will have no music at all, envolving the player more into the scenery.

There will be human interaction and combat on occasion, and Lara will also have her motorcycle available, but not as a mini-game like in Legend. She can actually get on or off and ride it when possible.

Tomb Raider: Underworld is expected on November 18, for Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, Wii, PC and DS.

Monster Lab (Wii, DS)

We sat with Joe Bonar to check out what this bunch of crazy scientists were up to on the Wii.

The Mad Science Alliance is composed of three interesting characters: an agoraphobic scientist that specializes in mechanical things, a clean freak lady whose specialy is biological research, and another one with a connection to the spirit world whose hobby is alchemy.

The gameplay in Monster Lab is mission-based. At the start of a mission, your monster will be delivered to the adventure map, where you navigate from node to node. If you touch another monster while walking around, you will enter a turn-based battle.

During battles, you can select a stance (defensive or offensive) and pick what part of the body you want to attack (head or torso), and what kind of attack you want to do. Damaged body parts will show a yellow or red indicator, according to their condition. There are two ways to win, either you destroy your opponent's torso, or all the other parts around it (head, arms, legs). Each move you use costs you power, but you can recharge to recover it. If you recharge, you will be vulnerable to attacks but will replenish all your power. If you dodge, you won't be vulnerable but will recover less power. You can also recharge while on the adventure field, and here you are taken to a first person view of the monster and have to do some specific motions to charge your power.

At the end of a fight (or a quest) you are awarded with some ingredients, which will be taken to the castle. Eventually you will also learn how to havest them from the environment. Ingredients are used to create parts, and parts are used to create new monsters. For each part, you need at least two ingredients. You pick the first and the second out of a table which shows what's available. After picking your ingredients, the difficulty of the recipe is shown and you are taken to one of 12 mini-games. We saw one where you had to control a welding gun to cover some holes, pointing with the Wii-mote and shaking the Nunchuk to cool it down. The better you perform in the mini-game, the better the stats on the new part will be. The DS will include different mini-games to make better use of the system's features.

There are three types of parts, mechanical, biological and alchemical, and they relate to each other a bit like rock-paper-scissors. Mechanical beats Biological, which beats Alchemical, which beats Mechanical.

You can mix and match the different types of parts to create your monsters. To assemble one, you go to the Monster Creation tab, where you select a head, a torso and legs, and finally name your monster. Having different monsters with different parts will alter battle strategies.

With the main story taking you 8-10 hours (but a whole lot logner if you decide to make all kinds of monters and hunt for ingredients), Monster Lab will also have an online component where you can fight friends and check leaderboards. You can also win ingredients from fights, and the whole game has a badge system for all kinds of different actions, such as winning a number of fights, healing a certain number of HP, losing your first fight, and so on.

Monster Lab also features full voice acting, in English, French, German and Italian. Look for it - how appropriate - this Halloween!

Battlestations Pacific (X360, PC)

Battlestations Pacific is picking up where the previous game left off, offering historically and geographically accurate Japanese and US campaigns, plus a battle that never happened but was an actual planned move for the Japanese. We sat down with lead designer Botond Szalacsi in Eidos' room to check out the new features.

Battlestations Pacific is an RTS action/flight game, with the single-player campaign consisting of 28 missions. There are over 100 units in the game, 21 of them being new ones. Your fleet consists of six ships, 5 AI-controlled.

The graphics have been revamped, with lots of little details everywhere, fantastic lighting and water effects (you can see things under water), bigger islands with gorgeous landscapes and plenty of visible vegetation. You can even see the soldiers on foot when they're dropped off somewhere to capture an island.

Island capture is a major feature in the game, since it allows you to capture strategic locations using all the resources available: ships, planes, deployable troops. You can swap between naval and air combat at any time too, jumping right into the cockpit, where you can look around freely and actually see all the flight instruments. In RTS style, you can control your fleet through the map, which has a more simplified interface now.

In other little additions, ships now have different hull sections and show gradual damage, while kamikaze pilots can still damage your fleet even after being shot down (if they fall on them).

If over 40 hours of single-player gamplay isn't enough, you will be happy to know that there is an online multiplayer option with five new modes, but the inclusion of a co-op mode is still under discussion.

Battlestations Pacific will be invading the stores Q1 2009.