Review: Tomb Raider: Underworld
Tomb Raider again.
Tomb Raider used to be an exceptionally strong brand, Lara Croft was a rising starlet capable of selling consoles just on the anticipation of the new instalment and capable of selling magazines just by appearing on the cover. But the brand was sullied through a succession of misguided sequels and seemed to be loosing its direction, never more so than with the frankly broken Angel of Darkness. Following this the franchise was passed over to the new hands at Crystal Dynamics and under their guidance the franchise seems to have enjoyed a bit of a renaissance.
Tomb Raider: Underworld sees the game coming back to its routes. It sees Lara travelling to different ruins spread all over the world, killing endangered animals and smashing ancient vases as she goes, and whilst it doesn’t do anything particularly new it does what it does with a great degree of polish.
The first thing I noticed from this game was the fluidity of the animation and the ease at which Lara climbs up rockfaces and jumps across ledges and beams. You’ve now got more freedom on how you use the poles and beams dotted round the maps as you are able to remove some of these items and place them into different places to open up different paths to hidden ledges. There’s also an new freedom with the swimming engine and you will spend big sections of certain levels under water navigating ruins and killing sharks.
The new moves spread over into combat too as you are now given a decent melee attack and the ability to put your twin pistols to good use in targeting two enemies at once. Add to this the return of the excellent grapple hook and ability to absail and swing from certain points and you are left with a fairly comprehensive moveset.
The motor bike makes a return to the series and this time the functionality of it has been improved, you can now drive the bike wherever you please and you genuinely use it as a way of getting round the level. However there is a problem though as the bikes movement is nowhere near as good as you want and it does ends up feeling a little clunky.
The game also looks very appealing with a nice art direction and attention to detail in the scenery. The world you inhabit looks great and the little touches make it stand out all the more, like the way in which you push aside vegetation as you run past and the way in which mud splatters up to dirty you as you progress through the levels. And the levels you journey to are spread all over the globe from the Mediterranean to Sri Lanka and then on to the Artic. The story sees Lara once again looking into her family history and trying to get to the bottom of what happened to her mother and father. It very much follows on from the story in Tomb Raider Legend and you’ll see familiar characters returning from the earlier games.
The levels themselves are generally very well designed and instead of having small puzzles spread over the maps, the whole levels are actually self contained puzzles in their own right. You find yourself starting off on the outside of the a vast ruin and working your way deeper into the centre of them, and it always comes as a nice surprise to see how the world around you will open up to reveal further depths.
Being a fan of the old games I was hesitant and unhappy with TR: Legend, it just felt different in too many ways. TR: Underworld has unfortunately not gone back to the old school â€œtankâ€ controls that I loved but what is has done with the game, I whole heartedly approve. Lara now climbs, runs and jumps fluidly and making her do such things is dead easy and also a joy to watch. The game is pretty much what you’d expect. Some but not too much story. Acrobatics. Shooting nasties and the occasional grunt, squeak and pant from MsCroft. Notable praise has to come in the form of frequent auto saves and quick auto loads that takes any frustration away.
Negatives come in the form of a camera which can be wild and annoying at times, and unwieldy at others â€“ causing several literal leap of faith moments. Combat just hasn’t been the same since the original games, especially when fighting dudes with guns, but is as enjoyable to gun down animals as it ever was. Lara also seems a fair bit more fragile in this game, being that she seems to sustain more damage from fairly small drops. His just means you have to take some more care.
I must be one of the few people that hasn’t praised the new evolution in controls the series has gained but I genuinely enjoyed this game. If you like me loved the old games and weren’t a fan of Legend still give this a chance, just don’t be comparing it to the classics.
Secondary Score: 8/10
With all this familiarity to the game and setting there are also the same familiar problems. The slightly tricky camera comes back with it’s reluctance to show you where you are jumping to when leaping backwards, and it’s still difficult to judge jumps between poles and ledges. However any mis jumps aren’t penalised too much as there is a very well implemented checkpoint system.
There are also a couple of levels have you facing off against mercenaries which sit at odds with the feeling of solitude you get from the traditional levels. Lara also occasionally gets stuck after an animation and sometimes is left just standing there un responsive for a second or so. But all these issues are infrequent and more than compensated by the overall quality of the rest of the game.
The biggest change to this game is that Croft Manor is no longer your playground. And it’s a compliment to quality of the story and character of Lara Croft that you genuinely feel its absence. There are also other smaller changes to this game in that now they have gotten rid of the stand alone time trails and have instead integrated a couple of time trail achievements into the main quest for you to seek out. This integration of the time trails into the levels is also reflective of how the quick time events are now handled, as the game no longer slows down and asks you to press a sequence of buttons as they flash on screen. Now in a much more naturalistic approach the game will slow down when specific events occur and it’s left for you to direct Lara to safety as you see fit. Be that jumping to a new ledge or dodging specific obstacles. It’s a well implemented dynamic which doesn’t break the flow of the game in the same way as quick time events have a tendency to do.
This game takes the core elements of the Tomb Raider franchise and refines them. The platforming sections are generally excellent with some very well thought out puzzles, the animation throughout is gorgeous and the story actually gives you something to care about. It nice to see that Crystal Dynamics have got a clear direction of where they are taking the series and it’s nice to know Lara is in safe hands once again.