Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Release Date: 11/18/2008
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The Good: Stunning graphics, sweeping soundtrack, great story, bigger and better puzzles, more animations makes things more real, Lara is still super hot
The Bad: Camera is annoying, collision detection problems, story doesn’t pick up until the end, a bit on the short side, the sheer size can overwhelm most players, lame extras
Everybody knows and loves Lara Croft from way way back in 1996 when she starred on the PlayStation as the busty, sexy, British female adventurer that everyone has grown to love over the past decade. Tomb Raider: Underworld really expands off the recent TR games with better environments, more brain bending puzzles, less linearity, and more moves than you can count. Tomb Raider has always been about exploration and finding the best route using the environment and this is still the core game play element used. The story of Underworld picks off where Legend (read my review for that) ends with Amanda on the loose and Lara trying to find her way into Atlantis to find her dead mother. While most of the story doesn’t pick up until the very end there is enough incentive to keep you playing and motivated to press on.
A main element I need to talk about is just how much more detailed this game is. While most of the problems still exist they can easily be overlooked with all the new features and elements added to the game. The first thing you’ll notice is how much more real Lara looks, feels, and moves around in the game. It’s just amazing to see Lara push brush out of her way, move to and fro in 360 degree motion with her stopping and starting really quick, the way she climbs, the way she places her hands and feet while climbing it all just looks so damn good and real. The best thing about this is that the controls are still responsive and (most of the time) will do what you want. When you are swinging around poles, climbing walls, or hanging from ledges you can pretty much get where you need with minute problems from the camera and some iffy collision detection issues. A lot of times Lara will jump in a wrong direction because of the finicky camera, she’ll fall off an edge you know you didn’t slip from, but all these are easily overlooked.
Now since all the climbing action is still the same and hasn’t changed much the new animations, better controls, and the sheer freedom you have really make it feel fresh again. Still staying on the action the combat is exactly the same as before and this is disappointing. The developers seemed to have taken the slo-mo head shot element from Anniversary and mixed it with Legend’s combat and you get what you get: Simple lock on combat with dodges and flips that don’t really do much. While the camera keeps up with the action there’s nothing much to do but shoot your heart out. You can however throw grenades and this really helps in tight situations. With all of that out of the way let’s talk cosmetics.
Yes, the game looks absolutely stunning and is one of the better next-gen games as of yet. Everything is just HUGE and DETAILED. The sheer scope of the levels will make your jaw drop and think “How the hell am I going to get up there?” This doesn’t just include land this is also underwater. You will partake in two levels where you are hundreds of feet under the ocean and it will take a good 4-5 minutes just to swim everywhere. The game really leads away from linearity with massive scope in the levels and this usually leads to treasure hunting. Throughout the levels you’ll find silver vases, or just objects lying around as treasures for you to pick up. These will unlock extra content when you beat the game so you must keep your eye out for these. Thankfully they are easier to get to and are easier to spot than in previous TR games so you can relax. There’s just something great about this game that makes it different than other TR games and the only thing I can think of is pure epicness. Running around (yes they added a run button!) in a sinking boat with a beautiful sweeping orchestral soundtrack playing in the background just wows you every single time.
The game really does a good job mixing up exploration with action and it also helps build up on Lara’s character. She is wiser, knows more, and is a lot older with bitterness in her heart and is holding onto all she can to keep from becoming corrupted like the enemies of her past. You really see this and how calloused her personality has become since she is no longer cheerful and happy, but bitter and angry with powerful rage flowing through her veins. The game just becomes so epic and amazing in the end you wind up forgetting about all the game play flaws and you feel very satisfied in the end. The main reason for this are the puzzles that really bend your mind in just the right way to make you smile every time you solve a puzzle that expands an entire level.
Underworld requires you to take everything in and divide it into chunks instead of just looking and solving. Most levels will have you going from room to room finding pieces of a bigger puzzle and this is actually better in the end. A small feature added is the ability to choose your weapons at the beginning of each level and your outfit. This is really useful and lets you mix things up for multiple playthroughs. There are other elements added to the game such as your Gauntlets which let you move certain heavier objects around rooms, Thor’s hammer (which you get toward the end) that is a one hit kill scenario, and not to mention all the cool gadgets such as better binoculars (its actually a DV camera) your grapple hook, etc. You also do get your bike back, but this time you get to control where you want to go. In Legend you just drove straight avoiding thing along a linear path, but this time you drive it around and even use it to solve a few puzzles.
Underworld really is for hardcore Tomb Raider fans and newbies really won’t like this much unless they get hooked with previous games. With gorgeous graphics, a great ending to a great story, our favorite female protagonist, and a few game play flaws you will have a blast with Underworld.