Crystal Dynamics rolls out Tomb Raider: Underworld with tasteful care for the Tomb Raider audience. Tomb Raider: Underworld marks the return of Lara Croft in all her stunning digital beauty as she takes on another adventure that measures miles above her small stature.
Tomb Raider might have kick started the adventure platforming genre; however it hasn’t always maintained the tall level of success that the original adventures garnered. As of late, Lara Croft has been getting back into shape thanks to Crystal Dynamics love for the gaming design arts. Tomb Raider: Underworld is another step in the right direction to bring the series back into the spotlight it deserves. It’s a tough world filled with similar games that have updated and retooled the “Lara” format to meet their own prerogatives. Off the top of my head you could say any action, platform, adventure game is taken from the tomb raiding roots, from the obvious “Drake’s Unfortune” to something like a little more abstract like “Prince of Persia”. Each game tries to own the jumping action formula and in their own respected ways have succeed. This makes Lara hit the gym even harder to learn some new athletic moves and bring a new level of innovation to the genre she help popularize.
Tomb Raider: Underworld is a game that will make all Lara’s faithful fans happy. The formula is almost cookie cut from the previous games with updated locations, new puzzles, and a new storyline to drive Lara through another elaborate adventure. In Underworld you will be facing a slightly more mature themes which shows Lara age progression in a nonchalant way. Starting with a bang Lara escapes a burning Croft Manor to jump into an adventure in the Mediterranean Sea searching out her lost mother. This brings in a treasure based of Norse mythology and a group of mercenaries who shake up the game giving Lara a reason to fire her trademark dual wielding pistols. From the Mediterranean Sea to Thailand, Lara will experience a roller coaster ride fit for Lara’s standards. The story is interesting enough for what it is, although I would have like to see a little more diversity in the franchise without following the lost relative, treasure, mercenary formula. It has been done to death, isn’t Lara getting a little wise by now?
While you are experiencing the adventure in Underworld you might notice Lara’s new attentiveness and integration with what is happening on the screen. Lara will automatically interact with the environment with the new reworking within Underworld. What this means is that Lara will shield her face when she walks by fire, or move her arms to push away foliage. Adding this little touch actually goes a long way to make the world seem more believable. You can tell it’s a game mechanic and its not ultra fluid to see 100% real, but it helps build the illusion. Crystal Dynamics has also done more to make all the changes in the environment reflect in the game, building on the illusion even more, making Underworld the most engrossing merge between environment and character in Tomb Raider’s history.
The gameplay, like the other tweaks seemed to fit as one whole unit now blending parts of the game together at any moment. This makes Tomb Raider a little less predictable, even if it ultimately is. The grappling hook comes in handle and is more versatile. Lara can also free-climb between objects in the game while playing with her toys. Lara might be a little more acrobatic however she can still get stuck on ledges, or jump to the wrong platform during the game. The actually control mechanics are marginally better, but they still have some problems. Navigating Lara through the environments isn’t always pleasurable and the massive environments can be deceiving because they are limiting, however all that a side Lara comes out on top with some memorable moments. I really wish the invisible walls could disappear along with a little expansion within the playground we are given to explore. It’s called explore, but we are keeping you on a tight leash.
The wonder of discovering the new worlds, within worlds is still exciting in Underworld. Keeping up with the joy of Tomb Raiding. Aside from diving down to underground ruins and racing through snow capped mountains you will get to fire up your ride in Underworld. The vehicle additions do their job creating a diversion from the normal gameplay moments. I used to tilt my head when I seen these coming in the past, however I’m am more accepting of them and understand their place within the game. Plus, it’s fun once and while to break the motion of the game picking up the place and cruise around on Lara’s monster of a bike.
The enemies you encounter in Tomb Raider, from mercs, to oversized sea creatures are all driven by the same dulled out artificial intelligence. Taking pot shots at the enemy and coming out on top is really easy, and for some reason more ready for death then the last two Tomb Raider adventures. The combat, besides the A.I. is basically unchanged and still consists of running and gunning until all the enemies fall. Oh, yea, Lara can now kick, a new feature that seems a little out of place in the game. If it was up to me I would have kept the button press moments rather than Lara’s weak looking kicking ability. Really, Lara needs a some more tweaks to its combat to fill the shoes of other titles. How about stealing from Drake? Since he has obviously raided Lara’s pockets.
the graphics engine has been remade for Tomb Raider: Underworld and it shows with more dynamics and integrated objects in the game world then before. Lara herself has more motion capture put into her animations with gives a new life to this trademark character. Crystal Dynamics called in NCCAA Women’s Gymnastic Champion to re-capture Lara’s finesse for the game, wow; Lara is now a real world gymnast in a sense. The quality of the graphics themselves is outstanding with some impressive special effects like fire and explosions continued with beautiful shading and attention to detail. The only issue with the graphics is occasional pop ins that will happen in some environments.
The English born actress Keeley Hawes returns to voice Lara one more year and continues her outstanding job as gaming most notorious female heroine. She is supported with an equally talent casting role of characters who individually knock out their lines. The music taste of orchestral style also comes into play with a little more dynamics than before with specially created music pieces. The music is spread out then the last few adventures and gives Underworld a slightly different feel. It never contributes more than its part which is nice making Tomb Raider well balanced in its production values.
Tomb Raider: Underworld begs for Lara to explore the underground of richness with high hopes and a knack for landing in trouble. Tomb Raider: Underworld continues in the vein of the last three Tomb Raider games giving you more of the same with a few minor improvements. Fans of the series will find a lot to enjoy in Underworld; however the game still carries over its faults from earlier editions as well. Lara's resurrection under Crystal Dynamics is still in its infancy; hopefully they can keep up with the pack of new generation of games that Lara has inspired.
Gameplay:7, Graphics:8.5, Sound:8.5, Innovation:7, Mojo:7 Final: 7.6 / 10
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 12.15.08