Tomb Raider: Underworld features the lovely Lara Croft once again. But does this title hang on to what makes the series great? Let’s take a look.
Nine years ago, the first Tomb Raider Trilogy was released for the PC in CD-ROM format. My dad had bought the collection from a Menard’s (a home-improvement store based in the Midwest) for the low-low price of $3, and gave me the discs for me to play on his just-purchased Dell computer. Being the innocent tween that I was, I played with the three games for about a day and never gave the series a second thought.
Although I’ve never been much of a “puzzle” person, a few of these refreshingly brain-stimulating puzzles brought purpose to the reasoning of calling the series Tomb Raider.
Lara Croft returns in this 2008 action-adventure game in search of her long-lost mother, but her quest is quickly sidestepped by her former employers, which wish to do her harm. The game coldly opens in medias res with the Croft manor in flames and a black guy firing off shots at her with no clear explanation.
As you progress through the story, traveling across continents and exploring the ocean floor, the reasoning behind the shooting is revealed as the game meanders towards fantasy and fable. With that said, the insertions of these genres are (for the most part) grounded in reality, which creates semi-believable supernatural happenings for a game centered around finding ancient artifacts and the like.
The cutscenes, although filled with clichéd dialogue, are nicely animated. On maximum settings, the five-year old game barely shows its age in these. It’s a shame that they aren’t on-par with the gameplay.
As I played through the game, I had to rely on a walkthrough more than a couple of times to solve the puzzles; but that’s because the solutions to said puzzles aren’t always obvious. Without the use of guides, the trial-and-error makes up a solid third of the game.
Combat is a chore, too, with click and shoot lock-on aiming from the early days, as if the mouse became worthless again. Some enemies (such as the Thralls found on later levels) are not completely killed by just your weapons, though, and need to be taken down afterwords with a foot stomp.
The creativity is left to the level design and the “boss fights”, which are finely executed in that regard. I particularly liked the Kraken encounter at the beginning of the game, where you are put Lara’s abilities to the test. Races against the clock are commonplace, too; touching certain relics will activate a race from point A to point B with no visible clock, and being too slow will make you have to go back to the starting point and reactivate the time trial.
My last gripe about the game is the ridiculous, sexist camera. I mean, is the ability to stare at Lara’s ass the main selling point behind the game? I doubt it.
Tomb Raider: Underworld is frustrating but somewhat rewarding, it borders on the edge of mediocrity put presses forward with its semi-interesting narrative and gameplay. If it’s in the bargain bin or if you’re looking for a cheap rental, this is your type of game. It’s aged well graphically, but it’s reputation for poor controls is kept with an unnecessarily large gloved hand.
Comparison Rating: N/A