Review: Tomb Raider Underworld (Sony PS3)

Review: Tomb Raider Underworld
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Genre: Action
Release Date: 11/18/2008

Lara Croft. Britney Spears. Lara Croft. Britney Spears. When I sit down to think about the one I can’t help but also think about the other. Over the years the two have been hyped up and over exposed (Sometimes literally in Miss Spears case) in the media. They have both seen the peaks and valleys of their respective fields, and both now find themselves struggling to regain the spotlight. Ah but fame is a cruel mistress, and only the luckiest few can manage to have lightning strike twice. Has Crystal Dynamics managed to raise that metal rod high enough to catch the attention of the thunderclouds above? Let us suit up and have a look.

Story:

Continuing the story first begun in Tomb Raider: Legend, Underworld picks up on the theme of finding mythical weaponry, this time in the form of Thor’s Hammer. While playing I had the distinct impression that the developers had been watching a bit too much Stargate SG-1, but that’s probably just me. The story has never been anything more than a way to move the gameplay forward in Tomb Raider, and this one is no different. Lara is seeking Thor’s Hammer because it is required to gain entrance to the Viking underworld, where Lara believes her Mother may have been mistakenly transported to when she was a child. The woman simply has to know. So it’s off on a merry chase across the world to desecrate holy ground and further encourage the extinction of rare animals.

Graphics:

The game looks really nice on the whole. Lara is looking less whorish than she used to, though you do get the option of picking her outfits at the start of every level. These outfits range from the smart, actual outfits you would expect an adventurer to wear (for the women) and the slutty no-business-wearing-this outfits we’ve come to expect from Lara for the men.

There is a large variety to the levels, ranging from tropical Mexico to deep in the Mediterranean to India and naturally, somewhere in Norway. Every level looks appropriately old, and the enemies are all “appropriate” to the setting.

Sound:

Considering one of the characters you interact with is an Atlantean God, you would expect her voice to have a certain….gravitas. Instead she sounded like my neighbor. Aside from that minor quibble, I can’t really complain about much of anything when it comes to the sound in Tomb Raider Underground.

Actually that’s incorrect. The background music on the first stage is absolutely horrible. It wouldn’t really be a problem if it wasn’t constantly looping in the background. After that things got better. Or perhaps the rest of the game simply got worse?

Gameplay:

When you have a game like Tomb Raider you expect certain things. You expect vast ridiculous puzzles. You expect to see some form of treasure. In short you expect huge levels and you expect that the camera won’t screw you over while you are traversing those levels. So how does Underworld do? Well you certainly get massive levels filled with ridiculous puzzles. And you do get to find various treasures. And you do meet and slay various forms of exotic wildlife.

Unfortunately what you don’t always get is a camera that wants you to finish the game. At many points during the game I found myself wishing for a camera control option that would let me immediately look straight ahead. Some of these times were explained by an automatic camera that just couldn’t compensate for the tight spaces that Lara manages to squeeze her way into. Other cases aren’t nearly as forgivable. On the motorcycle for example, the camera is desperate to stay right behind the bike, far too low to see what’s ahead of Lara without constant guidance from you.

Another problem I found was the lack of consistency in terms of jumping, or more accurately landing jumps. There are points in the game where you must jump from spot to spot over vast chasms, you know the type. Unfortunately there seems to be little to differentiate between a good jump and a poor one. There were many times where I thought I was jumping from the proper location, and actually was, but something caused me to go off course, or not jump far enough, etc. Then after the reload, when jumping from the exact same location I would land the jump. Fortunately the game provides a multitude of checkpoints. Every five steps there appears to be a checkpoint, and I couldn’t have been happier to have them thanks to those quirky jumps. I really don’t know if I could have finished the game without them.

Lastly you will quickly learn to just not bother trying to jump on certain slopes. This is due to the difficulty the game has with allowing Lara to navigate certain angles. She seemingly cannot do it, and will if you make the mistake of trying get stuck and bounce around as though she was being electrocuted. You are then left with the option of mashing the buttons in hopes of finding an action that will cause Lara to jump out of this predicament. Stupid things like these make me think that Eidos have started with their BS of pushing these games out the door before they are ready again.

Replayability:

After completing the game you can reload the various levels to find whatever treasures you may have missed, but once you’ve finished the game I can’t really say that there is all that much reason to play it again.

Balance:

Most of the difficulty found in the game comes not from the various enemies you’ll fight but from the camera and jumping system. Some of the puzzles can be a little difficult but the developers provided for that by giving you access to Lara’s inner thoughts regarding what she should do next. I think it’s a great idea. After all, she’s the super archeologist, not you. It’s not always perfect though, and it doesn’t always tell you flat out what you should be doing, but sometimes all you need is a push in the right direction.

Originality:

Underworld is the 8th game starring Lara Croft, not counting expansion packs and the remake. It is also the third game by the new developers when one includes the remake. So the newness of items like the grappling hook is gone. What I am left with to measure the originality are the story and the levels, neither of which are truly that new. In fact one of the levels in the game is used twice. Yes ok that’s not exactly a new phenomenon, but when they go out of their way to be cheeky about it, I have to comment. I’m sorry but “Hey remember that ship you sunk? It had a sister ship. No I’m serious.” is not a good excuse for reusing a level.

Addictiveness:

About as addictive as unbuttered toast. The game is not horrible but there is nothing truly memorable or addictive about it. If you want that go play Uncharted again.

Appeal:

Lara Croft. From the way she holds an M-16, she’s a lefty, which I never noticed before. So she’s a female role model and a lefty role model. If you don’t fall into either of those demographics, or if you aren’t a slobbering teenaged boy who hasn’t discovered what the web was really invented for, then this game will really only appeal to you if you are feeling nostalgic.

Miscellaneous:

The menu seems to have taken it’s inspiration from the old NFL 2K games, with its wheel of options. I don’t know why it has. It really only served to make the intro menu more complex that it really needed to be.

The Scores:
Story: Good
Graphics: Incredible
Sound: Good
Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Great
Originality: Pretty Poor
Addictiveness: Very Bad
Appeal: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Poor

Final Score: Decent Game

Short Attention Span Summary:

Considering how Legend breathed new life into the Tomb Raider franchise, it’s sad to see its sequel suffering from many of the flaws that nearly killed it in the first place. Oops they did it again.

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