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Adam Ghiggino
05 Jan, 2009

Tomb Raider: Underworld Review

PS3 Review | Is this underworld underappreciated or just undercooked?
With Tomb Raider: Underworld, Crystal Dynamics have now produced their third entry into one of the gaming industry's most iconic franchises, and they're starting to shake things up a bit. Underworld is their attempt to go deeper and darker into Lara Croft's world, both with the game's storyline and with the overall tone and feel with the game. They've also tried to expand Lara's moveset, touting a new approach to game design called "What Could Lara Do?", whereby they have attempted to allow the player to do anything which Lara could conceivably do herself. But does this delving into the underworld of Tomb Raider pay off with a bounty of gold, or does this adventure turn up nothing?

At least Underworld manages to start off with quite a bang. Within seconds of starting the game, the series' trademark Croft Manor explodes, with Lara still inside. We are then taken back in time to see the events leading up to this catastrophe, as Lara explores several archaeological sites in her quest to find the legendary underworld of Avalon, where supposedly her mother is trapped. Her quest takes her from Thailand to the Mediterranean as she discovers the underlying Norse mythology behind the underworlds of several cultures, and draws closer to a powerful weapon - Thor's Hammer.

The plot serves to wrap up most of the dangling threads left from Tomb Raider: Legend, and ties them together with some elements from the very first Tomb Raider game, re-made last year as Tomb Raider: Anniversary. However, it's not as dark as it likes to think it is, with cutscenes largely wasted with shouting and gunfire, rather than allowing any emotional connection to form with the game's characters. But hey, it's Tomb Raider, and as such it manages to connect the dots in Lara's globetrotting in an interesting, if silly, fashion.

Why, yes, that is a tentacle back there.

Why, yes, that is a tentacle back there.
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Largely, Tomb Raider: Underworld plays exactly as you'd expect it to, for better or worse. As Lara, you still still have to travel through exotic locations to find some undiscovered ancient ruins, all the while killing all the endangered wildlife you come across and ultimately gaining access to a subterranean tomb with some kind of giant mechanical statue. The structure of the game is pretty much identical to its predecessors, but if you were expecting anything different from a Tomb Raider game, then you're probably in the wrong series to begin with.

Stemming from Crystal Dynamics "What Could Lara Do?" concept, the combat in Underworld is slightly different. While wielding her trademark dual pistols, Lara is able to target two enemies simultaneously, which always did seem like a no-brainer. Lara's pistols once again come complete with unlimited ammo, although Lara can also wield a secondary weapon which is chosen at the beginning of the mission. Lara's also capable of melee attacks, although considering that her pistols never run out of ammunition, there's never much occasion to take advantage of them. This makes combat a bit on the easy side for most of the game, but later in the game enemies actually require a melee-finisher before they completely give up the ghost. Lara also has a supply of sticky grenades which are more useful for sticking onto tiny spiders and bats for comic relief.

I bet that temple cost four arms and a leg.

I bet that temple cost four arms and a leg.
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Of course, part of being a tomb raider requires raiding tombs, which is where the famous Tomb Raider style of platforming comes into play. In most respects, the game isn't as different as you might think from Legend and Anniversary. A lot of Lara's exploring has to do with hanging from conveniently placed ledges along temple walls, pulling levers, jumping from both horizontal and vertical poles, and crouching under various low obstacles. The main addition of those two games, the grappling hook, is still present and has various uses, although not many that require a lot of thought. There are also several swimming sections in Underworld that are serviceable, but not terribly fun. However, you do get to fight sharks, just like in the movie.

One problem that does continue to get in the way of the gameplay is the camera. On several occasions, you'll find that it's impossible to see that next ledge Lara has to jump to. Combined with the dark lighting in some of the environments (since this is a 'dark' game, oh ho ho), and you'll find yourself having to rely on Lara's animations for cues on when and where you can jump. On another note, quick-time events have been adjusted in this game so that Lara doesn't simply follow button-prompts. Upon reaching one of these events, time will slow down to a crawl, and allow you to decide exactly what action you should take to avoid the obstacle. This action is usually something simple like 'jump forward', but it's nice to see a game breaking away from the button-prompt frenzy. Despite this, the platforming remains strikingly similar to other Tomb Raider entries, even with Crystal Dynamics new mantra in effect, but is still quite enjoyable. It's much more stop-start than the meditative flow of games like Assassin's Creed and Prince of Persia, but Lara still manages to keep us interested as we leap from temple wall to temple wall.

Hang out with Lara. Look, I'm trying here.

Hang out with Lara. Look, I'm trying here.
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One point where the game does shine is the many environments where Lara finds herself. While a few deeper and darker locations tend to blend together as somewhat generic, for the most part the outdoors environments are lush and detailed, especially the various temples. Character design is a little bland, although extra attention has been paid as always to Lara's model (and certain parts of her anatomy), as well as her animation, which is at times extraordinary. The music in the game is actually pretty good, fully orchestrated and with several memorable themes.

Tomb Raider: Underworld is not a bad game by any stretch. The leaping, climbing and gunplay are as fun as they were in Legend and Anniversary, but haven't evolved as much as they should have. The supposedly darker tone of the game also unfortunately works against it, as it ends up feeling largely generic. Where the game truly shines is in the feeling of discovery that you get whenever you first come across a colossal ancient shrine, or realising that the underwater mountain you just passed was actually the remains of giant sculpted head. Sure, it's likely the head is part of an improbable giant mechanical statue that opens a tiny door, but that's just the way Tomb Raider is. And by this point in the series, it doesn't look like it's going to change.
The Score
Tomb Raider: Underworld is fun, but despite its best efforts, does not advance the series as much as it should. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Tomb Raider: Underworld Content

eGames 08: Tomb Raider: Underworld Preview
14 Nov, 2008 Tropical islands, ancient tombs and a dusty bottom.
Another look at Tomb Raider Underworld
19 Aug, 2008 Don't feed the tigers.
Eidos reveals more details about Lara's Shadow
24 Feb, 2009 New playable character revealed.
6 Comments
5 years ago
Still chucking up whether to get this or not. I CANT DECIDE!!
5 years ago
Pretty spot on review, I agree with everything said, though I would've rated it a bit higher as I'm just loving the rewarding nature of the gameplay. It really is a great game. I haven't had too much of a problem with the camera, it's mostly when you back Lara into a corner or need to crouch through a tight space. I was playing the game like crazy when it first came out, but I got stuck on a section in Mexico that I just couldn't figure out, gave it another go today, and the solution was plain obvious. Sigh.

Oh, and riding on a Motorcycle at top speed jumping on makeshift ramps deep down in a tomb is plain cool.
5 years ago
djrussell wrote
Still chucking up whether to get this or not. I CANT DECIDE!!
Same here - I am just waiting for this to hit the bargain bins ... or get a good deal on ebay...
5 years ago
They should call this game Leap Of Faith.. The camera is freakin terrible. Felt like playing the original TR on PC..

I was already quite bored playing through the demo when I was shown the still annoying combat system by being made to shoot some random Tigers in the face.. ??

The only thing that didn't fail (imo) was the graphics.. But playing through detailed and attractive environments in this game is like smearing poo on some really nice artwork.
5 years ago
MAXp0wr wrote
I was already quite bored playing through the demo when I was shown the still annoying combat system by being made to shoot some random Tigers in the face.. ??
Shooting random tigers in the face??

MUST BUY!!
5 years ago
Agreed, any game that lets you shoot tigers is okay by me. But I want to shoot even more rare animals, oblivion ftw on that one, as you can kill a unicorn
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  4/12/2008 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Atari
Genre:
  Adventure
Year Made:
  2008

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