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Submitted by Jon Wilcox on November 21 2008 - 12:29

Lara's quest to rescue her mother from Avalon continues in the latest Tomb Raider from Crystal Dynamics...

Pros
  • More epic in scale.
  • Motorbike is better integrated.
  • Strong storyline.
Cons
  • Overly obscure at times.
  • Field Assistance doesn't make it more accessible.
  • Same old Tomb Raider.

Just in time for Christmas comes the return of Tomb Raider, Eidos' key franchise, which returns for an eighth instalment following a delay of several months.  Set after the 'cliff-hanger' conclusion of Tomb Raider: Legend, where Lara Croft discovers that her mother (long thought dead) is alive having been transported to the mythical Avalon, Underworld is the third adventure in the series to be developed by US outfit, Crystal Dynamics.

Pitched as the first true next-gen Lara adventure, and coupled with the teetering position of publisher Eidos, there's a lot of pressure on the shoulders of the world's number one video game heroine.  So how does the game actually fare?  Is this a fresh take or more of the same with extra spit and polish...is this one tomb that didn't need to be raided?


Lara's Got A Thor Point To Make.

First of all, it's more than fair to say that Crystal Dynamics hasn't really strayed particularly far from the well-worn path of previous Tomb Raider games.  In fact, all of the ingredients you'd expect from a Lara Croft adventure feature in Underworld, which enjoys a far greater sense of scale and of being epic than past instalments.  The globe-trotting antics also return too, with Lara travelling cross the world from Thailand to Mexico, the Mediterranean, and beyond.  Investigating the link between a number of mythologies including Mayan and (more importantly) Norse, Lara's attempts to uncover the entrance to Avalon means that she also encounters old enemies from the past, as they too run head-long towards their own nefarious goal of discovering Thor's hammer, Mjöllnir.

Going beyond just eye-candy, the implementation of locations in Underworld was one feature that the team at Crystal Dynamics pushed in the run up to release.  Describing how weather and the environment would work against Lara almost like a constant enemy sounded intriguing, but sadly it isn't quite as realised as we'd have hoped.  Sure, ledges get a little more treacherous if it's belting down with rain, but there's little to be found that we haven't seen before in the series.  However, pretty rain effects and the occasional blizzard don't make a Tomb Raider game - it's all about the puzzles.

Ah yes, the puzzles.

Here's the thing: when they're done well, Tomb Raider: Underworld is a master-class in environmental puzzle design, with grander and more epic 'puzzles-within-puzzles' than we've seen across the breadth of the franchise's history.  However, when the design goes badly - which it does in more than a few key places in the game - the gameplay becomes disappointing and 'throw your controller through the TV' frustrating.  Case in point is the Mexican level, where Lara uses her new found ability to knock a several ton boulder from its perch using just her grapple line (yes it does really seem that mass in Tomb Raider is about as non-existent as it's always been).  For a long while it looks like the hole created by the boulder is the exit to a puzzle - there doesn't seem to be a logical way to get down into the underground system, only a way out.  It's only when, in a last gasp effort to persevere with the game that a leap of faith was made, that she jumped far further than we'd expect, just reaching the ledge...it's a poor design decision.

Another head-scratching element makes itself known far earlier - the first true mission in fact - where Lara has to find two wheels to solve a puzzle.  The issue is this: she's 20m underwater, and the resulting search for glowing jellyfish (yes, apparently they are attracted to relics and treasures) makes for a less-than-exhilarating start to the adventure.  This puzzle just typifies the worst of Underworld - the gameplay can stray too far away from the delicate balance between 'fun frustration' and 'annoying frustration'.  It's this deviation that means Underworld doesn't reach its potential; it's not the great game it could have been, and instead is just another solid effort.

There are plenty of things right with Tomb Raider: Underworld, however.

Underwhelming Underworld???

One tick on the list is that the use of Lara's motorbike is far more prominent than it has been in the past.  Previously, the bike was used in a high-speed chase through an exotic environment, a break from the more cerebral elements of the adventure.  Here, it's actually a requirement during the main stay of gameplay; the bike is used to travel between different sides of some of the labyrinth ruins, and even as a weight in one puzzle.  After so many iterations, it's good to finally see the bike better integrated into the overall experience.

Gamers bored with the heavy use of quick-time sequences in recent years will be pleased to hear Underworld instead employs 'adrenaline events' that slow down time, enabling players to save Lara from impending doom.  A decent enough alternative that at least helps to inject an extra jolt of drama to the gameplay, the events compliment the 'Adrenaline Headshots' during combat sequences.  Talking about combat, Lady Croft has been working on her shooting skills, learning the ability to split target enemies, and use her gun whilst hanging from a ledge or cliff-face.  A decent melee kick has also been added, but all three feel like they should have been there all along, and aren't exactly things to get particularly excited about.

In a bid to expand the accessibility of the franchise, Crystal Dynamics has implemented a 'Field Assistance' feature, enabling gamers to access a hint or solution to a problem or puzzle.  A neat idea that's near-essential at times, the feature is let down by being all too obscure at times, especially when Lara's faced with a multi-stage puzzle and the assistance fields the same hint rather than break it down further.  If the feature is a bid for greater accessibility, then it falls slightly flat.

Tomb Raider has always kept a strong sense of linearity to the gameplay; there's one path though a puzzle and mission.  For Underworld, Crystal Dynamics has tried to expand some areas with occasional multiple paths through ruins.  The ability to free-climb across certain sections is one feature, even if Lara looks creepily spider-like when she does it, whilst picking up and using poles dotted around environments to access other areas is another.  Both are welcome, but neither really does much beyond acting like a side-note feature; we're certainly hoping that Crystal Dynamics radically upscales and evolves their use for the next instalment.

Beyond puzzles and exotic locales, Underworld features another Tomb Raider nugget: Lara's hypocritical perception of antiquities.  Focusing her efforts on gathering mythical artefacts may grant her greater status in the world of fictional archaeology (and help Lara find her mum), but the wanton destruction of ancient pots and gourds along the way - just to find some glittering crystals - is surely sacrosanct...Indiana Jones wouldn't do that.  

Oh, and a final piece of advice for the future, Crystal Dynamics.  If you're going to recap the events of the previous part of the 'Avalon' story-arc, make it the intro movie.  Don't hide it away in an 'Extras' sub-menu, because it then just looks like an after-thought.

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  • Graphics: 81%
     
  • Sound: 83%
     
  • Gameplay: 83%
     
  • Originality: 79%
     
  • Longevity: 70%
     
Overall Score: 8/10
Epic without ever pushing boundaries for the series, Tomb Raider: Underworld is a game that fans of the franchise will no doubt relish.  But with its occasionally obtuse puzzle solutions, this isn't the great instalment it could have been - and falls rather flat in the end.

 

   

     

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User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Sat 24th Jan 2009 18:29, Post No: 39

mnjnjmjnj

 


By: SegaBoy

Added:Mon 12th Jan 2009 10:19, Post No: 38

Hopefully, now they've put that particular storyline to bed, Crystal Dynamics can concentrate on evolving the franchise again.


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Sat 10th Jan 2009 16:43, Post No: 37

yeah, its the difficult economy thats to blame, not the god awful game play, rubbish plot and repetition of a franchise.  The words horse, dead and flogging, spring to mind. 


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Mon 08th Dec 2008 19:42, Post No: 36

i havent got it yet but i do hope that she dose find her mum not dead and i can not belive that zip has gon against her


By: SegaBoy

Added:Tue 02nd Dec 2008 11:16, Post No: 35

Piracy is not permitted on the TVG boards - please refrain.


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Tue 02nd Dec 2008 04:35, Post No: 34

can any one please tell me were i can get this game for a ps2. got one lined up on the net but not sure if it will work it from america a format 2  243771 help please will it work


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Sun 23rd Nov 2008 23:29, Post No: 33

Odd review. Anyway I've been playing Underworld for the entire weekend and it's definitely worth your money. I bought this, Left 4 Dead and Dead Space this Friday but have only played the latter 2 for about an hour combined. All my time is being spent with the lovely Lara Croft. It's how exploration really should feel.


By: SegaBoy

Added:Thu 11th Sep 2008 11:46, Post No: 32

$th August Anon - Core are no more. After the Angel of Darkness fiasco they released one forgetable game as a new studio for Capcom that sunk without a trace. They ten got into DVD games, but that didn't last long. The only thing left of them was acquired by fellow UK studio Rebellion quite a long time ago. Toby Gard is the only link between old Lara and new Lara.


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Tue 19th Aug 2008 14:35, Post No: 31

KURTIS:D! KURTIS LISTEN TO US! why crystal dynamic dont read forums? like this!


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Mon 04th Aug 2008 09:49, Post No: 30

Why can't Tomb Raider have both Core and Crystal Dynamics making games? I mean Ratchet and Clank have got 2 different developers making games: Insomniac Games(PS2 and PS3) and High Impact Games(PSP)! CORE could continue the AoD Triology and Crystal Dynamics doing Legend Triology! Doesn't anyone else agree with me? PLEASE REPLY!


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