Tomb Raider: Underworld Review - The Next Level

Game Profile

Xbox 360
Release date:
November 18th, 2008
Eidos Interactive
Crystal Dynamics

Tomb Raider: Underworld

Lara goes to hell and back.

Review by Aaron Drewniak (Email)
December 12th 2008

The latest in the Tomb Raider saga opens with a burst of fire and chunks of masonry. The Croft Mansion, home to generations of tomb raiders, has become an inferno, from which Lara must escape while players are again acclimated to the controls. She's certainly flexible. Leaping over certain death to shimmy along a narrow ledge, to swing from a pole into a triangle wall jump, and finishing it off with a mid-air grapple to swing over a pit of fire. Okay, the game starts you off with far more simple jumps, but the platforming gears up as it goes along, and there's a ton of it. Underworld is easily eighty percent platforming, ten percent puzzle solving, nine shooting, and that final remaining bit as some easy motorcycle driving. It's all you'd expect from Indiana Jones and James Bond, while being better than recent outings of either.

Underworld runs at just about the right length to produce a meaty adventure that never feels drawn out or dragging its feet to the end.

The story is a little more Buffy than anything else, with Lara off in search of her mom imprisoned in Avalon, while being thwarted by her former partner assisted by the evil immortal queen of Atlantis. Don't expect brilliant dialogue, but it's above what normally passes for videogame writing, and keeps the action moving to set pierces from all over the world. This is the first true this gen Raider without any old gen versions to hold it back, and it shows in those lush environments. From the steaming jungles of Thailand to the chilly wastes of the Arctic, the level of detail in the gritty textures, soft lighting, and deep shadows are a wonder to behold. Even more amazing is they've accomplished this while making the ledges and other crumbling masonry the player needs to grab hold of clear yet clearly part of the landscape. I only wish they had approached the characters with the same level of realism. Lara looks like a Bratz version of Angelia Jolie and the others don't fare much better.

Underworld runs at just about the right length to produce a meaty adventure that never feels drawn out or dragging its feet to the end. It's also solid and well constructed enough that it'll be worth taking out again at some later date to rush through the platforming and collect all of those relics and treasures left behind. This is aided by a generous checkpoint system, and challenges that demand skill without ever feeling cheap. There's some auto-aim in Lara's leaps, but it's much less automatic than Prince of Persia or Assassin's Creed. You can't be lazy in lining her up and expecting the game to do the work for you. The camera can occasionally be a pain by obscuring your next jump, as well as a ledge that you're not meant to grab and so can't, but these are pretty rare occurrences. The puzzles are suitable elaborate, and while the solutions aren't immediately obvious, they never leave you frustrated. There's a two level hint system to help out with the harder ones, though the other addition of the sonar map is pretty much useless. Combat helps to break things up, and it's more serviceable than anything else. The addition of bullet time makes most encounters a breeze, though aiming for a headshot is more trouble than it's worth.

It's pretty thin on extras though. There's no Croft Mansion to play around in this time, no time challenges, or other gameplay bonuses. There's some videos, concept art, and the like, but those wanting real additional content will have to wait for the upcoming DLC. Still, what's here is more than enough to satisfy Raider and platforming fans alike.

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