After Tomb Raider: Legend’s cliffhanger ending, fans of the series awaited the advent of Underworld’s premier with baited breath. Crystal Dynamics held fans over with Tomb Raider: Anniversary, a tribute to the ten year anniversary of the first Tomb Raider game, but much information was not available until E3, the annual gaming conference, when they released a goose-bump inducing teaser trailer that merely hinted at the revelations fans were in store for.
The Story of Tomb Raider Underworld
The storyline of Underworld picks up where Legend left off: Lara is still raiding tombs while searching for information on her mother that disappeared in a plane crash many years before. After discovering an artifact in an ancient temple that she believes is connected to Norse mythology, Lara encounters two former adversaries who confirm her theory and she sets off on yet another globe-trotting adventure to search for similar artifacts and, more importantly, answers.
Underworld boasts a story that is powerfully emotional at times, especially for fans that have followed the rest of the series. It starts in an explosive manner and gets more and more shocking as the game progresses. The ending is bittersweet; it wraps up Crystal Dynamics’ trilogy with satisfaction, but there is no doubt that this intriguing chapter has been closed for good, leaving fans to wonder what is next for Lady Croft.
The Playability of Tomb Raider Underworld
The developers of Underworld wanted Lara to be able to interact with the environment in nearly any way, so for the first time in the series, motion capture was used with the help of Olympic gymnast Heidi Moneymaker. Thanks to the capture of Heidi’s movements, Lara really can do just about anything gamers can think of, whether its brushing plants out of the way or removing a pole from the wall to use in melee combat.
The combat system was also given an overhaul, making the adrenaline system easier to use than in Legend and Anniversary. Lara was given new combat moves as well; she can wield a pistol even if she is already holding an object, deliver a roundhouse kick in close combat, and fire weapons while hanging from ledges. However, the combat seems out of place and even unnecessary at times, stirring players out of awe-inspired reveries caused by the environment.
Tomb Raider’s infamous use of puzzles is as present in Underworld as it was in previous installments. The puzzles are neither hard nor easy; they find a nice balance between being too obvious and completely impossible to solve. More often than not, the difficulty of the game comes from the sheer size of the levels. It can be difficult to remember whether or not putting an object in its appropriate place had any nearby results, or if instead its results will only become apparent to Lara a half an hour later.
The Mechanics of Tomb Raider Underworld
Underworld’s most noticeable change to the Tomb Raider series is the graphics. A new engine was developed for Underworld, and several different types of lighting models were used. The result was levels that are nothing short of breathtaking. Quite often, the landscape looks like something out of a movie rather than a video game.
Lara herself has come a long way since her humble beginnings, and Crystal Dynamics wanted that to be explicitly clear with Underworld. Project lead Rob Pavey stated in the PlayStation Official Magazine – UK that, “Lara will be able to do anything that you’d expect her to be able to do.” The combination of the motion capturing, new engine and new lighting model, Lara looks more realistic than ever.
The linear format of the previous two Tomb Raider games was a big gripe among gamers who felt that Crystal Dynamics was taking the series in an easier direction. As a result, the majority of Underworld’s levels have done away with the hand-holding approach, instead offering enormous levels that are quite easy to get lost in. However, for those who want to skip the hours of exploration and get to the nitty-gritty, Lara’s PDA does offer a handy field assistance feature.
One of Underworld’s few flaws is the camera. Frequently, the player’s most epic battles will be against the camera itself in an effort to gain control of the view, sometimes causing the perspective to shake violently or, even worse, lose complete sight of the action behind a wall. Nothing is more aggravating in this game than attempting some of Lara’s death-defying stunts in hostile environments when you are forced to control the action from a terrible camera angle.
Recently, Microsoft and Eidos Interactive, Underworld’s publisher, reached an agreement, and downloadable content is in the works for Underworld in the form of two additional levels..
Overall, Tomb Raider Underworld will be hard for fans to resist, between Lara’s assortment of new moves, the stunning environments, and the strongest storyline of the series. Even though the camera can be problematic at times, Underworld is a fantastic addition to the Tomb Raider series.
Final score: 8.75