The Tomb Raider series is one that has always been of shifting views. It has gone from good to bad to terrible and back to good again. Unfortunately I haven’t been there for any of this. Tomb Raider Underworld was my first Tomb Raider game. I am not sure whether that is a good thing or not; either way I hoped for the best when I jumped head first into Lara Croft’s newest adventure.
When you first start Tomb Raider Underworld you will notice how beautiful the game is. The environments are lush and detailed. Everything seems alive and well. Ruins look old and decrepit and boats look welded and practical. Those are the only two environments: various ruins, some underwater, some swallowed by jungles, and some frozen by the tundra, and a boats, albeit a large shipping type boat, but a single boat. The real quality of the visuals comes from how different all of the ruins feel. Each underwater or jungle ruin feels different from the other environments of the same style.
The antithesis of the environments is the characters, Lara the most obvious of the lot. She stands out in stark contrast to the realistic venues. She appears almost cartoon like against the lush backdrops, not due to her proportions but due to the model itself. While the fact that Lara gets dirty when she runs through the mud and grime, and clean when through water, aids in the realism, the character model still draws attention to itself against the environments. All of the characters feel that way. If only the characters looked more realistic, the visuals could have been truly noteworthy.
The soundtrack fits the game but is nothing that you would want to run out and buy. The voice acting is top notch. Of course voice acting is only noticeable if it is horrid. The script is passable but the plot was lost on me. Since I had not played Legend or Anniversary, most aspects of the plot were confusing, though I did catch on after a while and a quick trip to wikipedia helped school me on all the events I needed knowledge of. As many others have complained, the ending does feel abrupt, yet I was satisfied. It is clearly left open to a sequel, but the events that transpired are rapped up enough to consider this chapter closed.
The real fun comes from traversing the environment and solving puzzles. The exploration is incredibly fun but is not without flaws. Finding the appropriate wall to climb to ledge to shimmy is easy and feels natural within the environment. Leaping from point to point works easily, though the game will cheat your way to safety if you are close. It is incredibly jarring and takes you out of the experience. Swinging from one pole and missing the next by an inch, yet out of no where you grab it aid in lowering frustration yet feels cheap. The trade off is even yet I am not sure which I would prefer. The puzzles also feel natural in their solutions yet many were incredibly frustrating to me. I found that I was over thinking the puzzles and that their solution was actually much simpler than I had thought. This is not a flaw in the game but a flaw in my play style.
Where Tomb Raider stumbles is in its combat. Combat never changed throughout the entire game. All it ever consisted of is holding down the fire button and leaping left to right to avoid enemies. Be it creatures, wild animals, or other humans with guns the strategy to defeat them never changed. Also in todays gaming standards, human enemies should not be able to take an unrealistic amount of bullets and not die. It robs the game of some of the realism it tries to present. While there is a fair amount of combat, it is not overwhelming and annoying, yet it is the weakest and least enjoyable part of the game.
Tomb Raider Underworld is a good adventure game hampered by repetitive, boring combat. With a few more tweaks, Tomb Raider can become the AAA franchise it strives to be. Change out the character models with more realistic ones and make a good combat system and Tomb Raider will be a force to be reckoned with. I recommend Tomb Raider for all those who desire a good adventure platformer, with a warning about the plot, if you have not played the other two games since the reboot, and the combat.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
Brilliant Environments in which the characters stand in contrast
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Great Platforming even though the game cheats it a bit coupled with bad combat
Fits the game, but nothing worth listening to outside of it
Great for a playthrough but only good for a second if you are a collect-a-thon fan as I am
Good game weighed down by a jarring character models and boring combat