Tomb Raider: Underworld Review
- Posted November 19th, 2008 at 12:05 EDT by Steven Williamson
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Tomb Raider: Underworld is a lackluster adventure. Lara looks great, but gameplay is predictable and thwarted by camera issues.
- Lara's character model and animations are spot on
- Some beautifully rendered locations
- Predictable, bland puzzles
- Poor camera angles makes exploration frustrating
- Combat is lackluster and overly simple
(continued from previous page) ...impression that they’re somehow different and new. From very early on though, you’ll soon work out that it’s the same bag of tricks that the series has been churning out for over a decade. There’s no real surprise that the first puzzle you’re tasked with solving requires you to explore the environment in order to obtain two axles that you then have to place into a cog mechanism. Turn them a few times to solve a simple a simple visual puzzle and you're done. It’s predictable stuff.
Many of the puzzles are also multi-layered, requiring you to do more than one task to solve them and most also call for an element of exploration. This means that you’ll often need to traverse the environment searching in every nook and cranny to find a necessary piece of the puzzle; a concrete block, for example, that weighs down a platform that in turn opens up a doorway. See what we mean by 'predictable?'
The hint icons and glowing ledges of past Tomb Raider games are now a thing of the past, making exploration much more difficult. You now need to rely on your ability to actively search for a way across the environments, by keeping an eye out for a grappling hook, a pillar to ascend, a wall to scale or a slightly protruding rock face to grab onto. This isn’t as easy as you’d think. Even in the initial level, which took us 3 life-wasting hours to complete as we tried to solve a three-pronged puzzle to get past the ocean-dwelling Kraken (who guards the doorway to where the Iron Gauntlet of Thor is hidden,) we were exhausted and utterly bored searching for the solution. Once we did find out the answer, after once again falling to our death numerous times, we were mortified to be told we had to make our way back through the maze-like cavern complex, right back to the entrance where we’d began our dreary journey.
Jerky camera angles don’t help matters at all; in fact they hamper the game significantly. Like previous Tomb Raider games, a lot of your time is spent performing acrobatics, balancing and jumping from pillar to pillar, latching onto a pole to swing across a gap, or jumping from one ledge to the next. Therefore, camera angles should play an important part in helping you smoothly traverse the locations. The camera actually works against you though, panning out, zooming in, or moving around you at inappropriate moments. We’ve spent far too much time than is healthy misjudging jumps and falling to our death, or even worse into the water below (at least if you die you'll respawn close by, if you fall into water you have to make your own way back.) Multiply that by 2,3,4,5 or 6 times and you'll get an idea as to why we've been so frustrated with our Tomb Raider experience. If camera problems didn’t exist, then our review of Underworld would probably have been remarkably different. As is stands, dodgy camera angles have an unhealthy knock-on effect on the whole game experience.
Layered puzzles don’t help either in relieving any of the monotony and just as soon as you think you’ve solved a puzzle you’ll be sorely disappointed to realize that it’s just the first step in completing it. Inevitably, this means that you’ll be stuck in the same environment for relatively long periods, which is about as exciting as watching grass grow. If there had been a walk-through available at the time we were playing Underworld we’d have snapped someone’s hand off for it, or certainly of committed some form of violent act. Even with the PDA, which offers a few hints and tips, we found some of the intricate puzzles very difficult.
In between the arduous puzzles and bouts of problematic exploration, Underworld also has a fair amount of combat to get stuck into. After your first encounter, against the most none-threatening sharks we’ve ever seen -these ones react more like playful dolphins, nipping at your toes and then swimming off into the distance as happy as Larry- combat doesn’t really get any better. The A.I is as thick as two short planks. Combat against human forces, in ... (continued on next page)