Awful Review: Tomb Raider Underworld (Xbox 360)

Crystal Dynamics wrapped up their trilogy of alternate-timeline Lara Croft adventures in late 2008 with Tomb Raider Underworld, a direct sequel to their 2006 release Legend (which was followed up by the prequel remake of the original Tomb Raider, Anniversary).  The game engine was further refined graphically and in terms of the inverse kinematics applied to Lara's world interactions in particular.  Basically it took everything about Legend and refined it.  When Lara came out of water in Legend, she was a little wet and streaky looking.  In Underworld, when Lara comes out of the water she's glistening, and after particularly rough and tumble battles she becomes weathered with dirt.  Legend had inverse kinematics, when Lara stood on an uneven surface, her legs would bend to appropriately mount it (both feet would attempt to correctly contact the ground and the legs would adapt).  In Underworld this is improved and additional interactions are added (walking through the forest in Mexico, she drags her hands against foliage, and pushes off of trees).  The pole swinging has been refined, Lara can now climb up and stand on poles, and remove some poles from walls for use in puzzles.
 
The relatively short length of Legend was retained as well as the tight storytelling and eight act structure.
 
Don't let that convince you that Underworld is a by-the-numbers phoned-in release like the ones that Core Design cranked out for years, though.  There are a lot of things to like and one thing in particular to really dislike in Underworld:
 
+The refined graphics are fucking gorgeous
+This includes a much improved Lara model with significantly better animations and a more realistic if occasionally gimmicky set of world interactions (also more plausible C-cups [borderline D] with proper shape that manage to not look like a bad boob job, a notable and appreciated improvement, although it doesn't show up in the associated art for some reason).
+A more subtle example of the inverse kinematics that might go unnoticed is visible in the first area, where Lara starts the level on a rocking boat.  She shifts her weight from one foot to the other to keep balanced.  It is really quite impressive mainly because you have to be looking for it to realize the level of technical sophistication that this game brings to the table
+The game gives a satisfying resolution to the Natla storyline, the Amanda storyline, and Lara's quest to reconcile herself with the fate of her parents
+Conceptually sound zones, all with a similar theme, various ancient civilizations building religious sites over the top of a still more ancient civilization which was the source of the common proto-myths 
+A very good score.  The Crystal Dynamics games have been particularly strong on this point consistently so that shouldn't come as a surprise
 
The one really annoying thing in the game is that the collecting is way out of hand.  The collection mechanic has been completely abstracted, and there are literally dozens of generic collectible "artifacts" represented as silvery glowing octahedra in almost every zone.  There's no indication as to what they are or even why you should pick them up (aside from the fact that collecting all of them gives you a series of achievements, which is nearly reason enough, but then again I'd probably collect them all just because the game keeps score of how many you have out of how many exist).
 
The level of quality and polish in Underworld makes me really excited for the next proper Tomb Raider ga

me (Guardian of Light doesn't count), and I wholeheartedly recommend it as a strong buy along with Legend.  Get Legend first though.  Even though this game has a video summary of the cutscenes from the prior two games, it's not the same as playing them, and Legend was really good.

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Posted by FalcomAdol

Crystal Dynamics wrapped up their trilogy of alternate-timeline Lara Croft adventures in late 2008 with Tomb Raider Underworld, a direct sequel to their 2006 release Legend (which was followed up by the prequel remake of the original Tomb Raider, Anniversary).  The game engine was further refined graphically and in terms of the inverse kinematics applied to Lara's world interactions in particular.  Basically it took everything about Legend and refined it.  When Lara came out of water in Legend, she was a little wet and streaky looking.  In Underworld, when Lara comes out of the water she's glistening, and after particularly rough and tumble battles she becomes weathered with dirt.  Legend had inverse kinematics, when Lara stood on an uneven surface, her legs would bend to appropriately mount it (both feet would attempt to correctly contact the ground and the legs would adapt).  In Underworld this is improved and additional interactions are added (walking through the forest in Mexico, she drags her hands against foliage, and pushes off of trees).  The pole swinging has been refined, Lara can now climb up and stand on poles, and remove some poles from walls for use in puzzles.
 
The relatively short length of Legend was retained as well as the tight storytelling and eight act structure.
 
Don't let that convince you that Underworld is a by-the-numbers phoned-in release like the ones that Core Design cranked out for years, though.  There are a lot of things to like and one thing in particular to really dislike in Underworld:
 
+The refined graphics are fucking gorgeous
+This includes a much improved Lara model with significantly better animations and a more realistic if occasionally gimmicky set of world interactions (also more plausible C-cups [borderline D] with proper shape that manage to not look like a bad boob job, a notable and appreciated improvement, although it doesn't show up in the associated art for some reason).
+A more subtle example of the inverse kinematics that might go unnoticed is visible in the first area, where Lara starts the level on a rocking boat.  She shifts her weight from one foot to the other to keep balanced.  It is really quite impressive mainly because you have to be looking for it to realize the level of technical sophistication that this game brings to the table
+The game gives a satisfying resolution to the Natla storyline, the Amanda storyline, and Lara's quest to reconcile herself with the fate of her parents
+Conceptually sound zones, all with a similar theme, various ancient civilizations building religious sites over the top of a still more ancient civilization which was the source of the common proto-myths 
+A very good score.  The Crystal Dynamics games have been particularly strong on this point consistently so that shouldn't come as a surprise
 
The one really annoying thing in the game is that the collecting is way out of hand.  The collection mechanic has been completely abstracted, and there are literally dozens of generic collectible "artifacts" represented as silvery glowing octahedra in almost every zone.  There's no indication as to what they are or even why you should pick them up (aside from the fact that collecting all of them gives you a series of achievements, which is nearly reason enough, but then again I'd probably collect them all just because the game keeps score of how many you have out of how many exist).
 
The level of quality and polish in Underworld makes me really excited for the next proper Tomb Raider ga

me (Guardian of Light doesn't count), and I wholeheartedly recommend it as a strong buy along with Legend.  Get Legend first though.  Even though this game has a video summary of the cutscenes from the prior two games, it's not the same as playing them, and Legend was really good.