Tomb Raider: Underworld - A Return to the Roots... Sort Of.
Throughout the last decade there have been a lot of Tomb Raider games. Some would argue that there have been too many and that the series should have died out ages ago. With eight major titles and a remake (plus countless portable titles), Lara Croft has had a lot of epic and not-so-epic adventures under her belt. She's been through two developers and is currently transitioning to new management under Square Enix, who recently bought Eidos and all of its assets. With all of the drama the series has had to endure, it's almost a miracle that the franchise has survived. However, the undeniable queen of the Sony PlayStation keeps coming back. Back with style.
Tomb Raider: Underworld is no exception. Overall, I'd have to say that it's the best of the Crystal Dynamics installments. Although, if you're a major fan of the previous installment Tomb Raider: Legend, then Underworld is not a game for you. It's crammed full of puzzles, traps, and a kick ass story that will keep you guessing. This isn't a generic children's shooter like its predecessor. Underworld's truly epic narrative delivers a tale that has no boundaries. When you go into playing Underworld, beware. People are going to die. Major characters even. Crystal Dynamics promised darkness, and they sure as hell delivered on this one.
Storyline - Picking up after the events of Tomb Raider: Legend, this title starts with a bang. Within literally five seconds, we see Croft Manor go up in flames. Then it begins. No prompting. No explanations. After tumbling through the burning manor, we see Lara come face-to-face with her good friend, Zip and her butler Winston, who are desperately trying to escape the manor. However, this isn't a happy reunion. Zip pulls out a gun and start shooting. Once again, no prompting. No explanations. Then, the credits roll and we're taken back a week prior. ("What the hell?" and "That was awesome!" are appropriate responses to that opening.) Lara is now standing on her yacht in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Guess What? There is no prompting. No explanations. That's what's so great about the series. You're left alone to figure out everything, by yourself. Anyway, if you skip past the first (rather lengthy) level set, you find Lady Lara Croft climbing aboard a ship owned by Amanda Evert (your Legend nemesis). Deep within the depths of the truly massive ship, Lara Croft is reunited with an enemy she never expected. Somebody who's been thought of as dead for over ten years. Jacqueline Natla, the enemy from the original 1996 title (and Anniversary) is being kept in some sort of tube by Amanda Evert, who still seems to be seeking power. Natla, the Queen Goddess of Atlantis, is happy to share some information with Lara, who then sets out for Thailand, to discover secrets her father was keeping from her before his death. That's all I'm going spoil. To see where this amazing plot picks up, go grab yourself a copy of Underworld from your local game shop. You can easily find a copy for under $30.00. Score: 10/10
Movements & Controls - This is nothing out of the ordinary for Tomb Raider. While the controls scheme is average, with absolutely nothing innovative added to it, the (PS3) camera is abysmal. Beyond even. It make portions of some levels unplayable. I can honestly say that I've never played a game in this world with a worse camera. It made my first playthrough so bad that I vowed never to play the game again. When I came to my senses, I replayed it and gained an appreciation for what's around the camera. Perfection. Well, almost. So, don't be discouraged. Play Underworld. Play it. Play it. Play it. I promise, it's a good game. Minus the camera. Keep in mind, that this strictly pertains to the PS3 version of the game. Score: 6.5/10
Graphics - This is a topic I generally find to be of little importance. If a game is designed well enough, the graphics shouldn't matter. However, this is not a matter that bring the Underworld score down. In fact, I can honestly say that Tomb Raider: Underworld is one of the most visually stunning games I've seen so far on the PlayStation 3. Underworld is full of incredible detail, which proves that Crystal Dynamics were serious when it came to designing the game. The lighting is perfect, Lara is incredibly detailed and sexy, and the environments actually seem real enough that the player feels as though they're there. Amazing. The only graphical issue that has ever occurred through my playthroughs is some off shadow effects in a single cutscene. One cutscene. That's amazing if you ask me. Score: 9.5/10
Level Design - This is a matter that puts Underworld on top of the world. The level design hasn't been this good since 1999's Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. Lara's paths wind up, sideways, diagonal, and any other way it's possible to go. It's complex, just as Tomb Raider levels should be. Not only that, but Crystal Dynamics managed to seamlessly incorporate puzzles within the vast environments. This is a certain pleaser for both old and new fans. The old fans get the complexity, while the new fans don't get frustrated with constant level blocks. There are multiple ways to go! Everything fits so well together, which makes Underworld a truly well-designed experience. Sure, there's the occasional stop, which leaves you flustered and confused. However, without such experiences, it just wouldn't be Tomb Raider. Score: 10/10
Miscellaneous - There are a lot of extra elements that went into the game, so here they are. The enemies were so-so. There was a variety, but the AI was horrible. Nothing new for Tomb Raider, unfortunately. The weapons were great. Espcially *spoiler*Thor's Hammer*spoiler*. Flinging endless mercs off the deck of a ship is truly amazing. The characters were great. Especially Lara's dark double. (Play the game to learn more.) The length of the game was depressing (roughly 9 hours). Luckily Underworld has replay value. (The 360 version even has two expansion packs.) Score: 8/10
Long time fans of Lara Croft and tomb robbing will absolutely adore Underworld. There's no doubt about that. New players will enjoy it as well. It seems to provide a little bit of something for everybody. Nothing too innovative, but it's a good time. So, now for the score. Drumroll please!
OVERALL SCORE: 9/10