Tomb Raider: Unremarkable
Tomb Raider Underworld is an enjoyable game that has a few problems both artistically and technically.
If you want to just start up the game having never played a Tomb Raider before you will be greeted by a cast of characters that you know nothing about. As the first mission loads there is a tip that all the backstory for these characters is in a video in an Extras section at the main menu. Telling you this now is a little late given that you are already loading the first level. At no point during the game are these characters further explored or developed. The only way to learn more about them is to stop playing the game and watch the video.
The assumption that the player knows the fiction of the series works to the games detriment. There are scenes that you can tell are supposed to be emotionally meaningful. They don’t work well because the characters involved are only on screen for a couple of minutes or even not at all. The player has no investment in them as a character so these scenes are largely ineffective. The end result is a game that feels like it is only for people who have played the previous instalments. The game’s fiction can’t stand on its own.
While the game’s writing is a bit dull the puzzles and level design shines. The areas that you find yourself in feel large and invite exploration. The puzzles are integrated into the design of the architecture seamlessly. As you explore you’ll pick away at how to advance as you discover objects to interact with and discover new ways of getting around each area. The platforming and puzzle sections are broken up by some rudimentary combat encounters. These are neither challenging or interesting. It’s clearly the weakest aspect of the game and is used only as a way to add variety to the gameplay.
With such great level design it’s a shame the camera control isn’t what it needs to be. There will frequently be situations where you are hanging off a ledge and you can’t swing the camera around to look where you are jumping. The map is no help either. You get a 3D map of the area you are in by using a sonar scan. Sometimes it’ll show edges that you can grab onto and other times it won’t. Since it’s a sonar scan it only shows sections that the player has a visible line of sight from. It’s more useful to enter the free look mode as it’s easier to use than the clunky map interface.
There are sections that include the use of a motorcycle. These sections are not fun and the motorcycle doesn’t handle well. It feels like someone in the marketing department asked to have it added so they could put a bullet point on the back of the box. It comes off as an afterthought.