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Tomb Raider: Underworld (PlayStation 3) artwork

Tomb Raider: Underworld (PlayStation 3) review


"I don't see why the enemies have an AI that might compliment a stealth element though, when you can barely do anything with the latter, anyway. It only slightly works because the human enemies are so stupid. Seriously, throw a grenade so that it blows up two feet away from some dude, and he'll still be all like, ''where she at?!'' I just don't get why battle was programmed that way, when waltzing in there and busting peeps down works just fine. I've not once seen any use at all for the stealth application."



Tomb Raider Underworld is the eighth title in the series, which is considered a sequel to Tomb Raider: Legend.

Having never played any Tomb Raider game besides this one, there isn't much that I can say about the story, since it ties in to other games in the series.
The impression I get is that one needs to have played some of the earlier titles to put the pieces together, but I'm not using my ignorance of the series to criticize the story.
The game itself does a good job of rounding up what's important, and making the player aware of the main elements without having to do too much research. Exploring ruins, someone trying to stop you, old conflicts, revenge. It all worked good enough, and one does get the main picture. You begin the game by searching for Avalon of Arthurian legend, in order to find out what happened to Lara's mother. You'll soon discover that Lara's father was on the same quest, and a lot of the plot will revolve around ancient Scandinavian artifacts and how Lara's father was involved with them, and which you also use during the game. Thor's Gauntlet, his hammer...they're story and gameplay.

The story doesn't progress too much out of these elements though, although you do get some definite conclusion to certain key points of it throughout the game. It all flows along nicely, although it's a bit slow, and the train wreck at the end really isn't all that epic. Personally, I was sorely disappointed to see that the source of the Scandinavian artifacts Lara was after never seems to be explained. The whole time while playing, I was really wondering what they were, but nothing was ever revealed as to their nature. My guess is, alien technology. A how and why would have been nice, although I suspect that playing more than one Tomb Raider game might explain some things I wanted to know about. I love Vikings, so I'm a bit biased, and was satisfied enough with the theme. Despite this though, this makes no effort to be anything exceptional in its presentation. Whether or not you played the other games or the ones after, I feel that, even if I didn't understand too much, the layout and spirit of the story should at least have been awesome in the one game, especially since it draws heavily upon those notions.
Interesting yes, but nothing major, and it trips into oblivion in the end by just being weird and seemingly hurried. I suspect that the more direct elements such as the characters are what people like the most about this, but even that fails to nail it right in properly. I liked Zip and that clone, and then they just...disappear. This is just my views on a mythos I should probably know more about to actually judge, but as in a first impression, it really isn't that impressive.
I do give the story credit for its top notch accuracy when it comes to details about Scandinavian mythology though haha.

So let's move on to something else, the gameplay...
This is exploring and platforming, primarily. You won't be disappointed if that's what you want. Ledges, pits, bars, obstacles...it's all there, and more. The game certainly excels when it comes to defining that concept. Most of the time, you're left with all the seconds in the world to time and calculate your advent, and just when it's about to get monotonous, you're given a timed trial. I wouldn't say it's well balanced, but it sure does carve its niche as far as exploring old ruins go.
What kills a lot of this though is the camera. That thing hates you, and it's going to steal all your money so it can do more drugs. It goes absolutely mental at trivial times, and I really hate how it doesn't allow you to see a specific place you have to jump to, even when it's NOT freaking out. To be fair, it's not that entirely horrible, but a hell of a lot more frustrating then it really needs to be.

There's also some action in the game, which fails pretty hard. I don't even see why they include combat in this game. The ''crouch and walk'' button seems to have been designed merely for going through small places. I thought it was some kind of stealth thing at first, à la Uncharted...which can be used as that. But it's completely useless, when you can just rush into the heat of the night and blast enemies away, and come out smelling like a rose. I think that this game's most refined tactical element is just backing away from things and shooting them with the shotgun. (as it seems to be the only powerful firearm you'll get, besides the tranquiler gun, which wins only by default of what it is to begin with)
Don't get me wrong, the fighting works just fine...besides some camera antics, of course...it takes just a bit to get used to, but when you get it down, it works well enough.
I don't see why the enemies have an AI that might compliment a stealth element though, when you can barely do anything with the latter, anyway. It only slightly works because the human enemies are so stupid. Seriously, throw a grenade so that it blows up two feet away from some dude, and he'll still be all like, ''where she at?!'' I just don't get why battle was programmed that way, when waltzing in there and busting peeps down works just fine. I've not once seen any use at all for the stealth application.
For what it is, it's all right, but I get the feeling that the programmers were trying to add some other element that would have been important. It didn't work. I can't quite complain because combat works fine, but again, it isn't anything I haven't seen, and many other guys do it way better. All the exploring and platforming is fun though, minus the crazy camera and sometimes picky controls.

I do have to mention that this game is filled with glitches, which take away from a lot of the amusement. I hope whoever tested this doesn't have a job anymore. Sinking through the environmental boundaries, Lara acting like a mental patient on a small hill or having your basic equipment no longer functioning is unacceptable. I swear, some of the shite that happened to me in this game is beyond comprehension. (game freezing when killing a pair of thrall dogs at once, and even trophies popping up when I did literally nothing at all for the last twenty minutes)

There are also a few puzzles, which while simple in nature, I find to be quite intelligent. I love how they belong to the environment you find yourself in, as opposed to being puzzles for the sake of making you waste your time. Nothing to complain about there, however, they're cryptic enough that you might swear at the field assistance feature a few times for being so damn vague, especially when it concerns something that is not related to your direct progression of the game. But the puzzles are cool, and add to the atmosphere and feel of the game. Whether it's ''bring that statue head over there,'' or mess around with gigantic cogs or move around an ancient bridge to get ahead, I was delighted by the innovation. The gameplay centered around them is something else...but the vision behind the enigmas are aaaall right.

Which means I should probably talk about controls now...The controls do the job, but they often seem to slip around and go haywire. Most of the time, you'll be able to do what you want, and get where you want to get, and kill what you need to kill. You also have plenty of physical indications as to what Lara can do next, through visual cues and animation. But to compliment that bad side of the balance, you're often left with a WTF do I do now moment, which even cryptic can't describe, unless you learn the ins and outs of the game through the back of your hand. The controls do need some getting used to that I don't think is really justified. Walking on ledges is horrendous, because unless you're in the right and proper angle, Lara will spin around like an ass or simply refuse to advance. That is one example of something simple that's just being a damn project. Many times, control fluidity is required for survival, but it just jams or messes up for God knows what reason. The simplest thing can be made so frustrating, just because you're not in the right angle, or because of picky timing. I will give the controls a break though, because they're responsive and accurate otherwise, despite the flaws I've listed. In many cases, I blame the camera for this. I wish I knew where it lived, so I could go murder it.

Let's move on to something better, the look of the game. The graphics are awesome and really beautiful. They also help quite a lot to add a solid mood and atmosphere to the game. Personally, I find a lot of the areas to be bland and uninspired, but I blame the programmers for lack of detail and imagination, rather than the quality of the graphics themselves. Even the most boring corners look epic. I just wish there was a bit more to look at then stone, random tribal carvings and trees. But they DO all look very, very nice.
To be fair though, the graphics do indeed personify the feel of solitude and time gone by, which is excellent, when considering what this game is aiming at and what its concept is.
Lara is also very responsive to her environment, whether that comes from shielding herself from fire, or palm splatting into areas she can't proceed into. I did find it kind of lame that while aboard her boat, when you try to run her up to the command board, she just acts like what's beyond is a concrete wall. But that's a silly complaint. Everything is fluid, gorgeous and crisp looking. Light effects are great, shadowing might use a bit of work, but overall, I'm giving pretty Lara and her creepy ruins a thumbs up.

So what does the game sound like? Can't complain about anything here, either. Everything sounds great. Thunderstorms, ever leaking water, firearms and Lara's voice as she does what she does best. I also find the voices pretty cool, although I've heard better. I've also definitely heard worse.
Croaking glaciers, tigers and panthers on the prowl, falling rocks and sand. The sounds compliment the mood quite well, and personally, I think that some survival horror games should take a note from this title. Personally, I love the clinking sound of Lara's gear whenever she swings and jumps around.
The music is good too, epic enough, but I'm not gonna say it's anything memorable. Still, gotta love all the bats and spiders with their cute little death laugh as Lara shoots em to hell.

Unfortunately though, all the good doesn't save this title. It's pretty standard. I feel kind of sad that it could have been just a bit more with a little more attention. It gets a four from me. Nothing too impressive, but it does have its good strong points. Sadly though, they aren't strong enough to really save it.

Go through it once, and that's pretty much all there is to it, unless you want to unlock the trophies. I've only noticed the bathing suit as an extra costume for the first mission. Not much incentive, especially when the wet suit is just all that much more sexy, haha. There's also the story board extra you can unlock by beating the game on survivalist, but otherwise, nadda. The hardest difficulty level is to laugh at. If you're looking for a challenge, you're not going to find it here. I'm pretty sure all you get is just less bullets for every gun. Nothing else is more difficult...not that you need an extra difficulty level with the bad camera. Seriously, it sucks.

The game isn't as atrocious as many make it out to be, but it does deserve that negative attention. Because the flaws, especially the camera and the glitches, do take a lot of the turn on...off. However, with a bit of patience, it's fun and engaging enough, despite some bit of confusing level layouts. I just feel that it could have been a bit more, and that's without all the flaws I mentioned. Despite that, the programmers got really lazy at many an important point. It isn't too original, but even without that, and a bit more love instead, it might have got the job done without the flaws that sadly define a big portion of it.

Rating: 4/10

JujuZombie's avatar
Community review by JujuZombie (May 28, 2012)

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