Tomb Raider: Underworld
Crystal Dynamics, Buzz Monkey Software (Wii version)
Wii, Nintendo DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
November 18, 2008
Wii Version Control Method:
Wii Remote and Nunchuk
Tomb Raider: Underworld
was one of the most anticipated titles of the year for me. As soon as I played the demo I fell in love with the lush graphics, huge environments, and smooth animations. Controlling the lovely Lara Croft while exploring the level and pulling off crazy acrobatics was a blast, and I couldnít wait to get my hands on it. A few days after it came out I did just that and started playing immediately. A few short days later, I was finished. Letís just say that by the end of the game my opinion of it was not as high.
The game is a direct continuation of the last in the series, Tomb Raider: Legend
, and if you didnít play that game then youíre going to feel a little lost in the story. There is an optional cut-scene that basically wraps up the previous game, but I felt that more could have been done to keep new players up to speed, myself being one of them.
While weíre on the subject of story, let's go ahead and get how lacking it is out of the way. The game strikes a very serious tone despite its cartoony-looking characters and its rambling plot. Not once did I ever laugh at or even enjoy the characterís interactions. They were all basically a bunch of bland stereotypes, especially Lara, who is pretty much just a standard tough, hot-chick that we see all too often in video games. I remember the Lara Croft from the old days being smart, witty, AND sexy. Now we get this boring bimbo whoís nice to look at, thanks to our latest graphics technology, but not good for much else. You win some you lose some I guess. The story itself is just as uninspired and uninteresting as the characters, sending Lara on a quest to obtain the mythical Thorís Hammer (yes, seriously) to kill Natla, one of the remaining Gods of Atlantis. I know the Tomb Raider series has always been pretty steeped mystical elements, but I really felt they took it too far this time. Especially when its as dramatic as it is in such an unbelievable context.
But honestly who plays these games for the story? You play it to see a crazy hot chick with huge knockers jump around doing suicidal things. Thatís what Tomb Raider has always been about, and for the most part, this one is no different. Just like all the other games in the series, this one has amazing and gorgeous set pieces. I stress the gorgeous. This game has some incredible visuals. I did find that some areas looked better than others, but this didnít really matter since they were all so big and fun to move around in.
The environments are really great.
Levels go on and on, much longer than youíd imagine, and are filled with elaborate puzzles whose solutions always feel very organic and well designed. This is when the game is at its best. Exploring the wonderful environments only to come across some huge statue or labyrinth of architecture blocking your path and saying ďhow on earth am I ever going to get past that,Ē and then figuring it out. It's really well done and very enjoyable. Lara also animates exceptionally well, such as grabbing onto specific rocks instead of just going into a ďclimbĒ animation, although there are a few instances when youíll grab a ledge that you were way too far away from, or pick up something without touching it. For the most part though, the running, climbing, and jumping mechanics all work really well. It does admittedly take quite a bit from the Prince of Persia school of gaming, but then again the Prince of Persia reboot, The Sands of Time
took some things from the early Tomb Raiders, so its all good I guess? Either way the game is better for it, so one canít really complain.
The locales are all over the place. This shark is srs bizness.
The game employs a very useful hint system that can come in handy with some of the more extravagant puzzles, pushing you in the right direction but never fully giving away the answer. Still leaving you with that feeling of accomplishment when a puzzle is finally solved. The game also gets points for its varying locales. The game starts off on a vast sea, then quickly moves underwater, into a jungle, through some ancient tombs, into the arctic ... You get the idea. Each environment is also designed totally different than the last, the difficulty level increasing smoothly, with the end area making use of all your exploration skills. There is a time or two however that the game expects you to complete some acrobatic feat that youíve never even had the opportunity to do, and does not explain how to do it. I really donít know what thatís about. Needless to say though, the level design is pretty fantastic.
Too bad itís about the only fantastic thing in the game. When youíre not scaling ancient structures or solving head-scratching puzzles, youíre probably either caught in one of the horrendous combat sequences or fighting for your life against the sadistically terrible camera. Or youíre just checking out Laraís *ss. But unfortunately itís most often between the first two, both of which really break the game.
The combat is just plain awful. It shouldnít even be in the game, and I hope for the next installment it gets the axe. You can choose between a variety of weapons, which is nice I guess, but you never unlock new ones or change them depending on the level. I donít really see the use of carrying a spear gun into a catacomb, but whatever.
Combat is a pain.
Fighting the grand total of five different enemy types only involves running and shooting, never any kind of tactics. And once you get the super weapon near the end of the game that kills enemies in one hit, combat just becomes absolutely pointless. Oh, and the end of the game has more enemies than the rest of the game combined. Not what I call good game design. Getting rid of combat would fix so many problems; whenever it occurs its only breaking the fun youíre having exploring. This would also get rid of the randomly placed health packs found throughout the levels. They feel very out of place and are useless outside of combat. The big question mark though is the lack of a final boss. Granted, Iím not sure I would want one, because it would probably be horrible, but having a game that requires you to kill things to advance feels really anticlimactic without a final boss.
The other crippling factor in this game is just ridiculous. Tomb Raider has always had a bad camera, but this is 2008. Itís been 12 FREAKING YEARS since the original game came out, and weíre still having this problem. Blind jumps happen frequently, and all too often does Lara take up the entire screen, blocking your view from whatever it is youíre supposed to be doing. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
had this same problem, but found a way around it with the landscape camera option. If that game figured out a way to fix camera issues five years ago, as gimmicky as it was, then thereís no excuse why this game canít.
To its credit, Tomb Raider: Underworld
doesn't overstay it's welcome. It lasts around eight hours, which is a good length for this kind of game. Unfortunately I can't recommend a full purchase because of that. If youíre a fan of the series, you will most likely enjoy the game, itís all basically more of the same with improved visuals, but for others, thereís not a lot going for it. It does do some things really well, and can be pretty fun in parts, but overall itís more frustrating than it is enjoyable. If the game sounds interesting at all to you, then go ahead and check it out, youíll probably find something to like about it. Just remember to bring your grain of salt.
Rent if it sounds interesting to you. Not worth a purchase.