PS3 Review: Tomb Raider Underworld

Is Lara’s latest outing worth you going to the Underworld?

From the great original to the awful Angel of Darkness…The Tomb Raider series has had its ups and downs. Crystal Dynamics have worked wonders with the series over the past 2 games and have done yet another fine job in making another stellar addition.

Tomb Raider Underworld picks up after Tomb Raider Legend with Lara searching for her mother in Avalon. She begins searching ancient ruins and even find’s Thor’s hammer…the mighty Mjöllnir which is the key to finding the way to it. Old faces from past games turn up and may surprise a few fans, I won’t spoil who it is…but any fan should enjoy the outcome.

Underworld’s gameplay remains identical to that of Legend, which is a good thing…but it has been tweaked to be more responsive and even allows you to tailor the game to suit you. So you can give enemies less health, Lara more ammo and more time to make important grabs and so on. The PS3 version lacks trophies at the moment, so there’s little incentive to push the settings to make things difficult or hunt down the many collectables which are scattered around the game.

The first area that you enter after Lara’s Mansion is underwater, which is incredibly deep and takes a while to progress. I thought it was an odd choice to start it from there but the controls are great and you have unlimited air since you spend so long down there. Shooting underwater seems a bit silly but at least it keeps those sharks at bay. In terms of puzzles, Tomb Raider Underworld doesn’t do anything that different from Legend…it just seems on a bigger scale.

The controls are also the same as in Legend/Anniversary but do feel more improved. The new model for Lara will set many male’s tongues wagging, which is definitely her main appeal for that audience, which includes yours truly. She’s well animated, shows expressions brilliantly and is fluid with the way she jumps and shoots. Besides shooting, you can also kick your foes up close…which works great against human enemies, not so well against the larger beasts. The grapple hook returns but plays a bigger part than in the past games, this time it can carry you up and down walls, pull down items and so on. It’s easy to use and is overall a good addition to the gameplay.

The problem with Underworld is that it’s a case of “been there, done that”. There’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, although this is probably the best game in the series to date…in terms of visuals and control, it lacks a bit of originality. Puzzles are tougher that before, but it’s still fairly obvious what to do. Only on a few occasions did I scratch my head, thinking “WTF do I do now?” and it’s usually because I’ve stayed up late playing it when my brain just isn’t working as well as it should.

The locations are simply amazing to look at. They are epic in scale and it’s clear that a lot of work has gone into making them look as good as they do. There are rarely any framerate problems, which was a problem with Tomb Raider Anniversary…so it’s good to see it’s more manageable this time. Boss fights although rare, are very well done…the first is against a giant squid that oddly doesn’t actually attack. Instead it becomes clear that you need to drop a spiky chandelier on its head by loosening it from both sides, it’s different from the mindless shooting that takes place elsewhere in the game.

I know I’ve already said this, but the game just looks magnificent…although it only runs at 16:9 on my TV and not the 1:1 pixel ratio that my TV runs every other thing that runs on HDMI. It’s probably because the game doesn’t support 1080p, which is a shame. It still looks fantastic though….everything from the levels to the character models is jaw-dropping to look at. Voice-acting is a mixed bag; Lara’s fake British accent is annoying but acceptable while the others do a good job. The soundtrack really stands out and fits the overall feel of the game very well. So in terms of presentation, Tomb Raider Underworld ticks all the right boxes.

The Verdict

Tomb Raider Underworld doesn’t innovate as much as I’d hoped it would, but it’s still an amazing game that is fun from start to finish. This is without a doubt, the best Tomb Raider game ever conceived and raises the stakes for the next game to top it.