Ages ago I played the Tomb Raider Underworld demo. I found it lots of fun and ended the post saying something like “wants the full game I does”. Well I ended up borrowing a copy, running through it over a weekend and here, in a typical short review type fashion, is what I thunk. Unfortunately though it seems Fraps (what I use to take screen shots with) hasn’t been running lately so no bloody pictures.
To start with, lets get the most obvious things out of the way – the things that this Tomb Raider seems to be based around; the look, the platforming and the puzzles.
As with the demo – this game is one of awe inspiring prettyness. Some of the locations presented to your eyes are unequaled in terms of scale and beauty in all of gamingdom. I don’t think I have hammered my screen shot key (pointlessly I now realise) so many times in a game just because something looks amazing rather than because something amazing is happening. And it’s a good job the locations are pretty – the amount of time you may well spend in just one room means if it was uninteresting visually it would in turn render the whole game uninteresting. This isn’t a flaw – it’s just the way it is.
Platforming is a bit of a mixed bag. When it works it’s fantastic. You feel like a ninja – casually doing flips while scaling massive structures, resulting in getting to a point so high even Mario couldn’t jump down and survive. It’s like this is what platforming games were made for. You praise Lara for her nimbleness and amazing talent for balance. When it doesn’t work though you can’t help but shout “Agh you big titted bitch!” at the screen and do some serious brow furrowing. It’s because when you do fall to your grim demise it never really feels like your fault. It’s normally because the camera is being rubbish, Lara has decided she cant grab on to the object you are hurling her at, or she has jumped in a direction different to what you were trying to tell her to do. Frustrating to say the least.
The puzzles are generally good and well thought out. They tend to make sense and serve as a decent enough excuse for a bit more jumping around. Sometimes, however, you have to wonder if Lara wants to make things more difficult for the hell of it. I remember being stuck behind some big spikes – I could of squeezed between the gaps quite easily but no, I had to find a way over them (I took a nice visual aid of this, but you will have to take my word for it). Even just bringing a longer rope along would make things easier but I can only imagine the local rope shop must only have ‘a little too short’ in stock. This aren’t the main gripes with the puzzles though – It’s the repetition. Sometimes you just want to get on with it, and doing what is basically the same thing two or three times but in a different place seems nothing more than a lazy attempt to drag proceedings out.
A quick word on combat I suppose – mediocre. At best it gets in the way of jumping around like a lunatic, at worst it implements a frustrating system of shoddy targeting and some ‘bullet time’ button that does nothing advantageous as you slow down as well. Max Payne this is not. Moving on anyway as I better mention the plot – It’s something about your dead mum. There you go – I mentioned it and to the full extent of my understanding. It’s confusing, rubbish, and filled with characters who I could not care less about. They had silly accents and I knew nothing about them even after watching the ‘previously on Tomb raider’ video. I’ll sum up the characters, plot, and combat in one word actually then move on – poor.
By the end game I was ready for it to wrap up. It was constantly getting me to repeat puzzles, put me in pretty dull environments to repeat them in, then topped it all by doing the usual ‘This is near the end of the game’ section where by it throws loads of baddies at you in some sort of attempt to up the drama but inadvertently lower the fun. The final boss, thankfully, you don’t kill with bullets and dodgy combat but rather platform her to death with a grand puzzle that left me confused as to what I was doing and why.
What we are left with then is a Tomb Raider in which about two thirds of it are good. The pretties are good, the platforming is good, half of the puzzles are good (the other half is you doing the same puzzle again or in reverse), the combat is shoddy, and finally the plot…is there. What it is though is a game that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. The things that are wrong with TRU are far outweighed by the things that are right with it. There really is a great experience to be had here, it’s just a shame it’s packaged with a load of dross. If you like the demo keep an eye out for this on the cheap.