However, following my pleasant experience with Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia, another franchise that wasn’t created for me but whose latest installment was a real joy, I hoped Lara will finally become a video game heroine and not just a fantasy. Unfortunately, she didn’t quite do it, even though I must admit she looks better than ever (and deep in my mind, I finally see this year’s Lara as a perfect virtual copy of Angelina Jolie – but that’s probably just me).
Lara’s quest in Tomb Raider: Underworld is that of recovering yet another ancient artifact – the Hammer of Thor this time, and we’re up for a couple of plot-twists and mumblings about her dead mother (unfortunately, nothing unexpected or breathtaking). But in such games the story itself is not the center of attraction (even though some extra sweat thrown in would’ve been great) so we should not be affected by the fact that Eidos didn’t come with a Writers Guild Nominee here.
One of the best things about Tomb Raider: Underworld, at least gameplay-wise, is the fact that the game is not simplified to the bone (as it usually happens with games nowadays) while the “difficulty” is not created using artificial methods or poor controls. What I’m talking about is the exploration itself: you have no minimap to tell you where you are and where you should go (eventually via a GPS), so you’re mostly on your own (you still have a 3D scanner and a “Lara’s tips” section, so don’t despair!). Which is a great thing, even though every now and then, especially in some wider spaces it becomes a bit frustrating since you have absolutely no idea where you should go. But that’s the fun part about an adventure game – exploration and not following an arrow! Add to that sequences in which exploration is done on a motorbike (which is easy to control and a real joy to ride), and you’ll have some good reasons to appreciate the tweaks in Lara’s control mechanics.
Visually, Tomb Raider: Underworld is a really pleasant experience as it manages to rise to today’s standard: Lara Croft looks better than ever, her movement is very natural and, even though you will feel the need to focus your eyes in the center of the screen only (since that’s where she will usually be), you’ll still notice the lifelike visuals (despite dark and quite scary) of the Underworld, or the incredibly well done, lush Mexican jungle.
TRU also delivers some really well done sounds, with creepy background sounds when needed (which make you think twice before carrying on with the exploration) and also with some really exciting moans from Lara herself – and you’ll probably give a good thought to the possibility of simply hitting Lara with a rock, just to hear her cry, while you keep the light off and your eyes closed. But honestly, that’s not what the game is about.
Tomb Raider: Underworld brings back everything you loved about the previous games in the franchise, from exploration to puzzle solving and casual fighting sequences to an incredibly hot (actually much hotter) heroine. It also tweaks and fixes some of the annoying problems of the series without bringing in new ones, so for Tomb Raider fans, this is definitely a must buy. However, if you’re not a fan of the franchise and you’re not into action adventure games, I doubt this game will make you change your mind. It’s not badly done, but it fails to deliver any breathtaking, revolutionary concepts to the genre.
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