by William Thompson
reviewed on NDS
Up in flames
Tomb Raider Underworld begins with Lara fleeing the burning Croft manor. After completing the initial escape mission, the game rewinds two weeks to a point where Lara is trying to sort out some family business. It is here that Lara learns of information about her lost mother and somehow this relates to the mythical Hammer of Thor. It is then up to the gamer to guide the world’s most recognisable female video game character through numerous locations to solve the mystery surrounding her mother’s disappearance.
Old school platformer
Tomb Raider Underworld is basically a 2D side scrolling platformer that for some reason reminded me of the earlier Prince of Persia games. This may have been due to the leaping and climbing that Lara does for much of the game. The game itself is surprisingly linear and not nearly as exploratory as previous Tomb Raider games. The main game puzzles are not overly taxing either. The gamer is basically pushed in the right direction by the fact that there is only one way to go in many cases. There may be some alternate paths, but these mainly lead to the ‘hidden’ artefacts rather than being an alternate way of reaching your final destination.
There is also limited combat, and the combat that there is, is on the easy side. This certainly helps to keep the game flowing quickly though. Despite the linear approach to the levels, there are some frustrating moments. There are parts of the game where, what seemed to be ledges to jump to, are nothing more than part of the background, resulting in Lara plummeting to her death.
Fortunately, Underworld gives plenty of checkpoints along the way, so there was very little need to go over large parts of the game over and over as can be the case with many similar games.
Easing you into the game
The game play on the whole is of high standard. The game eases you through the controls by gradually giving you new techniques. By the time you reach the point of mastering one technique, you are given another. There is nothing overly difficult (or different from other games in the genre, for that matter) about the controls scheme, but it is definitely a nice touch to not have to learn all the controls at once.
There are a range of mini puzzle games which break up the main game, in a good way. The main one involves moving Tetris-like pieces around so that they fit into a specific shape which is the key to opening a chest. Opening the chests results in Lara being rewarded with previously lost artefacts.
Finding all the artefacts opens up some extras in the game such as character bios and renders, so there is some encouragement to return to the levels where some artefacts were missed in the first run through. Other mini games include a level where Lara must shoot bats that fly at her, and one where Lara must stop power cells reaching the core of the power source. These mini games are the only need for the DS stylus throughout the game (although it can be used in the menu system).
Lara still looks good
From a visual standpoint, Tomb Raider Underworld is very good, Lara’s moves are smooth, backgrounds are stunning and the cinematic cut-scenes in between levels are superb. There are a number of locations that Lara visits, including Mexico, Thailand and, as expected when searching for a Nordic legend, the Arctic (Um, only part of the Nordic countries are inside the Arctic circle -Ed). Each location has its own visual style, such as the lush tropical rainforest areas of the Thailand levels or the closed-in temple areas of the ancient Mexican ruins. Having such variety certainly helps to make the game that much more enjoyable to the eyes.
The game's audio is disappointing to say the least and probably the biggest letdown of the game. Although the cut-scenes are visually pleasing, the audio, and Lara’s voice in particular, are very tinny sounding, partially ruining the great work of the cinematics. In-game sound effects are fairly generic. Lara grunts almost as much as the female tennis player Maria Sharapova, whenever she makes a jump. Weapon sound effects are also standard fare.
A typical game will probably take most gamers around 5-6 hours to play. One thing I enjoyed about Tomb Raider Underworld was the fact that the levels weren’t too long, (most not taking much more than five minutes to complete) enabling the gamer to play Underworld in short bursts if required. Of course, this may deter those of you who prefer grand scale levels in games such as this.
But Lara fans will not be too disappointed with this game. The visuals are as attractive to look at as Lara herself. The story is fairly good, and helped by the cut-scenes between levels. The only disappointment in the game is the audio, which, as mentioned, detracts somewhat from the superb cut-scenes. The easiness of some of the levels as well as the linearity of Tomb Raider Underworld may also deter some gamers. But all in all, Tomb Raider Underworld is another handy addition to the Tomb Raider collection.
No Pros and Cons at this time