It's Christmas 2008 and Crystal Dynamics have presented their latest offering, Tomb Raider: Underworld. We had high expectations, so how has the resulting title measured up?
Crystal Dynamics have previously produced Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Anniversary, the resurrected version of Lara's first adventure; both were highly polished, well finished games with a strong backstory. Underworld has continued in exactly the same vein, and slots seamlessly into the earlier episodes as if they had been pages from the same book.
Indeed, two of Lara's previous antagonists feature heavily in this story, in which Lara begins a desperate search into the Norse underworld in an attempt to find her lost mother, last seen pulled through a portal in Tomb Raider: Legend. The game progresses more like a film than a standard action game; the characters are very well realised, are every bit as well animated as Lara herself and the voice-acting is pretty good too; the script is strong and well thought-out. And as for the soundtrack it's top-class, almost good enough to compare with John Williams' classic soundtracks. Make no mistake, this is quality material.
The details everybody always talks about most are of course the graphics, which Crystal Dynamics has again done a masterly job of; Lara could well be the pin-up girl of your local games shop all over again, looking good and excellently animated in all her movements. I had only a single glitch in the whole time I played this (although the nVidia 8800GT probably helped). This was when Lara sometimes slid into a narrow gap between objects and took a second or two before she could move again. Otherwise, it was fine and worked first time it was installed. However, I would suggest that a higher end graphics card is a must for this game if you want to see it at its best.
Actual new features for Lara's combat skills aren't so important though. I never needed to deliberately split targets or shoot from walls; though the focussed mode was useful every so often until a better weapon (SPOILER) becomes available. With such readily available skills, and with a choice of which secondary weapon you want to take along (Uzis, Shotgun, Harpoons, Assault Rifle, Tranquilizer) there isn't the feeling that you can be rewarded for your searching by getting your hands on a really cool weapon. The joy of getting my hands on the Desert Eagle in TR3, or the M16 in TR2 just doesn't feature in this latest game.
The other problem, though only "old hands" are likely to feel this way, is that it feels like it's over a bit quickly. TR2 was a genuine epic that took days to complete, and The Last Revelation (TR4) was almost like a death-march with sand and goodies thrown in. I managed to complete the main story in just a day, and without hurrying much. It is really, *really* good stuff but it just ran out so damned early. Hopefully, Crystal Dynamics will be listening, will really go for it and make an epic next time, because they are *so* close to making a masterpiece.
So, a five star rating is in order for this brilliant title. It's not just a game - it's an experience; make sure CD can make that true epic next time, help them survive the global recession and buy your copy of this game if there's one thing you buy someone this christmas (and if you can manage two, add Fallout 3 to your christmas stocking, too).
Earlier episodes, and similar items to this include:Tomb Raider: Legend (PC DVD)Tomb Raider: Anniversary (PC DVD)Assassin's Creed: Director's Cut Edition (PC)
And if you like a really well-made game I'd also recommend:Fallout 3 (PC)