Developers: Crystal Dynamics
Publishers: Eidos Interactive
Plot: Lara Croft is determined that Avalon or Nifheim, actually exists and her mother, believed dead is trapped there. However, problems arise when she runs into an old enemy.
I love the first level of Underworld. It is a perfect way to explore the universe of Lara Croft all over again. You start off in the middle of the ocean on an isolated boat. There, at first, appears to be no landscape or terrain to explore. Then you dive under the waves. Water levels have been done from the very start of Tomb Raider games, yet never like this. Underneath the waves is the very picture of beauty, as Tomb Raider Underworld boasts the finest graphics the series has got to date. The watery tomb below is put on hold for a few moments as you reintroduce yourself to the franchise, hunting treasures in the rocky formations below, dodging the sharks that circle ominously overhead. The rest of the level is also pretty nifty, featuring a few well-timed jump scares from a renowned Norse baddie and some puzzles that happily test your brain. When the action is taken outside of the water and back onto the boat of a nasty Irish mercenary, the level design is also pretty spot-on here. As you fight your way through various shoot-outs, you are given small visual clues that you are taking on Amanda, the main antagonist in the Keeley Hawes trilogy. However, as you round that last corner, a twist is waiting for you (one that is potentially spoilt by the several amount of spoilers dotted throughout the boat – some might call them Easter eggs, I call it bad story-telling). Suddenly Underworld is more than just another Lara Croft game, but one that threatens to be the best yet. The level is tied up by an explosive finish, made sweeter seeing as you are allowed a final punch-up with that Irish mercenary, a nice little boss battle to make the opening feel more cinematic. If Lara Croft when down the road of episodic gaming like Resident Evil Revelations did, then this would be a five star entry to the series.
Sadly, the rest of the game never tops this level. It is all a little messy. We blast from Thailand to Mexico, finishing off in the eponymous Underworld for a showdown with all of the baddies you have accumulated on your travels. Nothing really hits home anymore. Some of the puzzles are a tad too long to solve – not necessarily difficult, but time-consuming, which brings the gameplay to a sudden halt. The wall-climbing, which is always threatening to be the game’s highlight and secret weapon, is made a little too realistic, to the point where the graphics on the wall are too good to make figuring out your next step feel smooth and flowing. Other things don’t work. To make the game feel more like a final endgame, you are denied access to Croft Manor, trapping you in the story. It adds to the tension, but it also stops the game from having that homely Lara feel. The bonus collectibles are far too many. Legends had the perfect amount, while Anniversary had next to none. With Underworld, you are essentially tripping over them all the time, which partially defeats their purpose in the game. The final fight is also a puzzle in itself, rather than a boss fight which deflects from the neat twist of who the antagonist is. You want to get around to flexing your double pistol muscles, but when you kill your boss by jumping over a few obstacles and flicking a switch, the game ends up going out on a bit of a whimper, rather than the roar you want it to. Underworld features enough thrills to keep it ticking over, but you want so much more.
Perhaps these flaws are amplified by what Underworld should have been. This is the last of the Keeley Hawes trilogy, which is my personal favourite era in the Tomb Raider franchise. Legends was incredible, if a little short, and Anniversary beautifully tidied up the original game. Underworld just drops the ball, almost as if it threw together a game rather than plotting out where to go next. It hurts that it is the last of the era, but it also damages the neat story that Legends built up. I loved how Underworld ties Anniversary into the game, suddenly making the remastered version feel more intelligent than a nostalgic spin-off. The story is pretty great here, some heart-breaking shocks and neat plot developments cropping up, yet they are told all wrong. The final level has far too many cinematic cut-aways to the point where you are watching the story in between playing a game, rather than the two interconnecting together smoothly. I am interested, but not engaged, which is a shame, because I have been waiting for this story to be told, since that shocking cliff-hanger in Legends. Maybe I am being harsh on this game, my disdain of what could have been getting in the way, but it remains to be said that Underworld could very well be the weakest Tomb Raider game we’ve been subjected to yet.
Final Verdict: Underworld is a very messy game, the story not quite being weaved into the gameplay enough, which is inconsistent at best anyway.