Lara Croft is back in the newest installment of the Tomb Raider series entitled Tomb Raider: Underworld. This is the first direct sequel in the series as this game takes place right after the last game Tomb Raider: Legend (TRL). As with any series that has had as many incarnations as this one has, most people are on one side or the other so either you love it or you hate it. Personally, I was kind of in the middle I mean I played the very first Tomb Raider and at the time it was ground breaking and as any series does it went through its rough patches and I become disenchanted with the entire series. Then because there was nothing else to play, I happened to pick up TRL and I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. But time has passed and I wanted to know how this latest installment would follow-up.
To put the bottom line up front, I was underwhelmed and disappointed. To be quite honest Lara hasn’t changed much and well that’s the problem. With the blockbuster that was Uncharted, traversing the world searching for ancient artifacts has been taken to a whole other level. But first, the things I did like. As usual the game and the environments are gorgeous. To me the highlight of the game as with all of the games in the series are the puzzles. The puzzles in Tomb Raider: Underworld are smart yet not so hard you want to pull your hair out and with the all new “Field Assistance” option, you can not only figure out what you need to do but how to do it. Now Tomb Raider purist will cry foul but I must say that by including that feature they are more likely to attract new players to the series and keep them engaged at points where in the old days they may have given up and moved on to another title. As always the story is very well told and nicely written. Its is intriguing from the very beginning.
Now to the things that I didn’t like. First off the gameplay is classic Tomb Raider but in the current gaming environment that just doesn’t cut it anymore. Lara’s movements are more fluid than ever before yet still feel clunky in a lot of instances compared to some of the better titles we have seen lately. Then comes the shooting and targeting system, again classic Tomb Raider but it could definitely have used an upgrade. When you are shooting at things far away like bats or bugs or something the auto targeting system works well but when you want to shoot at something rather close to you like say a huge tiger or giant acid spitting naguas (basically big lizards), it’s very hard to do effectively. Then there is the pesky bit about gun battles with actual enemies that have guns too. So I know some people won’t agree with me here but I just feel like you can’t make a third person shooter type game and not have a solid cover system because without it you just end up with an out of control run and gun shoot em up rather than an efficient, tactical type game that I think most of the developers would rather these games be. I mean Uncharted gave us the model, but it has become so much of a necessity that we have recently seen it in classic FPS’s like the new 007: Quantum of Solace.
I completely understand wanting to stay true to the roots of the series but that is no reason to not update two such major components of a game that if not for those faults could have been a very, very good title. The folks at Eidos really should have done something about these issues. I do give them kudos because at least they released during a relatively slow period and the only major title that is coming out soon is the new Prince of Persia. Tomb Raider and Croft have a built-in fan base but this was a chance for them to really pick up some new ones and they failed miserably. The thing about great game franchises is that they can’t be afraid to reinvent themselves when necessary, take Call of Duty for instance, but Tomb Raider just refuses. The puzzles are great to solve and even with the problems I mentioned above the gameplay is decent. It just steams me because this could have been an excellent title and instead it is only a good one. For that, I give Tomb Raider: Underworld 3.8 out of 5.0 stars.