Tomb Raider Underworld review

Doing what made the original great, and adding a considerable face-lift

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This wisdom doesn’t seem to have filtered down to the script, however, which oddly keeps setting up boss encounters and then not following through with a satisfying explanation. But this is par for the course with the batshit story. Lara’s journal entries and narrative commentaries, themed around underworld mythologies, are all splendid. We learned lots about Norse legend, especially excellent words like ‘Yggdrasil’. But come the cutscenes and it’s all garbled madness, with people flip-flopping between evil and good, new baddies popping out of nowhere, and major characters copping it and then going unmentioned.

Which is a bit of a shame after Legend was quite so magnificent at weaving a tale. Zip and Alistair’s constant chatter in Lara’s ear prevented things from feeling too isolated, while offering a chunk of laughs. This time they’re relegated to pointless appearances in cutscenes, and Lara is left to chat to herself in the tombs, narrating her discoveries into her Dictaphone. However, it’s only a small sacrifice for a game that understands the fundamentals of why we’ve loved previous Tomb Raiders, and doesn’t waste our time with the stuff that spoiled them. Remember the incredible cog puzzle in Anniversary, before the terrible dinosaur fight? This is a game entirely made of puzzles like that, and no bloody dinosaur fights whatsoever.

Special mention must also be made of the controls. The mouse/keyboard is perfectly workable, with no pressing need for a gamepad. But plug one in and all the in-game instructions update themselves to match. Plug in an Xbox 360 controller, and 360 icons show up. Use any other controller and you’ll not see them at all. This is a shining example of how to do a PC port, and Eidos should be lauded.

The remarkable architectural vision, coupled with ultra-smart level design, all produced on such a huge scale, makes this as good as Tomb Raider has ever been. It’s still short, it still has annoying combat, and Lara still freaks out and jumps off in the wrong direction far too often. So it still falls short of greatness. But the most exemplary check-pointing we’ve ever encountered forgives a great deal, and the brave decision to ditch the boss fights makes us want to hug all involved. Go explore the Underworld.

Nov 19, 2008

More info

DescriptionA nice transfer of the TR experience, except it's nearly impossible to see the action on screen, so expect to die a lot.
Franchise nameTomb Raider
UK franchise nameTomb Raider
Platform"DS","Wii","PS2","Xbox 360","PS3","PC"
US censor rating"Teen","Teen","Teen","Teen","Teen","Teen"
UK censor rating"16+","16+","16+","16+","16+","16+"
Release date1 January 1970 (US), 1 January 1970 (UK)