11 January 2009 | Camel13
An Excellent Game
Despite being shorter than Anniversary, I felt that Underworld was a far superior game. This chapter in the history of Lady Lara Croft corrected most of the frustrating mistakes of it's predecessor and made it an enjoyable gaming experience that was almost on par with Legend. Underworld steered away from using extreme difficulty and repeated death as a means to increase the playtime and therefore made the game far less frustrating, to the point of being extremely enjoyable. I have completed the main story, but I can assure you that I will be returning to each level to retrieve the collectibles I missed on the first run (which Anniversary didn't inspire me to do).
Don't get me wrong, though, there are minor technical glitches, such as enemies freezing in place, places where Lara can easily get 'stuck' and on one occasion she became permanently invisible, forcing me to reboot, but these are only minor annoyances. One other gripe I have about Underworld is that I don't think it lived up to the hype that Eidos tried to generate. The "What Could Lara Do?" tag-line built my hopes up to expect a world where anything was possible and where no place was off limits. Although the levels were deliciously grand, my expectations were quickly dashed when, in the first level, I found myself on a boat with dozens of doors and hatches, almost none of which could be explored. I'm not saying that Underworld is bad, just not what it was made out to be.
Although Underworld did see a return of Zip and Allister, they only appeared at the beginning and end of levels and in the second half of the game, they were absent entirely. I felt a little cheated by this as these two characters (and Winston) made Legend feel much brighter and more fun than any previous TR game. Their constant playful jibes and contributions to the level-at-hand gave the game a less lonely feeling and allowed us to see Lara's wit, warmth, charm and flaws, making her a much more interesting character. Though there are several moments where Lara's true emotions are shown, for the most part of the game, she feels much, much less three dimensional than she was in Legend. Ironic, considering the amount of work they put in to making her look more realistic, physically. To be quite honest, Lara's three friends simply felt 'tacked-on', rather than integrated in the story.
And then there is the story. It is very good, well thought out and involving. The personal twist Lara discovers at the end of the Thailand mission was wonderful. But, as the name of the game implies, Underworld's plot goes places much darker than that of Legend or even Anniversary. Some people may remember me starting a thread in the forum for this game about whether Lara's character would be tarnished by actions she takes in this game. I am pleased to say that that is not the case - Lady Croft in Underworld is a noble, if imperfect, heroin. But what she has to endure in this game is cruel. The resolution to one ongoing aspect of the plot was especially cruel, as if the writers sat around and asked themselves "What's the most punishing way (for Lara) that we can resolve this part of the story?" It's just one of many emotional blows the player is forced to endure during this game and, unfortunately, they are not countered by superior uplifting or hopeful moments. While well done, I would've preferred it if the story had been a lot kinder to Lara.If you need your entertainment to end happily, this probably isn't the game for you.
All-in-all, I believe that Legend remains the finest Tomb Raider game ever, although Underworld has just claimed second place. In spite of it's heart-wrenching moments, it was a well designed and involving game that was not bogged down with infuriating, repetitive difficulty.
Now I'd like to end with a plea to Eidos: PLEASE leave the game engine as is and devote your time (in the next TR volume) to making more levels! These wonderful games that you are making are over far too soon! I would have gladly settled for the Legend engine and graphics if it meant you would have spent the time you saved building three or four more levels! I am extremely grateful for the wonderful gaming experience I have just had, but I don't mind sounding like a greedy bastard when I say: "I WANT MORE!"