Tomb Raider: Underworld PS3 Review

Difficulty levels in games can be all over the place at times and solutions are actually more obvious than you might think. The eighth Tomb Raider game does some very interesting things with its difficulty levels, allowing you to alter particular areas of the game to tailor the experience to your liking.

It’s possible to adjust the amount of damage Lara will take before she kicks the bucket for example, opting for either normal, more or less. This same level of customisation is possible with the enemy health, your ammo, as well as the window of opportunity that allows you to save Lara from certain doom following a mistimed leap, which, if not acted on, can lead to the kind of fall that isn’t very kind to the human skeleton. This player tailoring feature is an ideal manner in which to alter the difficulty of a specific element that you might be struggling with, to make things fairer on yourself, or oppositely if you feel the need you could always up the challenge. I certainly hope that fellow developers will take note and follow in Crystal Dynamics sensible footsteps, as it‘s a nicely judged feature which should be implemented in loads of other games, in fact it should be made a law that all should abide by.

Tomb Raider: Underworld opens up without smiles and laughter, but rather inside of a burning inferno. Lara’s mansion has certainly seen better days but the cause of its destruction isn’t initially clear, with the story flashing backwards to the week before. The story itself is adequate enough with fantastic voice acting and involves a lot more than Lara’s mansion burning to the ground, though it’s not exactly going to win an award in storytelling, come on it’s Tomb Raider, it was never going to be that good!

After the more action focus of Tomb Raider: Legend, Underworld is a return to a more puzzle centric mindset, thus a more traditional Tomb Raider game. Many fans will be welcoming of this return to its roots as there’s quite a number of big puzzles to be solved to not only please yourself with your own intelligence, but also in order to progress.

Tomb Raider fans that wouldn’t touch a walkthrough if they were stuck on a single puzzle for a decade, probably won’t care much for the new Field Assistance feature, although it’s one of those features that you can take or leave, so there’s no reason for any concerns or any complaints. Field Assistance basically has Lara telling you what to do next which is obviously a really helpful feature and more convenient than having to refer to a walkthrough, if you find your head completely empty of the solution to a puzzle. It’s certainly an option that is also inviting to the more casual player who just wants to get on with things, or those not used to having to put their brains through a workout.

Lara still has her twin pistols, so you’re not completely alone as you explore Underworld’s fantastic indoor, outdoor and underwater locations. Enemies are of the human kind, animals on the endangered species list (you can either bring them closer to extinction or be kinder and make use of the new tranquiliser gun) and the more weird and wonderful, but they all have the common goal of attempting to stop you in your tracks. Crystal Dynamic’s have done some amazing things since taking over the franchise, and it seems that they have no plans on stopping until they have tidied up everything that, original developer, Core Design left behind.

Lara can now coolly shoot whilst hanging or perched on objects and melee attacks are also possible, these are both things that should have perhaps been implemented in the series years ago but that’s not taking anything away from Crystal Dynamics rapid progress. An adrenaline meter also allows for slow motion which deals extra damage and it’s even possible to execute instant kill headshots if you are close enough to your target.

Lara’s motorbike makes a return and whilst some may announce their displeasure with a big sigh, it’s actually used in a much better manner than it was in Legend. The motorbike no longer feels bolted on and is now used to travel around particular levels and is even integral to the occasional puzzle solving. It’s just a shame that Crystal Dynamics bike bias continues and they’re seemingly reluctant to reintroduce some past vehicles or to introduce some brand new ones. Many of us know for a fact that Lara is able to operate many different vehicles, I’m hoping that Crystal Dynamics will remind her of those skills before she gets rusty or too used to the saddle of the bike.

Tomb Raider: Underworld runs on a brand new engine, and it shows, at least in comparison to Legend. The graphics are highlighted by lovely shadows and lighting and an improved model of the busty heroine (now complete with more natural animations thanks to motion capture, oh and she gets dirty too) although on the whole they aren’t really that special and this PS3 version suffers from regular slowdown, although it fortunately isn’t bad enough to ruin the game and is only very slightly noticeable for the majority of the time.

Crystal Dynamics third Tomb Raider game once again proves that the series is in good hands. Fans who bemoaned the lack of Tomb Raider traditions when playing Legend will be glad that Underworld is more puzzle focused, although don’t expect pixel perfect jumps, as they’re once again of the automated kind. When all is said and done, Tomb Raider: Underworld is a classic instalment in the series that should delight fans who are still happy with the aging format (since Crystal Dynamics have taken over it’s still feeling fresher than ever though) as well as putting the welcome mat down in order for the complete newcomer to raid some tombs without too much bother.