Tomb Raider Underworld: Dropkicking Lizards

November 4, 2009

I was never a big Tomb Raider fan as a kid.  In fairness, the original came out the very same year Mario 64 did and moving back to digital controls after using an analog, especially that quickly, was not something I could do.  I didn’t really give the series a second look until Tomb Raider Legend at the cajoling of a friend and I found I enjoyed it quite a bit.  That’s why I was looking forward to Tomb Raider Underworld, the first attempt at a “next-gen” Tomb Raider that doesn’t use the PS2 version as a base.  The question was, how was Lara Croft going to up her game in a post-Uncharted/Assassin’s Creed/Prince of Persia world?

Apparently, she wasn’t.

This isn’t to say Underworld is bad. I mean, it’s not good, but it’s not really that much worse than previous games.  The problem isn’t so much the puzzle design, though the puzzles do make me strain to figure out how I can apply hyperbole to explain how standard they are.  The game is just terribly unpolished.  There’s a thousand different ways Lara can get dirty, and she has the most meticulously modeled ass this side of P.N.03, but the rest of the game doesn’t come close to matching.

Take combat, for example.  You generally have two choices in a battle.  Jump around a lot and hold the right trigger or…well, no, that’s pretty much it.  Occasionally you can just climb up to a ledge and shoot enemies from there, so you don’t even have to jump around.  For added variety, there is a melee attack that has all the weight of a balloon.

There’s no entertainment value in fighting anything and for something that boring, it happens way too often.

The beginning section of that video, where it slowed down and I had to grapple the ring, took six tries.  The game just refused to connect to it, which underlines the basic problem of Tomb Raider Underworld: sometimes things just don’t work as they should.  You sometimes don’t grab on to the ledge you’re supposed to go, you fall off a ledge when you were supposed to hang off it, etc., etc.  I used two etcetera’s because it happens too much to be fun.

These things were forgivable, maybe even fine, a generation or two ago.  Now, there’s too much competition and too many expectations to slack.

At least you can kick a lizard in the face.

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