The life of Lara Croft has taken many twists and turns over her lengthy existence. After an incredible introduction and a swift - yet brilliant - sequel, she’s starred in numerable poor quality gaming and movie fare, only slightly combated by the latter 2 years which has seen the buxom heroine hit the high spots of the early adventuress.
This latest in the incredibly popular series, Underworld, is back to the origins, with exploration your priority. Unlike certain other titles, which give regular hints and obvious prods as to how to reach that way off point you’re aiming for, Underworld leaves it all up to you.
Yes the game world does make exactly how to progress fairly obvious with noticeable ledges and nooks and crannies for Lara to utilise, but it lacks that feel of hand holding that so many titles obsessed with exploration tend to be unable to omit.
Essentially all is as it always has been for Lara Croft titles. The caverns you’ll be exploring are universally gorgeous, with some stunning light and shadow effects proving incredibly pleasing on the eye. Equally, there’s ample amount of tricky puzzles preventing you from heading through the game too swiftly.
Though all are little more than hooking onto a certain point or pushing huge boulders around, there’s something about Underworld’s puzzles that gives off an overwhelming sense of achievement. They’re not universally brilliant, but there’s a thankful lack of the kind of frustration that these kinds of titles can fall into.
Lara’s movement certainly feels much more organic and freeform than earlier titles, with lining up pixel perfect jumps not a regular occurrence. While not quite as quick and wonderfully pure as the movement in the brilliant Mirror’s Edge, it’s a long long way from the original where you’d frequently spend a quarter of an hour making sure Lara’s toes are right up at the edge of a cliff. The beam walking however is an awkward addition, and expect a fair few plummets to absolute death for Ms Croft before the final credits start to roll.
Sadly the awkward camera system remains. At numerous points you’ll find the camera unwilling to flick to a position where you can see exactly where you want to jump next, leaving you hoping that your jump is lined up perfectly, rather than gliding through the air with confidence. It’s certainly not game breaking, but it does drag the enjoyment factor down a touch.
Plus, Lara still thoroughly remains an individual with restrictions. While one wall is one that she will happily clamber up, another virtually identical option is one she’ll refuse to traverse. And when Lara flatly refuses to hop waist high boulders, you’ll find yourself cursing the strict level design.
It’s not exclusively about exploration as combat continues to make its awkward presence shown. The combat itself is little more than target, fire, and repeat until dead. Enemy AI is universally daft, with seeking cover something they seem astonishingly reluctant to do, even when being blasted in the head.
It might pack the kind of flaws that can see you toss your controller in frustration, but this is classic tomb raiding back to a very high standard.
It’s a long way from perfect, and certainly a step behind the fantastic Uncharted, but Lara still manages to tempt us to send her leaping and grabbing her way through another batch of underground tombs.
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