In fact, it’s only in later levels that Underworld really seems to be taking strides forward. Towards the end of the Thailand levels there are some great bits involving the manipulation of vast objects, and these set the scene for the Mexican level, which uses Lara’s motorbike as a quick means of navigating a large area containing several related temples, before making it an integral part of the action. The more the game goes on, the more inspired it seems, and while you still get the odd duff stretch, by this point you’re too caught up to really care.
And this is the important point to make: for all that you can’t help wishing that Underworld could push the boundaries a bit further; for all that shooting panthers in the face is getting old-school in the worst sort of way; for all that Uncharted is a superior game on practically every level, there’s still something compelling and oddly magical about Tomb Raider. The plot, which ties in directly with Legend and Anniversary, is mostly guff, yet I still played wanting to know where we were off to next, what we were going to see and how it was going to all pan out.
Plus some previous irritants have been neatly ironed out. Checkpointing is much better this time around, minimizing frustration. Quick-time event sequences have been replaced by clever slow-mo sequences which have the same cinematic effect but leave you in complete control. Boss battles have been thrown out with the bathwater. Underworld still has moments where bad camera angles spoil the day, but I spent far less time swearing at it than I did at Anniversary. In fact, the more I played and the further I got, the more I found myself forgetting about its problems and just settling in for the ride.
In other words, Underworld will not knock the socks off the type of gamer who’s obsessed with innovation, advanced technology or even coherent game worlds (you still wonder why Lara can climb that wall, but not this one). It will, however, entrance anyone who already has a soft spot for Lara, or for the old-school action/adventure game in general. You’ll be pleased rather than blown away, but in my book being pleased is a whole lot better than a kick in the pants. We might need to see something more extraordinary next time, but for now Underworld leaves Lara where it finds her – in good health.
Not the move on from Legend and Anniversary that we might have hoped for, and some elements are looking dated. Yet Tomb Raider: Underworld’s focus on old-school ‘raiding’ of huge, ambitious ‘tombs’ makes it a must for series fans, and anyone else who fancies a less action-heavy adventure.