Thursday, 15 January 2009

Review - Tomb Raider Underworld

  • Game: Tomb Raider Underworld
  • Format: Xbox 360
  • Other Formats: Freaking Everything
  • Developer: Crystal Dynamics
  • Publisher: Eidos Interactive
  • Genre: 3rd Person Action Adventure
Having never played a Tomb Raider game before, I had no idea whether its intentions were to plunge my body into a steaming vat of sweet gameplay honey, or to just lather said stickiness onto my genitals and release a radioactive army of ants to the feast. You see, while the tracksuit-wearing PlayStation owners of yesteryear were busying themselves trying to get Lara Croft’s clothes off in the late nineties, I was cooking fools on the N64’s GoldenEye and indulging in games that cost the best part of £60. I’m not sure what my point here was, but I didn’t play Tomb Raider and Nintendo were raping my wallet.

For all the people out there that don’t know about the series – yes, both of you – the player’s role is to assume the position as Lara Croft – an outrageously top-heavy lead female born with a silver cutlery set placed firmly betwixt her gums, and harbouring an unhealthy penchant for Indiana Jones style tomfoolery as she shoots, solves puzzles and climbs all in the aid of whatever it is she’s doing this for. This time, Lara is rather incoherently dragged across the face of the globe searching for Nordic artefacts, spanning water, jungle and ice levels in a perplexingly varied range of environments that would be at home in a Super Mario level select. The story makes little to no sense and there is nothing to make you empathise with any of the characters, which is particularly apparent when one of the ‘main’ good guys kicks the proverbial bucket and everyone seems terribly upset. I’m sure this is fantastically significant for anyone who has played the other Tomb Raider escapades, but I didn’t have a clue who they were nor did I give half a nutty shit. Add to this the individuals with magic powers and no explanation in to ‘what the fuck’, and then you have a very confused player.

Zoom into this pic, and, despite the gorgeous scenery, you're probably only going to be looking at one thing.

It’s lucky then that the gameplay stands up for itself… ‘ish… sometimes. The climbing in Tomb Raider Underwear having particular attention paid to it by the developers as it leaves the shooting sections left out and starving for attention like the jealous older sibling with it’s arms crossed at a two-year-old’s birthday party. Environments have been touted as non-linear behemoths that are traversable in whatever manner the player sees fit – utilising Lara’s abilities and gadgets as intuitive extensions of your astonishingly large brain fuelled exclusively by the smug self satisfaction of deciphering one of the infinite possibilities to progress. In reality however, you can take any path that you please, as long as it’s the path decided by the developers - looking just like everything else in the scenery and inconspicuously blending in like a cloud at a legless sheep convention. It’s something that really smothers the unloved child that is the supposed open-ended game play. That’s not to say that this style doesn’t work for Tomb Raider Unwrapped, as there are some shining moments where I actually had some fun – just don’t go parading about how much freedom a player has in a desperate attempt to grasp at the worn rear bumper of the free-running bandwagon, when in actual fact you’re talking out your arse.

One of the aforementioned ‘shining’ moments in the game is the beautifully realised Thailand mission with its shimmering water and abundance of green undergrowth pouring out of ruined stone structures. It’s fair to say that Tomb Raider Overbear has brilliantly detailed environments that appeal to the erogenous zones of the eye. In addition, this section of the story also houses some of the more pleasing climbing segments as you obtain that smugness upon finding the right route to push Lara, and you really get a sense of vertigo when hanging over a 200 foot drop above feeling your shins go through your eyes. The inevitable let downs here coming in the form of that obnoxious prick - 'Mr Dodgy Camera' - as he tries his hardest to dick you over at the most inopportune moments. One such example being when Lara is on a ledge with her back against a wall - where 9 out of 10 times you will need to jump forward to another ledge - Mr Dodgy Camera has the perverted compulsion to focus on Lara’s wet mammaries rather than showing you what you’re supposed to be aiming your jump for, instead passing on the royal player dicking to his deformed son, 'Leap of Faith Gameplay' which should have been killed off with the advent of common sense.

Tigers! Shoot them! How dare they protect their territory! Damn you, Mother Nature! I'm trying to rob this grave!

After Thailand, the game only picked back up to a likeable pace again when Lara obtains Thor’s Hammer - right at the end of the freaking game! It’s just insanely satisfying to send enemies careering off into the sunset with one fell swoop of Ms Croft’s arms, and it just makes me wonder why Crystal Dynamics didn’t give us this at the beginning of the slog. Seriously, it’s a stone mallet that shoots lightning! Who is responsible for this not being available at the start? It would have made combat even more fun than being the sole male guest at a cake and tits party. Instead, we have to blunder around taking out enemies in a tedious fashion of mashing the ‘A’ button to needlessly flip around while hammering the right trigger in an attempt to actually hurt something with the standard pistols that have firepower not unlike throwing jelly babies at your foes.

The puzzle solving is not much more of an improvement over the quality of the combat, as you find yourself fumbling through the game not entirely sure what you’re doing but progressing nonetheless. It seems to give you answers to questions you didn’t know needed answering, such as randomly coming upon a golden skull for no apparent reason, only to find a skull-shaped hole in a door twenty minutes later, leaving you perplexed as to how you actually moved forward instead of cerebrally solving the puzzles yourself.

For all its shitty moments though, Tomb Raider Underage does have some good moments. It’s just a shame that you’ll have to endure the horrific combat and Mr Dodgy Camera’s constant dicking to actually notice them. A top prize is also available to anyone who can tell me how many sexual innuendos there are in this review - answers on a post card to someone who actually cares.


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