Saturday, 28 March 2009

Review - Beneath the Ashes (Tomb Raider: Underworld DLC)

  • Game: Tomb Raider: Underworld – Beneath the Ashes (DLC)
  • Format: Xbox 360
  • Other Formats: None
  • Developer: Crystal Dynamics
  • Genre: 3rd Person Adventure

Not content with letting sleeping Tomb Raiders lie, we – the rabid excuse for a public – are once again force-fed another nauseating chapter from the life of the world’s most questionable archaeologist as she bends over in front of cameras in new and exciting locales. We are “treated” to an extension of Tomb Raider: Underwear in the form of downloadable content, as Lara ventures beneath Croft Manor for some reason or another that I shouldn’t give two green pasty shits about.

Quite why Crystal Dynamics decided to create extra content in the form of DLC that you actually have to pay money for – based on one of the most uninspiring chapters of the base game - is beyond me. Send Lara back to Thailand, or perhaps follow the details of her holiday in Tahiti as she plays Gears of War 2 with her rich friends for Christ’s sake. God forbid that we should have anything more visually stunning and appealing to look at than an upturned grey flagstone. Something that did raise a smile however, was how the much touted six extra costumes, created exclusively for this DLC, are simply a couple existing costumes with a palette change and four colours of bikini – made presumably on a budget, as there is a distinct lack of material covering Lara’s huge… personality. What kind of people do Crystal Dynamics take us male gamers for? I chose the blue bikini.

Both the main gameplay influences in action

Starting off the content in her father’s old secret study, Lara finds something that describes another thing that she wants for reasons that she doesn’t say, before jumping down a hole that I swear wasn’t there before in the main game. Sorry about those spoilers – I just couldn’t help myself. Eventually you will come across the ‘proper’ parts of Tomb Raider, and by ‘proper’; I mean the climby bits as no-one plays the series for its “in-depth combat system”. The good news is that these sections play very much like the main game and even come close to besting it in some respects, as the climbing is still enjoyable, albeit still clunky and forced in some places. You see, usually in a game like this, you get the feel for the character and their physical limits by now, but I’m still not entirely sure how far or high Lara can actually jump. Sometimes while grabbing wood (-en) beams, Ms Croft will flip towards her intended ledge with all the finesse of a Russian Women’s Shot-putter and end up 10 meters short with a face full of ground. Other times, under exactly the same conditions, she’ll have an epiphany and magnetically become dragged towards the target like a Ben and Jerry's van to a Weight Watchers meeting. Which outcome actually materialises when you play the game is left entirely down to Lara’s mood and whether she’s feeling pretty today, or something equally out of your control and fucking frustrating.

My initial concerns when I heard about this DLC was whether the catacombs of Croft Manor (of which, I’m still not entirely sure why they are there) would just be a depressing grey-fest or a slightly-not-as-bad-but-still-depressing-grey-fest. Thankfully - I think - it is the latter and I can think of at least one point where the game can actually be called ‘pretty’, as you ascend a giant waterwheel (again placed there for reasons unbeknown to me) and shafts of sunlight pierce through a fissure in the ceiling and light up the aqueous cavern below. Why then, would the developers insist on the rest of the level being a complete grey eyesore, rubbing your optic nerve with a metaphorical scabby flannel?

If there is so much natural light in these catacombs, why hasn't anyone noticed their existence before?

As a cop-out answer, I could say that Beneath the Ashes is ‘one for the fans’; something that you should get if you’re hankering for some action that’s more of the same. Instead I’ll just leave you with the thought of having to pay money to wade through gorilla faeces in order to obtain a rather nice cupcake. Sure the cupcake might be above average in texture and taste - and you can spend hours explaining that to yourself as you pace up and down the library in your smoking jacket – but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s probably not worth the entry fee.

Oh, and another thing! I think it’s absolutely wonderful when character dialogue kicks-in, just as an enemy is scripted to appear. I absolutely adore how I can’t hear what is being said over the sound of my shotgun. And I think it’s positively brilliant how I’m missing out on probably an important piece of key information in an otherwise incoherent mess of a story.

Single Player Score – 5
Multiplayer Score – N/A

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