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Tomb Raider: Underworld
Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Third Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
Much like Tomb Raider: Legend, Tomb Raider: Underworld looks absolutely gorgeous. Many of the game's areas are lush and tropical and the water is so stunning that you can stare at it for an extended length of time and be simply mesmerized. Lara is looking good as always, but she has slightly aged, which is actually nice to see. I mean, she is still smokin' but there are some little lines on her forehead and it adds a bit of realism into an otherwise unrealistic character. For those wanting to play a bit of dress-up with Lady Croft, you are allowed to select from a small variety of level-appropriate outfits at the beginning of areas. Its nothing major, but its a fun little extra that adds a bit of zest and slight personalization to the mix.

Lara's travels this go round will take her to the Mediterranean, Coastal Thailand, Croft Manor for a brief and blazing level, Southern Mexico, Jan Mayan Island, the Andaman Sea and the Arctic Sea. While all but the Arctic Sea sound pleasant and beachy, some areas are quite frigid and chilly, while others are predominantly underground or underwater - hence the name. All, however, are beautiful and detailed. What aren't detailed are the treasures and relics Lara finds. All treasures look the same (there can be many per level), as do all relics (1 per level), which stinks. I call them out on this because Uncharted had so many fantastic and unique treasures and relics and it was great to survey what you had collected. That being said, treasures can be lying on the ground or tucked away beneath a rock, or they can be hidden in an ancient-looking jar. An observation Geck0 made was that the brown, more non-descript jars never seemed to hold anything of value, while the silvery jars always had a goodie.

Once again, Keeley Hawes voices the lovely Lara and she does an outstanding job. You will probably grow tired of Ms. Hawes and her "tips" however, simply because more times than not, they don't help much at all, but more on that later. Overall, dialogue is good and never cheesy. Background music is sweeping and orchestral in nature, featuring variations of the classic Tomb Raider theme we have all come to know and love. Sound effects are ambient but plentiful and having a surround sound system really helps to further immerse you into Lara's world.

Tomb Raider: Underworld is the continuation of Legend and thus, the continuation of Lara' search for her mother, who disappeared when she was a child. Based on the events of the previous game, Lara believes her mother didn't die all those years ago, but instead was whisked away to the mythical land of Avalon. She begins following clues, believing her father was searching for Thor's Hammer to gain entrance to Avalon. While she is traveling about, she visits places that relate to Norse and Mexican legends, all to get to a place steeped in British legend. Huh? Maybe Lara is trying to prove that all legends are the same in one way or the other. It doesn't really matter in the end. Essentially, Lara will be battling Amanda (from Legend) and also Natla, the blonde Atlantian goddess who has become Amanda's captive.

Her goal will be to collect various treasures and articles, all leading to the eventual discovery of Mjolner, Thor's legendary Hammer, which is said to be the key to Avalon. Naturally, Amanda with Natla in tow is also seeking this item, so Lara has to battle humans from time to time, in addition to various other creatures like tigers, bats, spiders and Naga lizards. As she progresses, things take a more fantastic bend and she finds herself up against thralls, or spirits, that require a serious pounding and then a finishing move to kill. Eventually, even Yeti creatures come into the picture, further complicating matters.

Once again, Lara has her handy grapple which comes in handy to get across vast expanses where she couldn't otherwise jump. It can also be used to lower herself down into a place she wouldn't survive jumping to. She also has her PDA which contains a wealth of tools like a sonar map (which I didn't find all that helpful), her inventory, a journal where she makes notes, her weapon selection, and info on the treasures and relics available to be found in whatever area she's in. If Lara gets stuck, she can go to Field Assistance and get a tip or two in her own voice, but generally, these are so vague as to not be super helpful. However, since the save points are plentiful and happen every few minutes of traversal, even if you die its no big deal.

Lara selects her weapons loadout at the beginning of each world or area and there is no ammo to be found in the levels, at least none that I saw. Instead, you have plenty of secondary ammo and when you are out, you use your unlimited ammo pistols or Thor's Hammer (once you obtain it), which has unlimited lightning goodness and is rather awesome. Once again, the adrenaline returns and when you build Lara's adrenaline meter, she can perform one shot kills. However, it didn't seem nearly as integral as in the last game and I rarely used it, preferring to play old style.

Lara's moves are very similar to what we saw in Legend, however in Underworld, they seem more detailed. Instead of simply hanging and traversing hand over hand from a ledge, Lara can now find footholds and climb like a spider-monkey on rocks. It's pretty cool and looks more realistic; well, as realistic as someone like Lara can be.

Well, ranking the difficulty in Tomb Raider: Underworld is tough to do, mainly because there is no penalty for screwing up. You die, you begin where the game last auto-saved (probably like 3 minutes before) and you try again. In some ways, I liked this, especially when I was at a particularly testy area where Lara would keep flinging herself from a high perch to her death, her glorious, sprawling, rag-doll-physics-induced death. Enemies aren't that difficult, although some try to gang up on you, like the tiny spiders that populate the area beneath Croft Manor or the super huge spiders that patrol the Mayan grounds Lara will visit. Some, like the Yeti, will use brute strength on you and if they corner you, you're finished. However, I only faced one Yeti before I gained control of Mjolner (the ultimate lightning weapon) and I lured him into a hallway where he stopped and just let me shoot him until he was dead. Quite a handy little bug indeed.

That being said, at the beginning of the game, you can select one of three levels of difficulty and I played through on the medium option. I found most of the difficulty comes in the form of frustration with Lara's controls. Sometimes I found that Lara would become highly suicidal and would jump off ledges even when no buttons were being pushed. I found that whenever this happened, it was a good idea to switch controllers as it sometimes fixed the problem. Let's just say that these moments led to a controller being launched across the room on at least one occasion. No, I am not proud of it, but damn it felt good to do it.

Game Mechanics:
Well, the aforementioned control was a big problem for me, but one that I learned to deal with over time. Tomb Raider games have always had those moments where you want to toss the controller through the TV or plunge Lara to her screaming death, just because she did something stupid. But in Tomb Raider: Underworld, it seemed to happen more frequently. Perhaps it was just my perception, however. On the upside, since dying merely means you redo a few minutes of work, it's not really a big deal, but more of an annoyance.

Lara seems to have a lot more balance work to do than ever before. She'll not only hang and swing from beams, but balance and walk across them far more than ever. A new move Lara has is the chimney jump, where she wall-jumps off one closely positioned wall, then off the opposite wall, working her way up until she can grab off of something to hang. It came in very handy in a number of situations.

Overall, control is pretty intuitive, but as I mentioned before, sometimes she'd do something unexpected like pull herself up on a bar on the wrong side, which would affect where she could jump to.

When targeting on enemies, Lara will pull her John Woo move and target on two enemies at once, which is always a pleasure to see. Her melee fighting is very effective and sometimes seemed to knock a human opponent out far quicker than her pistols, which is strange. For added oomph, Lara has sticky grenades which cling to an enemy and decimate them, but be careful when they start running your way!

Overall, I have really enjoyed my time with Lara in Tomb Raider: Underworld. I am currently being frustrated by the final level of the game and aim to beat it very shortly. If you loved the series once upon a time but gave up on it and haven't played Legend, then get Legend and beat it first, then played Underworld. Your faith in one of the most iconic videogame characters of all time will once again be renewed.

-Psibabe, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ashley Perkins

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