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Sean Pettibone


Tomb Raider Underworld (Playstation 3)

Lara Croft returns in fine form with the excellent Tomb Raider Underworld on the PS3. Her latest adventure offers the challenging puzzles, acrobatic moves and action sequences the Tomb Raider series has become known for. Huge, beautifully rendered environments take you to some of the world's most exotic locations, as you explore ruins and deep caverns that unlock a series of mysteries. Excellent pacing offers a good balance between puzzles and action make for a solid installment in the series. Some minor camera issues and occasionally touchy controls make for some frustrating sequences, though not enough to detract from its otherwise high quality. Join us and discover what makes Tomb Raider Underworld such an engaging experience.
Set after the events in Tomb Raider Legend, Lara Croft's latest adventure finds her once again exploring a series of exotic locations throughout the world. Players will find many familiar elements this time around, and Lara's trademark moves and stunts are very much in evidence as she explores many exciting and exotic locations. She performs many of her famous jumps and leaps, hangs from ledges, traverses narrow beams, swings from bars, climbs on walls, scales high towers, dangles from ledges and more with a remarkable sense of grace and ease. Controlling her is fairly intuitive, but it takes some time to get into the flow of things. Most of her main activities are controlled using context sensitive controls, where jumping and climbing is assigned to one button, which can be confusing at first. She has several new moves this time, including new bicycle jumps, kicking attacks and the ability to climb on walls using the rocks to grip. It mostly comes together seamlessly, and players who don't rush and think about things will find the interface works fairly easily. Compared to some of the previous games, there definitely feels like there's more leeway while jumping, and the margins for error are larger. Performing large jumps through areas is a bit difficult at first, but once you learn to manually adjust the camera before leaping, things get a lot more accurate. Building your confident is Lara herself. She can perform huge leaps, which means that Lara can accomplish the seemingly impossible. This makes huge leaps and jumps feel very possible, and it makes the gameplay more enjoyable and entertaining.

Tomb Raider Underworld's controls works well for the most part, though there are still some areas where the angle becomes awkward, making you plunge needlessly below. However, adjusting things a little, and observing your environment closely makes things easier. Most of the time, your paths and settings are fairly easy to see once you know what to look for. Studying nearby objects and looking for what looks like a ledge or a rock makes things much easier. There are some areas that can be quite tricky to traverse, but Tomb Raider Underworld doesn't penalize you excessively when you make a mistake, with very close respawns that mean you won't spend a lot of time retracing your steps. Along the way, Lara will also confront a number of beasts and animals who will attack her relentlessly. The smaller ones, such as spiders and bats can be quickly waved off or squashed with the press of a button. She'll also encounter larger foes like tigers and lizards who will cause a lot of damage. The combat system in these sequences is fairly easy, and you can auto-target enemies using the shift button, though you'll still need to dodge their attacks. If you find yourself stuck in a certain area, Lara can call up her GPS device which includes two features. The first of these is a sonar detection device, which gives you a 3D layout of the level, which can come in handy in finding hidden areas. She can also use her GPS for some field intelligence, which are audio clues which contain hints on the area. The system is fairly simple to use and isn't intrusive on the main gameplay itself. Lara's abilities are fairly simple and those who played the previous games will find her to be more responsive and easier to control this time around.

As you might expect, most of the game takes place in a series of dangerous tombs, but there are some sequences where Lara needs to battle human opponents on ships and boats. The combat system is fairly decent, and most players should have little trouble targeting and shooting opponents. The enemy AI for human opponents isn't terribly difficult and Lara has two ways of dealing with them. She can use her moves to disable them or she can shoot her guns or throw a timed explosive at them, which takes them out. While her standard weapons are fairly useful, she also has a number of other tools she can use, such as a mini flashlight to light up dark areas. These tools can be called up immediately using the d-pad, allowing for quick access. The most useful of Lara's new tools, in terms of actually playing through the levels, is her grappling wire. This is a handy device that she can use to rappel off the sides of walls, climb up to high places and more. When she's on the wire, players can also swing her around and perform huge leaps to reach places should couldn't otherwise. The levels themselves are huge, elaborate puzzles where you have to complete multiple smaller objectives in order to reach your final goal. For example, in one elaborate temple level, you have to climb three different towers, find the hidden gems in each before you can unlock the final gate. Each tower in this level is a puzzle in itself and requires Lara to jump gaps, scale walls, traverse ledges, rappel down to heights, hang from high platforms and perform other stunts. This approach means that each level can take quite some time to complete, but is also quite satisfying when you've beaten it. These interlocking puzzles have become a series trademark, and this installment doesn't disappoint with its challenging layouts and excellent level design.

From a visual standpoint, the game looks fantastic with lush, beautifully rendered environments creating an immersive and believable world for Lara to explore. Excellent light sourcing, and a fantastic level of detail throughout makes for an impressive looking game from beginning to end. Even the smallest details, such as writing on the walls feels authentic, and the layouts and design of each of the temples where Lara explores are fantastic in their design and layout. Lara herself looks spectacular with her elaborate animations and an impressive array of movements that gives her quite an athletic feel while never feeling outside the realm of believable. Excellent voice acting and a decent plot help to keep the storyline moving along, creating a strong sense of character and motivation for the Lara to keep venturing deeper into the unknown. The one area where Underworld falls a bit short of the mark is its camera system, which leads to several awkward sections that are hard to progress through. It makes for some occasionally frustrating gameplay, but adjusting the camera manually and looking at things from another angle generally does the trick, making this problem not so glaring once you get accustomed to it and learn to compensate for it.

Despite these relatively minor problems with its camera system, Tomb Raider Underworld is still a high quality gaming experience. It's a solid title delivers one of the most impressive adventures in the series to date. Players will find plenty of the elaborate puzzles and challenging obstacles they've come to expect from the series, along with a few new twists. Tomb Raider's pacing offers an excellent balance between the acrobatic stunts, elaborate puzzles and action sequences the franchise has become famous for along with some fairly impressive visuals. The game's environments showcase a richness and attention to detail that makes it's exotic locations feel authentic and elaborate. Lara herself has never looked or felt better with outstanding animations and new moves, such as her grappling hook that give her more flexibility than ever. The levels are expansive and occasionally difficult, but online help and a bit of persistence pays off. Excellent production values make for an interesting plot unfolds between adventures as well. Eidos and Crystal Dynamics have produced another solid installment, making Tomb Raider Underworld a solidly entertaining title that delivers everything players have come to expect from the series in a highly-polished, and thoroughly enjoyable package.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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