Tomb Raider Underwold is clearly not British developed; and other perceptive thoughts brought on by play

May 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

During the course of play, the words “Bloody hell” were repeated twice, once more than I have ever heard the phrase uttered to describe a situation that presents even the slightest hint of peril. I’m not going to shy away from the fact that British people do occasionally use the phrase, and when we do I can only assume it sounds as stupid coming from us as it does Ms. Croft, but its use in the game seems to hammer home a point that Crystal Dynamics are trying to keep Underworld English, despite themselves clearly being American.

But some odd dialogue is the least of Underworld’s story problems. Starting the game feels like walking into a movie mid-film. Apparently Lara’s dad is dead, as is her mother; but from what I could gather from a movie in the extras menu designed to get me up to speed with the plot, Lara’s mother isn’t dead, she’s just in a Nordic underworld. I don’t know exactly why it’s the Nordic underworld that she’s been sent to, nor do I understand why Lara’s dad isn’t with her, but the game seems awfully keen on the idea of me getting her back into the real world.

Then the bad guys show up, lead by a forgettable short-dark haired fella, and somehow there’s a girl involved as well as the Queen of Atlantis, who’s trapped inside what appears to be a gigantic bug jar. I don’t really know what I was expecting from the game, after never having completed a Tomb Raider before, but the story present is an odd mix of complexity and immaturity, which leads to a situation where I’m not sure whether it’s intentionally tongue in cheek or not.

Individual animations look lovely and smooth, and the game certainly looks nice whilst stationary, but the transition between animations is consistently jarring, often Lara will warp along ledges to accommodate her ‘ledge-catch’ animation. One level in the game was particularly prone to graphical bugs, where a certain wall will trap you against it if you dare stand too close, only letting you go after you’ve given it a quick kick (no seriously).

Adding to this feeling of arriving halfway through the show is the camera, which seems to have tagged along from the nineties, complete with age old problems every other developer has overcome by now. Leaps of faith brought on by an inability to get the camera to face the direction the game wants you to jump are present, though uncommon, and on a couple of occasions the camera gets forced behind Ms. Croft’s torso, typically getting as close as possible to her ass (sorry my mistake – arse) in the process. Even in open play it tends to feel overly sensitive to manipulation, almost as if your not supposed to touch the right analogue stick. The bike sequence (sequences?) have the same problem with the left stick, but I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to use that one.

I should probably point out that I haven’t actually completed Underworld, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I probably never will. The last time I played the game my session was cut short when the game crashed, forcing me to do a hard reset of the console. Since the game has no autosave feature, this resulted in around two hours work going down the shitter, two hours I will not repeat.

As much as it pains me to say it, Tomb Raider Underworld could have really benefited from a little more development time to iron out its kinks, and make it more than just another Tomb Raider game complete with the series long-time blemishes. But maybe that’s just part of the series charm that I don’t have the nostalgia to appreciate.

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