Specific Ratings

Learning CurveB
Replay ValueD

Pros and Cons

  • More polygons than you can count
  • Pure puzzling game
  • More moves, plus really realistic
  • Getting better with each game
  • When completed, makes you work for it!
  • Short Game
  • A little clunky (bugs, controls, gameplay)
  • High spec graphics card required
  • No replay value

Tomb Raider: Underworld (PC)

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Lara better than ever, though it's a short reign, long may she live. Puzzling at its best, fantastic backdrops/architecture, and good amount of action!



I don't know if you've seen it... but Tomb Raider: Underworld starts with Croft manor on fire. In a spectacular show of fiery goodness, cause seemingly by Lara herself. Puzzling yes I know! But it was soon followed by a minihany, a mini epiphany; the last two games were about re-invention. So it's plausible that this is the final chapter in that invention. This is an interesting thought as Lara has no manor, so what will the next game be like.

From the last game, Legend, not Anniversary, we find that Lara's mom was dead, only to find at the very end, it may not be true. So we figured that Crystal Dynamics are rewriting Lara's life story. Truth be told, they are doing a good job, and all lee way is given to them. Now at the start of this game, Underworld, we find that Lara's Father is dead. Lara has blown up croft manor, her friends are all taking pot shots at her, and her slightly rebellious attitude has mellowed out somewhat. What the hell is happening? This will slightly annoy the true Lara Fan, but with the suspension of disbelief, I don't think it is a leap too far.

The story and sound play well with each other, making this interesting to follow. Lara makes her way through the Norse Mythology, hell bent on finding helheim. The story pulls you along quite happily, showing the wonders that are Lara's World. The whole package is complemented and often you just stop and admire the ruins, landscape, Sea, Waves, and the beautiful backdrops. Even though this is a short game, it feels like a long vacation to some of the most stunning places in the world.

The first impressions are good, everything is visually impressive. Lara, with her larger than life polygon count, looks better than ever. Or maybe the choice of word is wrong; perhaps it should be “realistic”. This game seems to be all about Lara Croft being more realistic, both on a visual side and a game mechanic side. Granted some touches are really nice, and add that little something extra. For example, Lara running through undergrowth will brush leaves aside. She will shield her face from the intense heat and flames as she avoids fires nearby.

But the first thing that struck me was the appearance of little lines under her eyes. Also, at times she can furrow her brow, causing many a wrinkles on her flat smooth face. On humans, this is perfectly normal, and I wouldn't make a fuss. But this is Lara Croft, the Fantasy!?!? Isn't it? That's when I really started to question myself! Lara, more realistic, Good, Lara less fantasy, Bad! This makes me wonder am I objectifying her, or putting her on a pedestal. Personally I'd like to think it's somewhere in the middle, because Lara should always be a realistic fantasy. Or perhaps a fantasy, that looks realistic? The fantasy/reality debate goes on...

On the highest settings the game's visuals look extraordinary. Level designs has been picked over with a fine tooth comb, to make sure they are perfect, plus it also looks like it was actually modelled on real architecture. Most levels have been shot through a soft focus lens, on a warm summer's day. That feeling you get on holidays, making your 2-star hotel feel like a 5-star one. However all this means nothing to anyone with a Sub-par graphics card. Sub-par you ask? Anything below nVidia GeForce 9800 GTX or ATI HD4800, as recommended by the readme file! I don't know about you, but that seems a tall order. Also, contained in the known issues, is a jerking problem, with low end graphics cards.

Known Issues - “Low end nVidia hardware users may notice a slight stutter when first entering a location. This is a known issue with the current release of drivers (178.13). This should be addressed in an upcoming driver release.”

However, I've installed Nvidia Driver 178.24, but it doesn't seem to fair any better. So even if you can play this, and the minimum requirement stated is an NVidia 6 Series, or ATI 1800XT. You may have to put up with a jerking screen for the first few minutes of each level, and when things get busy. Trying to recover frame rates, by setting the visuals to low, seems to have litte effect. The cause seems to be a problem with the graphic drivers, rather than the actual card. Lara's age seems to be definitely showing, as she requires a hell of a lot of silicone power to keep her bits in place.

Personally I am thankful; the frame rates can always be fixed. But the console versions suffer other more serious problems. Most notably is the dual lock and fire ability that Lara has. Where Lara is able to lock on with two pistols, and fire at each target, at the same time. With Console versions, the screen will violently snap between enemies, making it hard to see what is happening. Thankfully the PC does not suffer from this problem, to that extent, there is some mild screen jerking, but nowhere near as bad. Also controlling Lara is a lot less sensitive, on the PC version; consoles can suffer from the "nudging to the edge" syndrome.

You don't mind the graphics not being the best, as long as the game is good and playable. Sadly this is the most annoying aspect of the game. That lower end cards, anything less than a 9 series or HD4800 series, will have jerking problems. I even found that going out to the desktop, and then coming back to the game would severely tax the game. This made it very impossible to play, and required shutting down and starting it up again.

Of course there are other annoying aspects of the game, things actually related to gameplay. For example, Lara can sometimes do the most stupid things. Granted, I hold my hand up; I didn't always press the right button on time. But still it can be annoying when Lara decided she's had enough, and jumps to her death. This is mainly due to the camera screen rotation, which affects the movement keys. Confused? Basically if you want to make Lara jump forward, it's the up key and jump. Only if you rotate the camera to a certain point, the up key and jump will now make her jump off to the right. This becomes a little annoying when grapples, ledges, and high places are involved.

However, within the game there are a lot of save points. So if you die you won't be too far away. This has an odd knock on effect. During the game you can collect medic packs for health, but to be honest you don't have to waste them, or to take them at all. If you die, you are brought back to life, so close to your last exit point. Restoring your health just seems like an extra button you don't have to push!

But still I wouldn't have Lara any other way. And this game truly cements why tomb Raider is such a good series. There are very few enemies in it, but plenty of puzzles. The puzzles are really clever, not difficult, but enough to tax you at times. What they have done? Well here the puzzles aren't always obvious. That predefined well walked path, you could always spot, has now been hidden. That predefined, easily solved puzzle, has been made with a little more thought. Sometimes you see the destination at the other side, but you end up standing in the same spot, wondering how to get there. Fantastic, in the before series you spotted that ledge, and away you go. But now, what is essentially the same task is harder and ten times more fun.

The last level is the crowning achievement of this. The amount of puzzles I had to solve was the tip of the iceberg. How to get to the problem, more often than not, was the problem. This, honestly, having to work to solve a puzzle, makes it so much more satisfying when you complete it. In the end, when you graduate from Croft University with a Full PhD in Puzzlogy, that is how rewarding it will make you feel! Oh and on a side note, there is plenty to read in the PDA, some of the Norse mythology is quite interesting.

Along with the good puzzles comes a whole array of new abilities. Lara is outfitted with fresh moves, all painstakingly motion captured by real life gymnastics. Again this is all about realism, and all part of crystal Dynamics new motto "What can Lara do?” For example, one of Lara's abilities is to free climb up a wall. While it all reminds me of cargo netting in those 2D platform games, it's the way it is executed, bringing a touch of brilliance to the whole experience. It actually does look like Lara is scaling the wall, and not just the actions of a motion captured model.

Then there are some of the old moves, implemented in new ways, such as the grapple and the one shot kills. The grapple is a useful tool, and even better in this series, Lara can use the grapple to rope up walls from the bottom. The other, one-shot kills, has been branched off in two ways. Now Lara earns adrenaline, which she uses to slow down time, allowing her to react to danger. She now has two methods of using this in combat, she can perform a special move using a single bullet to the head, or she can slow down time, causing more damage with each shot. Each method takes a little practise, but very useful at times.

However, fighting is a rare commodity in this game, and to be honest, you'll never miss it. This is a hardcore puzzle game, and the way Tomb Raider was meant to be. This can be a bit of a shame as well because Lara has some new fighting moves. One extremely useful one is the kick, which will knock a baddie to the ground. This is handy, or maybe not, because as I said they really aren't that many bad guys to start with. Also, somewhat disappointingly, is that you get Thor's Hammer, for the final stage. While a hugely entertaining weapon, again you won't find many enemies to practise on.

Bosses, is a mixed bag, while what they have done strategy wise is clever, gameplay wise can feel a little deflated. For example, the first boss is the Kraken, depicted as a giant octopus. You don't defeat it by prancing around, jumping here and there, and shooting it three times in a weak spot. This time you have to solve some puzzles, and then watch a cut scene of it being killed. I liked the idea, and this game does puzzles beautifully, but then again, I also like the challenge of running around, while some T-Rex is chasing me. The only thing between me and Lizard Food are two pistols and some high energy acrobats. All you can say is that after killing a boss, brains is more effective, but brawn is more fun!

Sadly, the little tease that Lara is, we don't get enough of her. This game is far too short, even though it does bring a well rounded conclusion to the whole story. (Legend and part of Anniversary!) You do have a slight feeling of “Is that it?” Not anti climatic, but just wishing there was more. Also, sadly again, this is one of those games that isn't likely to be replayed. Once you have been thorough it once, its Sayonara Lara.
That is until the next adventure!

This game is good solid fun; even members of the “Not Lara Fan Club” will enjoy this. However there are a few flaws, none of these are actually to do with the gameplay. But still not having a high spec card and being a little too short, does in the end, take from the whole experience.

System Requirements from “Readme.txt”
The minimum system requirements are as follows:
Microsoft Windows XP (admin rights required)/Microsoft Windows Vista (admin rights required)
CPU: Intel Pentium 4 3+GHz or AMD Athlon 2.5+GHz
RAM: 1GB (Windows XP) / 2GB (Windows Vista) system memory
GRAPHICS: NVIDIA GeForce 6 series 6800GT (or better) / ATI 1800XT (or better)
SOUND: Direct X 9.0c compatible sound card and drivers
HARD DRIVE: 8 GB Free Space
INPUT DEVICES: Keyboard and mouse

The recommended system requirements are as follows:
OPERATING SYSTEM: Microsoft Windows XP (admin rights required)/Microsoft Windows Vista (admin rights required)
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2 GHz or Athlon 64 X2 4400+
RAM: 2 GB system memory
GRAPHICS: nVidia GeForce 9800 GTX or ATI HD4800
SOUND: Direct X 9.0c compatible sound card and drivers
HARD DRIVE: 8 GB Free Space
INPUT DEVICES: Microsoft Xbox360 Controller

Graphic Cards supported
ATI – Radeon X1800, Radeon X1900, Radeon X1950, Radeon HD2600/2900 series, Radeon HD3650/3850 Series, Radeon HD 4670/4850 series
nVidia – GeForce 6800 Ultra, GeForce 7600 GT, GeForce 7900 GTX, GeForce 7950, GeForce 8600 GTS, GeForce 8800, GeForce 9600 GT, GeForce 9800 GTX, GeForce GTX 2xx

Graphic Cards not supported – Cards may function but performance may be reduced.
ATI – Radeon X1300, Radeon X1500, HD 2300/2400, HD4550
nVidia – GeForce 6200, GeForce 6600, GeForce 7300, GeForce 7800 GS, GeForce 8300, GeForce 8400, GeForce 8500, GeForce 9400/9500

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