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Thursday | December 8, 2016
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Tomb Raider Underworld: Lara’s Shadow (X360)

Tomb Raider Underworld: Lara’s Shadow (X360)

 

Lara’s Shadow is Crystal Dynamic’s second downloadable expansion pack for Tomb Raider: Underworld. The first, entitled Beneath the Ashes was short-lived and rather uninvolving as Lara explored beneath the ruins of her destroyed manor. Today we will find out if Lara’s Shadow is a better value for money proposition.

The new expansion pack picks up very close to the end of Beneath The Shadows, just as Lara’s doppelganger is thrown into a pit by Amanda Evert. As we find out, the doppelganger isn’t actually dead and survives with the purpose of extracting revenge on Lara Croft. The specifics of this will spoil a lot of the surprises so I won’t detail them in this review today. Lara’s Shadow does manage however to connect specific moments of the original game and key scenes from Beneath the Ashes to give the player a good insight into the evil shadow’s persona. What is important to know however is that playing as Lara’s evil twin is a refreshing experience, thanks in part to her skills and powers which give a much needed edge to the tomb raider genre.

The changes you will immediately notice are that while Lara relied on guns to aid her in combat, her evil double much prefers hand to hand combat. She does have the dual pistol configuration which is a Lara trademark but she focuses much more on punches and kicks to take advantage of her superhuman creature based strength, speed and agility. You can further augment this by pressing and holding either bumper which triggers Shadow Power (replaces Lara’s focus meter), a bullet time mode to slow everything down and give her attacks even more damage. This also adds special moves to your arsenal, such as a spinning kick and charging punch to knock enemies off their feet.

This is a significant change from Beneath the Ashes, because the focus of combat is almost half of the experience and you frequently fight up to three or more foes at a time. Also, thanks to the boosting abilities of Shadow Power the doppelganger has a much less difficult time than her human counterpart would have in situations like this.

Shadow power has more uses than merely strengthening your attacks because by triggering it near cracked walls for example evil Lara can scale them and significantly expand her jumping range. Additionally evil Lara can move faster than ever which gives a new edge to the abilities on offer. The game design obviously takes advantage of these powers by offering more difficult environmental designs which would be impossible to cross for human Lara.

This gives the developers more room for level design and it shows. Some of the rooms and environments are the biggest yet for the franchise and as a result you will find yourself exploring much more of the surrounding area trying to figure out the ideal way to progress to the next section. At times, this adds a level of complexity because some of the jumps that you will need to make are hidden and while the camera has been improved to accommodate this mechanic it can still be tricky at times to work out just what you have to do. Some of the puzzles will require the full use of your Shadow Power meter to succeed so caution is needed.

Does the Shadow power mechanic really add that much to the gameplay? Yes, I think so, because it gives the player a greater sense of experimentation and freedom which I have never experienced before in one of these games and after only a few minutes of playing with the system it become intuitive and easy to manipulate. Players will find themselves battling with a seemingly impossible jump by experimenting with surrounding ledges and walls and it really forces the timed speed mechanic to see how quickly you can achieve your goals. I actually found myself playing some of the environments multiple times to try various forms of approach as well as timing myself to see if I could break a previous run time.

Thankfully the developer have toned down the overactive help system that was apparent throughout Beneath The Ashes and this means that most of the time you are on your own to crack the level design. I much prefer this way of doing things, after all you don’t pay money to have a game tell you what to do when the going gets tough.

The only downside to this downloadable content is, once again, the length of gameplay time you get for your money. The game comes in at 800 Microsoft gamer points ($10) and you can beat it in around 2 hours. Regardless of the apparent replay value, it really isn’t a lot of game time, even for the limited cost.

The ending of Lara’s Shadow is much better and I was sad to see this one end. The big question however is, what next? Is Lara’s Doppelganger a new focus for Crystal Dynamics? Will we have a twin Lara excursion in the future? Perhaps we will have to wait for a new fully fledged Tomb Raider game to see the return of her dark Twin, but I have my fingers crossed.

Lara’s Shadow is much better than the previous pack in every way. It provides players with much more than a basic Tomb Raiding adventure with Lara in skimpy clothes. This time around the mechanic is different and you have a new wealth of powers at hand to bring a freshness to the franchise which is long forgotten. I really had a blast with this one, even if its only a few hours long, there is a lot of replay value to be had.

 

Gameplay
85

A much bigger focus on exploration and hand to hand combat. A return to form.
Graphics
85
Quite like the others but with a larger sense of scale. Works really well.
Sound
75
Not much to report. Acceptable.
Value
75
Even weighing in the $10 cost, 2 hours is not a lot. Replay will be up to the individual.
Overall
82

Very impressive. Long live the Doppelganger !

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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