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Tuesday | October 23, 2018
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Tomb Raider: Underworld (PC)

Tomb Raider: Underworld (PC)

Lara Croft is undoubtedly one of the most well known game icons across the globe and Eidos have released the latest installment Underworld to capitalise on the success of Legend … which was a great title. The question we aim to answer today, is this another archaeologist journey worth paying for?

Underworld continues were Legend ended and we are given a quick summary in the shape of a recap for players who are new to the story. The game begins with Lara on a boat exploring coordinates that direct her to an ancient ruin on the Mediterranean Sea floor. Her investigation leads to some fascinating end results when she finds out that Thor’s Hammer exists she sets on a path to find it. The story while somewhat predicable in the concept of a Tomb Raider game is solid and propels the game forward at a nice pace.

The gameplay mechanics have been refined and improved over the previous title, for instance, no longer have we quicktime events but Situational Adrenaline. Instead of having a button prompt to avoid a particular nasty, developer Crystal Dynamics put the control into the hands of the player, meaning you simply react and move onscreen to avoid the particular threat.

Combat has also been adjusted with some refinements. Lara still has her ability to perform tumbles while firing weapons, but now she can target multiple creatures which makes dealing with bats or flying creatures much more efficient. She is also given sticky grenades which are throwable and will detonate in the right place (or on an enemy), which solves  an annoying issue from Legend. Lara can also now jump behind an enemy and shoot them in a time enhanced mode which was present in Legend, but more as a special attack.

The focus game mechanic from Legend has been replaced by an adrenaline system which is built up and increased after each successful melee attack or bullet that hits a foe. Gamers can initiate this system at any time which slows down the enemies movements and actions and increases the damage of your attacks. You can also store this adrenaline until it is maxed out and take out an enemy in a one shot kill. This is performed by lining up a reticle into a highlighted area and performing the takedown. While the adrenaline system is a great idea in theory, sometimes the combat becomes a little too easy, … thankfully there is a game tailoring system which lets you adjust the difficulty and enhance the stamina of the enemy units.

Crystal Dynamics deserve special mention for "What Could Lara Do?" which means that if you think Lara can perform an action, realistically in her world, then she will most likely be able to do it. Sometimes you might expect she would be able to jump vertically bouncing between walls or fighting enemies with a free hand while collecting items … then quite often she will. This was created to narrow down the old style mechanic of simple jumping and climbing, and to make her seem much more athletic and agile. It adds a great level of realism, as Lara will interact with the environment in the way you would expect, from brushing away bushes and shrubbery to grabbing a ledge with one hand due to an off line long distance jump.

Another great aspect of the game is the relative non linear nature of the game, which is really a first for the franchise. With prior releases Lara had to solve specific puzzles with a simple route course, but now thanks to intelligent level design she can quite often  tackle a level from various ways. The flipside of this is that the levels are so huge than often you will need to resort to the sonar map to get a clear indication of where you are in relation to everything else around you. Crystal Dynamics have also attempted to alleviate the troublesome nature of some of the puzzles by adding a help system via your PDA. If you access this, Lara speaks to you, effectively tipping you in the direction of the solution. It frequently is just enough to get you on the route to the goal rather than spelling it out in a GameFAQ style walkthrough.

Graphically the game is very impressive, however the open ended nature of the environments mean that you will need a powerful gaming system to handle the game at high resolutions with eye candy on full without noticeable dips in frame rate. This game is going to sell SLI gaming systems, I noticed huge gains by adding a second 280 GTX to my rig when playing. To be fair, the consoles perform much worse due to the relatively pedestrian nature of their hardware by today’s high end standards. It is safe to say that if you want to play this game at 1920×1200+ you are going to need a 260/280 GTX or high end ATI board to get the most from it without suffering from frame rate dips from time to time. The game right now runs better on Nvidia hardware and I noticed some unusual lighting issues with my ATI board which can become distracting. Equally so there are some clipping issues on a few levels in which Lara can seemingly merge with the environment, so there will assuredly be some patches forthcoming to address this.

The animations (Lara’s in particular) are very impressive and her actions are extremely realistic throughout the game. This makes you feel like you are controlling a living being, rather than just a game character. That said, sometimes her body reactions when falling from a high jump to hit the ground are rather comical.

The camera can also be troublesome, as it appears to have a life of its own. There are times you are running through the environment, only for the mysterious camera man to feel it would be better to view things from a rather unusual angle … this is fine sometimes, but on other occasions you end up with a very difficult view of a jump, meaning you plummet to your death due to sloppy coding, rather than a mistiming error on your part. The PC version lets you fight the camera a little with the mouse, but on the console versions, the issue is compounded drastically.

The audio is good with a high standard of voice acting we are accustomed to with the Tomb Raider series, and there are some effective spot musical interludes which heighten the tension perfectly.

Tomb Raider Underworld is an excellent game which fans of the series will embrace with open arms. It is probably one of my favourite games in the franchise to date and the controls and handling of the main character are very realistic and satisfying. There are some minor issues which need fine tuning via game patches, and be aware that if you plan on playing at high resolution that you have the hardware to handle it, otherwise be prepared for some choppy frame rates. Rest assured however if you are fortunate enough to own a high end video card, that you are getting the best deal for your money when compared to the console versions.

If you are looking for a good value, high performance video card to run this game at high resolutions then read our current day gaming performance article over here.



Very enjoyable gameplay and Lara has never reacted so well to your commands.

If you have the hardware to handle it, then be prepared for a high level of "wow" factor throughout the levels.
Grade A voice acting and ambient sound effects.
Player tailoring provides decent replay value as well as hunting for all the treasures.
(not an average)

A very enjoyable game which will go down in history as one of the good games in the franchise.

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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