I volunteered to review Tomb Raider: Underworld knowing full well I’d have to explain to my wife why exactly I was playing a game that does little but show digital booty. Within 5 minutes the TV was full of swimsuit and legs. “Why isn’t she wearing pants?” my wife asks.
“She’s Lara Croft,” I tell her. “She’s like, the female version of Indiana Jones, with all the hotness that brings.”
“She’s not wearing pants though.”
“She’s been swimming. That’s a swimsuit.”
This, gentlemen, is the next generation of Lara Croft. Now, with great advances in technology, we can aid the lack of imagination of those whose mothers do not allow them to see M-rated games. There is realistic dirt on her arms and shoulders and legs and butt and when she goes in the water or has the dirt wiped off, the glean of muscle and fat reflects perfectly; you can almost see the pores! Her face, on the other hand, still doesn’t look realistic, and even the breasts are kind of strange in a way that’s not attractive.
Of course, that’s not the point. Because if you embark on this exploration that requires you to visit Thailand and Mexico in order to get all the ingredients in the summoning of a Norse God, you will be traveling the world every step of the way behind her, and if one embarks on such journeys, one wants to have a nice view.
Seriously, it took me half an hour to realize that much of the scenery was very well-decorated as well. That water is some of the best I’ve seen. But Lara, she takes up all the space of the game! You can see her flex, jump, grope, hug, hang, push, squat, grapple, balance, flip, pull…she’s got a lot of flexibility and range. You forget what you’re even doing, or why you’re doing it. That may also have something to do with the obscure, absurd plot, wherein Lara investigates her parents’ disappearance but spends most of her time fighting the supernatural or talking into a recorder, and it may have to do with the fact that there is little fighting in the game though she has over half a dozen guns to choose from.
There’s supposed to be a game in here, but it’s hard to find. You can’t do anything without Lara getting in the way, and the times when you have to look away are not enjoyable. Mostly, it is a game consisting of how to get from point A to point B; occasionally there are sorry excuses for “puzzles”, but they are so simple they feel just like the journey; instead of looking where to go, it’s looking for the next object Lara can pick up or move. It’s not even that long a game, but twice within the first two and a half hours I had puzzles that involved putting a heavy object onto a pressure plate; twice also I had to kill sharks as my first act in the level; twice I had to run from a burning vessel, and twice I had to run back through an area that I’d just come through.
Worst of all, sometimes you might fall, and you will survive these falls instead of dying, and it will take you one to three minutes of concentrated effort of going through difficult jumps just to try the jump again. Also, it will save the game when you fail in progress. Let’s be clear about this: take a crude line, shown in the sentence to the right. A————B————C————–D. Let’s say from C to D, you jump and fall in some water. You must go from A to C again. If you accidentally die at B, that is where you’ll restart–not C.
The bosses and fights hardly feel like fights either. Early on, there is an enormous octopus, (kraken, excuse me, this is mythology after all) that takes up more than half the volume in a little pool. It’s stuck there, with nothing to eat, and nothing to do but get angry if you get close to it. But it’s not a fight, it’s an obstacle. It could have been an awesome fight; the set up got my hopes up. Instead, I was required to simply figure out where the buttons are to set up a spiky chandelier, then make it fall on the kraken’s head. Again, the visual spectacle is the only worthy element of this “battle”; the kraken’s death, like Lara’s ass, was magnificent.
Then there are Lara’s abilities, which become even stranger when she boards a ship and guns down every man on it. She has a swimsuit; they have body armor. Both Lara and goon can take multiple bullets, but only Lara (who is not a female Indiana Jones, we’ve since discovered, but a superhero) can throw multiples jumpkicks and spinning kicks that do more damage than pistol bullets. There is no way to dodge. Instead, you trade free hits. You can avoid getting hit simply by running out from a wall, shooting, then going back behind; there is no official cover system but the one you invent. Forward, wait, left, right, RT, left, right, RT, wait, forward, right, RT, left, right, RT, and BAM! that’s a free thirty guys not in reserve. It’s an easier code to remember than it looks. Also, Lara looks hot while she holds a big harpoon, shotgun, rifle, or pair of pistols, which add to the large catalog of positions in which you can pose her.
The saddest part is how transparent the game design is to those who are capable of satisifying their sexual urges elsewhere. Tomb Raider: Underworld only seems truly intent on doing two things: finishing the story from the previous Tomb Raider games and making sure you have a nice view. The view is indeed nice, but viewing is all you’ll be doing.