Back in issue seven of OXM, our judgement on Tomb Raider: Legend was "a lot of fun, plain and simple... it's the closest the series has ever come to recapturing the glory of the original classic". We can say much the same about this. And that's a problem.
Underworld takes the same re-imagined template of Legend, ties in some of the plot threads left dangling in Anniversary, and presents us with a 14-hour adventure that is a lot of fun. But it's a rather familiar sort of fun.
You may be treading new ground as Lara takes you on a global expedition through Thailand, Mexico and beyond in search of Asgardian ruins, but there's a warm familiarity to every wall leap and grapple swing. Lara isn't pulling off anything that we haven't seen in the last few games.
It follows a continued push to get videogaming's most famous archaeologist back to her roots; tomb-raiding is once more at the forefront.
You'll be dropped in cavernous temples with multiple puzzles within each, requiring you to work out how to navigate Lara to an out-of-reach switch or to uncover a hidden mystical item.
Nothing defies you for long though; the gameplay is well-worn, meaning the how and what are obviously signposted. Replace a stick there, weight down a pressure panel here, spin a seated statue round... you almost can do such things by rate these days. And even if you're a newcomer, there's a sonar map that'll highlight where items are and a hint box that'll tell you exactly what to do if you get stumped.
It's very welcoming to newcomers, as are the stunning visuals, but even without the guide, the game's still rather easier than we'd like. We're not spending quite as much time scratching our heads at a particular puzzle, pondering what we should do next.
So, it's easy, yes, but it's still an enjoyable ride, due in no small part to the atmosphere that endures throughout the adventure.
Radio chatter between Lara and her friends back at HQ is kept to a minimum. It's just you, an excellently scored soundtrack and the natural sound effects of rain, ocean and wildlife. It is oddly relaxing and almost therapeutic as you traverse chasms and swim through underwater ruins.
Get ready to rumble...
Breaking up the exploration are brief forays into combat that are the least satisfying pieces of the TR puzzle.
Human opponents react with neither the wit or nerve we come to expect these days, and while the return of the bullet-time mechanic, charged through successful shots of enemies, is welcome, it's not exactly deep. Wildlife is more interesting, but still we'd wish a new combat system had been implemented.
It sums up the whole experience. This is same old Lara. That's not to do the game a disservice, the classic gameplay feels as good as ever and it's arguably Lara's best Xbox 360 outing.
We really enjoyed our time with Miss Croft, but it is more of the same and 'dependable' isn't exciting enough. When you take a look at the gaming world around her, you wonder if it isn't time for another re-invention, not of the character, but her universe.
With a Christmas line-up that's one of the best in recent years and includes games that really push the envelope, we're sad to say that Lara isn't cruising above the competition this year round, she's struggling underneath it.
Solid and enjoyable, but more of the same.
- Looks very nice, indeed.
- A nice mix of locales spice things up.
- Chit-chat is kept to a minimum.
- Puzzles are pleasing but obvious.
- Combat is still a non-event.