When Eidos handed development of the Tomb Raider franchise to Crystal Dynamics, it was a risky but ultimately wise decision. The team managed to reinvent the series while staying true to its roots with Tomb Raider: Legend, while Tomb Raider: Anniversary built on solid foundations to reimagine Lara Croft's original adventure. Tomb Raider Underworld is Crystal Dynamics' third game in as many years, and the high work rate is starting to show. Lara may have plenty of new moves at her disposal, but little has been done to address the many camera and clipping issues still present. Tomb Raider Underworld offers an enticing new adventure, but if you're a fan of the series you'll find that Lara is starting to show her age.
Underworld features a forgettable story and cliched dialogue, but thankfully the cut-scenes are short.
As the "Underworld" suffix suggests, this Tomb Raider covers darker territory than its predecessors. It follows the same adventure template that we've come to expect, but it also deals with death, resurrection, and even Norse mythology in its story. Things start out badly for Lara; a prologue of her racing to escape her lofty mansion as it burns to the ground. Cut back two weeks, and we find Lara trying to take care of some of her father's unfinished business, something that leads her on to discovering more about her mother, characters from previous games, and the mythical Hammer of Thor. It's badly written, poorly voiced, and instantly forgettable for anyone but hardcore fans of the series, but thankfully the cutscenes are mercifully short, leaving you to get down to the serious business of raiding tombs.
Tomb Raider Underworld is constructed in an almost identical fashion to its predecessors, with exploration in exotic locations punctuated by occasional combat and vehicle sections. The interaction between Lara and the environments has long been the draw of the series, and performing daring jumps to scale seemingly impossible heights is as satisfying as ever. Lara's even learned a few new moves in the year since Anniversary, and she can now free-climb, balance along thin beams, and abseil using her rappel line. Crucially, none of these moves complicates Lara's basic movement, and while you have to adjust your eyes to the many new visual cues showing you where to go, they all add new levels to the simple pleasure of adventuring.
While these new abilities expand Lara's already-impressive acrobatic skills, there are a lot of gameplay issues that continue to annoy. The world is incredibly rigid, with strict rules on which platforms, objects, and edges can be interacted with and which can't. The places where Lara can go are well marked out--they feature nice right-angled edges and are usually lighter than the surrounding material to signify your route through. This makes it easier to figure out the correct way to go, but at the same time it means there's little room for improvisation, and the genre has moved beyond such linear progression. Even worse, Lara will frequently clip into a piece of the scenery and then refuse to come out until you stop, turn around, and run out of it again. Add all this to an incredibly unruly camera, and Tomb Raider Underworld is still just as frustrating as its predecessors.