Review: Tomb Raider Underworld demo – FAIL

This week a demo of the latest edition of the long running Tomb Raider series was released. I took some time out today to play through the PC demo,...

Tomb Raider Underworld

This week a demo of the latest edition of the long running Tomb Raider series was released. I took some time out today to play through the PC demo, the result was underwhelming.

I love Lara as much as the next guy, but this game has some fundamental flaws that seriously degrade the game play.

Lara Croft in Tomb Raider Underworld

Camera
It seems the developers stole the camera control code from games made in the 90’s, it’s serious broken. When you get remotely close to a wall, the camera stutters trying to establish, should I be in front or behind, the correct answer would be neither. In tight situations the camera should pan to the side of the action, giving users not only a view of the character they’re controlling – Lara Croft, and the environmental options she has to move. This becomes critical in areas where your jumping between pillars, given that’s a regular occurrence throughout the demo and inevitably the game, the experience overall is clunky and annoying.

Controls
This may be a symptom of the abomination of a camera, but knowing which directional key to pres before making a leap is near impossible, after spending some time climbing the side of a rock face only to fall down due to this gets really old, really quickly. The control should be intuitive and consistent, enabling the user to predict what’s going to happen, for example jumping directly backwards while holding a ledge was different based on the position of the camera. I think this would have been better programmed as down arrow + space bar regardless of the camera.

Gameplay
The interaction between Lara and the environment felt very old, with no acceleration / deceleration before getting to a wall / object. You simply run into a wall and stop. These physics were fine 5-10 years ago, but we now look for games to more closely represent reality. I don’t know about you, but if I’m running towards a solid object I’m going 2 slow down before hitting it.

Transitioning between movement types like swinging, landing, running, then rolling is done well and fairly seamless, this is one of the few things in this game where the time spent was time well spent and appears to be improved on previous iterations.

Graphics
For a franchise that’s been around as long as this one, it’s surprising how poor the visuals are in this game. The focus of development was clearly on Lara, which makes sense to a degree, it’s a 3rd person game, so you’ll be staring at her the entire game so she better be quality right ? While that’s true, the environment can’t be forgotten, especially when getting up close, textures are extremely low-res in areas, plants are very low poly and the water system is extremely unrealistic. While they’ve included a wave system for the waves, when the water meets a solid object, it still appears as a flat plane meeting another, no wash back, no splashing that occurs in real life.

Overall
As you can probably tell by now, I’m really not impressed by this demo and certainly won’t be purchasing the game. The only people that should are those die hard fans that must have everything Lara.

The game is set for release on PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC (Games for Windows) and DS on November 18th.

More info @ TombRaider.com

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.