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Taking Tomb Raiding to New Heights

by Alex Seise, Editor-in-Chief


Lara Croft.
Without any introduction, the camera pans in on a shaken young woman who has just witnessed a tremendous explosion in her own home. Surrounded by flames and debris, she is not afraid but rather, determined to escape and avenge.

Thus begins the latest chapter in the Lara Croft saga, Tomb Raider Underworld. The game, released on November 18, 2008 by Eidos Interactive, is the culmination and capstone to the two previously unrelated chapters in the series. It simultaneously integrates and resolves the conflicts and characters from Tomb Raider Legend and Tomb Raider Anniversary, two games that share little apart from the main character. The magic is in how the developers manage to take these two separate stories and thread them together, and the result is stunning.

The story picks up where TR:L left off. Croft, who spent the previous game assembling the mythical Excalibur while searching for her disappeared mother, still has a bone to pick with villainess Amanda Evert, a former friend turned gothic foe. In the final moments of TR:L, Evert prevents Croft from using an ancient portal to connect with her mother and now, it’s up to the heroine to find another way into the mythic land of Avalon.


Jacqueline Natla.
But the story goes much deeper than that. It signals the return of Croft’s first foe, the Atlantean goddess-turned-maniacal treasure hunter Jacqueline Natla. Natla, who was left for dead beneath a stone pillar on a sinking island in TR:A, is now in the custody of Evert. The two women are working together to locate the Hammer of Thor in order to gain entrance to the paradise-like Helheim, which turns out to be the same as the rumored Avalon.

The game chronicles the rivalry between the two factions. Temporary alliances are formed and epic battles take place. Old friends, including Croft’s butler Winston and fellow adventurers Zip and Allister, reappear early on. Croft also encounters several well-known foes, including the mysterious doppelganger that looks and acts exactly like her except with much more sinister intentions.

But the story is only half of the magic of the game. For the first time in the series, Croft experiences true interaction with her surroundings. The environments can be helpful—especially when there are movable blocks or poles nearby—or harmful—particularly when rain makes navigating much more difficult. When she runs through the brush, she pushes away individual leaves and swats at large bugs that attack her. The environments beckon certain actions that Croft can now accomplish. Chimney jumps and balancing on ledges are just two ways to solve puzzles. Most interestingly, when Lara kills an enemy or creates debris, the remains exist for the duration of the entire game.

The gameplay has its flaws. For one, the camera often makes jumps and navigation extremely difficult. It cannot be independently controlled on the PC and on many occasions where Croft is in a tight space, it tends to become jittery. The combat system is weak, and the game lacks any boss characters. The focus is not on the enemies but rather, on the environments and the puzzles they contain. Some prefer this; others would like more action to take place.

The lush soundtrack, as always, is perfectly tuned to the game. It seamlessly adjusts to Croft’s surroundings and runs much like a movie score might. One of the best instances of this comes in Bhogavati, the ancient ruins in Thailand. The music is quiet and eerie consisting of distant chimes rustling in the breeze. Suddenly, as an enemy appears, the sweeping music seeps in and takes over until the danger clears.


In "Realm of the Dead,"
Croft must escape a ship
that moves dynamically.
The levels are varied and interesting themselves. In the second stage of the first chapter, Croft encounters a large kraken that she must dispatch using clever in-room switches and contraptions. Each chapter has a connection to the global “underworld,” founded in Norse mythology. Each chapter visits a different area of this underworld including Niflheim, Valhalla, Helheim and Xibalba. In Mexico and the Arctic Sea level, Croft must use her all-terrain motorcycle to explore the expansive areas fully. And each level has its own roster of enemies ranging from tigers and poachers to yeti and eitr-infused thralls, mythical Norse warrior slaves with extraordinary power.

All-in-all, the game is fantastic. It has crisp, incredible graphics that bring the deep story to life. The music is moving and the levels are intensely rich. With some tweaking of the gameplay and camera, the installment could have been nearly perfect. However, as Lara Croft herself finds out at the end of the game, the underworld itself is rarely as pristine as legends might say.

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