Lara Croft is still video gaming’s most successful heroine, with this being her ninth escapade in 12 years.
Gameplay is the usual combination of gymnastics, gunfights and exploration. Underworld succeeds in intertwining these three elements, making for a pleasingly varied experience. Most of the levels are designed around a series of interconnected puzzles. You have to work out what you need to do, and in what order. You also need to assess how you’re going to go about reaching the areas required.
Thankfully, Lara is an incredibly talented acrobat. Under your control she can jump, climb, tumble and somersault past almost any obstacle. She reacts snappily to your inputs, and you’ll rarely find yourself blaming the controls for mishaps. She looks sublime in action, too, thanks to a new animation blending system and motion-captured moves.
The graphics are stunning, the environments are amazingly detailed and any sense of the blocky construction of earlier titles is now gone. Natural elements, such as ledges on cliffs, manage to look believable while still having an obvious purpose in the game. It’s not all dusty tombs, either: diving off your boat on the first level and swimming down to explore the sea bed provides an inspired opening that sets the tone for the whole game.
Gunplay is the weakest element, combining point-and-shoot mechanics with dull opponents. It’s a simple matter of shoot and shoot some more, while jumping to avoid tooth or claw. The hackneyed plot presumes you know, and care, about Lara’s previous outings. A ‘previously on…’ video of plot highlights is thoughtfully supplied, though.
Underworld provides nothing ground-breaking, but it looks great and Lara is still an incredibly satisfying character to take in hand.