Genre: Third-person action adventure
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Mac Port By: Feral Interactive
Minimum System Requirements: OS X 10.6.8, 1.8GHz Intel processor, 3GB RAM, 8GB hard disk space, 128MB VRAM, DVD drive, mouse
Review Device: 3.2GHz Intel Core i3 iMac, 4GB RAM, 512MB Radeon HD5670 graphics card
Availability: Out now
There’s something comforting about going back to a Tomb Raider game on the Mac these days. I tried playing them on the Wii and DS, and couldn’t really get into them. I’m not sure if that’s because I didn’t like the controls or didn’t like the games, but they just didn’t feel right. And even now that Tomb Raider games practically beg you to have a game pad, they’re still a natural fit for computer gaming.
The latest is Feral Interactive’s recent release of Tomb Raider: Underworld. The gameplay is familiar, but modernized enough to not feel dated; you’re still exploring vast tombs and ruins at impossible locations that defy logic, and you’re still killing all manner of jungle animals and mythic creatures along the way.
A story drives your raiding, and it seems like it’s the continuation to something. I didn’t really follow it, but I can’t recall if this is because I didn’t play the previous game or if it just wasn’t worth remembering. I don’t care about Lara’s past, I guess, or how that past affects her relationship with her mom, who may or may not be dead. Lara’s very much an “in the now” type character for me. I need her to flip across that bar to rech that ledge to climb that wall to flip that switch to open that gate to kill that giant octopus to get whatever that thing is that Thor left behind. How she feels about her mom along is something she needs to work out on her own.
The Tomb Raider games worked their way into a tricky but typical gaming conundrum; how do you keep a series fresh without altering the core gameplay? Make the sequels too similar, and they’re criticized for being stale. Bring in too many new features, and their attacked for not being faithful to the series. As such, Tomb Raider wavered over the years, but Underworld seems to have struck a decent balance. Most of the innovations come in graphics power and in new abilities for Lara (pulling down statues with the grappling hook is oddly satisfying, even if you only get to do it when the game requires you to).
Thankfully, she also still explores. The best Tomb Raider moments have always come when you enter a vast cavern and have to figure out what to manipulate in order to get from here to there. There’s plenty of that in Tomb Raider Underworld, and you get a new active sonar map to help you navigate the environment (and find the hidden artifacts along the way). This happens across a wonderful set of locations. You start underwater, battling sharks and the aforementioned giant octopus, which you defeat not by shooting it, but by solving environmental puzzles. This, I like; if a giant octopus can be killed with bullets, then what was the point of making it giant?
We resurface to go to Thailand, Mexico, Norway, Lara’s house, back under water, and so on. Each location is wonderfully fleshed out, if not a bit linear; there’s always just one way to get to where you need to be, although you’ll likely spend a lot of time running and jumping around trying to find it.
It helps that the game looks so great. Not just the fully detailed environments, but Lara herself (and the other characters, I guess). They haven’t quite approached the uncanny valley, thank goodness—they still look like computer characters in a computer game—but the movement is smooth and natural, and the lighting/water effects are easily the best I’ve seen in a Tomb Raider title. I also like that they bothered to make Lara look like she’s really exploring jungles, in that she’s actually dirty for much of the game. She’s sweaty and muddy, which may actually kill the fun of watching her butt. Thank goodness she’s clean and shiny in those water levels, eh?
Finally, we get a good balance of game play vs. cut scenes. The latter serve as more of a break than an interruption, which is a sign of good development. After conquering a vast tomb, the cinematics feel sort of like a reward, and some of them are quite touching if you’ve been paying attention to the story.
I thoroughly enjoyed Tomb Raider: Underworld; it’s easily my favorite since Tomb Raider II, which is going a long way back. This may be kind of selfish, though, as I mostly liked it because it’s exactly what I want a Tomb Raider game to be: fun exploration and puzzle solving with a bit of combat and a wonky story to tie it all together. I’m comfortable in my assessment, though, because I have the feeling that’s exactly what most Tomb Raider fans want. If you’re among them, Tomb Raider Underworld is a must-own game, especially at only $25.
Buy Tomb Raider: Underworld