Tomb Raider: Underworld
A brainwavez.org Wii Game Review

South Africaby Mandy J Watson
Posted: 11 February 2009

Lara Croft's off again, raiding tombs and damaging precious archeological heritages in the quest for the truth about her mother's whereabouts. Throw in some Norse mythology and beautifully diverse environments and you have the makings of, well, another Tomb Raider game.

Tomb Raider Underworld WiiTomb Raider: Underworld is the first original Tomb Raider game to be released on the Wii platform. This third-person action-adventure features the same locations and storyline as the other-platform versions of the game but it differs from them in terms of actual gameplay. The storyline focuses on Norse mythology, with Lara on a quest to find Thor's hammer Mjölnir to enter Helheim, where her nemesis Amanda claims Lara's mother can be found.

You control Lara using the stick on the Nunchuk and you control the camera independently of Lara using the directional pad on the Wii Remote. The entire control system takes some getting used to because the buttons are placed weirdly on the remotes but after a while you can do it without thinking. This doesn't mean it's a perfect control system, though. Even once you've mastered it you'll often still find yourself missing things you were aiming for because something - the angle of the jump, or the camera, or both - was actually slightly off but you couldn't tell until it was too late. This is because the camera, unfortunately, has a mind of its own. As soon as you let go of the buttons it begins to drift back to its default position, which is usually a money shot of Lara that isn't of particular use to you when you're trying to see the gaping void in front of her that you'll need to jump across. When you're controlling the camera it's not much better as it will often get stuck on Lara or objects in its way, forcing you to rotate it in the opposite direction to get rid of the "obstacle". Occasionally it'll also move all by itself into a fixed position to "help" you with a particular obstacle but this isn't always helpful as certain things you may want to see are off screen.

There are extra puzzles in the Wii version of the game that have been designed to take advantage of the Wii Remote. Lara has a multi-tool in her backpack that has pliers, an acetylene torch, a chisel, and a compressed-air nozzle and there will be moments when she hauls it out so that you can burn through a metal lock or clear dust from an artifact or a puzzle that you need to complete. You also have to make a lever-pulling downward motion using the Nunchuk and Wii Remote when Lara has to move some levers, and you control her hand directly as she manipulates puzzle pieces. Unfortunately none of this is as exciting as it may sound, or could be. All the puzzles and moments that require something from the multi-tool are incredibly easy to complete and you feel quite cheated that you haven't been given a challenge. It all seems quite pointless, as if the developers didn't really try their best to give you a great experience by focusing on the strengths of the Wii Remote.

In a few levels Lara gets to ride her motorbike, which mixes up the gameplay a bit. The motorbike is easy to control - in fact, perhaps a little too easy as she'll remain on it even if you slam into a wall. Surface texture, whether it's mud in Mexico or ice in the Arctic, makes no difference to the handling. Annoyingly, when she reverses the camera will often swing to face Lara at an angle that often makes it difficult to see where you are manoeuvring the bike.

Something further to note - there are only four save-game slots. For anyone that likes to save at key points in a game in order to go back and experiment this is unbelievably irritating, requiring multiple backups onto a computer via an SD card if you wish to do so. One might argue that that is really quite unnecessary and a little obsessive compulsive but the presence of the Thailand Lever Bug meant that a lot of people who didn't save often and have backups were forced to replay the game from even further back than the Thailand start point.

Tomb Raider Underworld WiiAs for the rest of the gameplay, there are no health-pack pickups, as with the other-platform versions of the game. Instead Lara's health regenerates automatically and quite quickly, although if she falls from a great enough height she will die instantly (and rather dramatically).

The combat moments are also downplayed in this version. The enemies are few and far between and just have to lock the aiming mechanism with the Z button on the Nunchuk and fire your endless supply of bullets using the Wii Remote's B trigger in the general direction of the enemy to be effective. You aim with the Wii Remote but you don't have to be anywhere close and, in any case, aiming is pointless because an enemy always requires a specific quota of bullets before it will go down - where you hit it is irrelevant.

The adrenaline system also only comprises a few set moments where time will slow down so that Lara can react faster to a dangerous situation. You don't store adrenaline to use when you want to as in the other games. There's also no Player Tailoring feature. You just jump into the game and that's it - there's one difficulty (although it's not that hard) and you can't tweak it. Treasures are also different and there are fewer of them.

Although they can't compete with the capabilities of the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, or PC the graphics for the Wii version are very good - some of the best examples you'll find on the Wii. The levels are huge and varied and the rendering is good, although you'll occasionally see a texture "pop in" in the distance. Most of the cutscenes seem to be generated in real time and their quality is actually better than the pre-rendered cutscenes that occasionally play at key moments. Lara's character-movement animations are very smooth and there are clever subtleties; for example, she will glance at a dead enemy on the ground as you run past or, as she is hanging somewhere and you're moving her around, she will turn her head to look towards a ledge you can jump to.

The sound is fine, though not overly exciting, but Lara's self-indulgent exposition moments as she hits a new architectural wonder and hauls out her camera to document it get a bit irritating, especially as I struggled to understand what she was saying at times and eventually had to switch on the subtitles. The music, in places, is absolutely beautiful (Thailand being a notable example) but it has unfortunately been coded to play as snippets that don't loop, so you'll be in the middle of a level and it will suddenly just stop, only to start playing again later on as you trigger a music event. This is very disconcerting to experience and it makes it seem as if the music-playback system has a bug when in fact this was done on purpose.

Overall the game is good, but bland, and is therefore recommended more for fans of the genre or the Tomb Raider series. You won't be bored - there's a good mix of easy puzzles and complicated sequences that will mess with your head - but there's, unfortunately, no excitement factor.

The review copy of Tomb Raider: Underworld was supplied by Nu Metro Interactive in South Africa.


brainwavez.org Opinion
Overall Rating: 6/10 (not an average)
The game showcases some of the Wii's graphical abilities and the locations are varied and interesting (to look at). The storyline immerses itself comprehensively in Norse mythology but you can't really follow what's going on. Overall the game is good... but it could have been great.
Graphics: 8/10
The quality, especially of the environments, is very good for the Wii. Lara's character animations are smooth and a pleasure to look at.
Gameplay/Mechanics/Controls: 6/10
The controls take some getting used to and you'll still have moments of bugginess once you know what you're doing. The collision detection is a bit off - Lara will merge with walls or float in mid air. The Thailand Level Bug is an unacceptable issue. The Wii Remote-specific puzzles are disappointing.
Sound/Music: 6/10
There are a few soundtrack pieces that are magical but the fact that they don't loop is disconcerting. Lara's exposition monologues become irritating after the first few and I struggled to hear what she was saying. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about the sound effects.
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/10
Some levels are suitably large and time-consuming to complete. Once you're done you can go back to levels to collect any treasures you've missed. These, in turn, help to unlock extras such as concept artwork. Other than that, there's no real reason to replay the game. You certainly won't feel compelled to.
Originality: 5/10
Nothing much here that we haven't seen before.


Key Facts
Year: 2008
Genre: Action, adventure, platform, puzzle
Requirements: Nunchuk, 5 to 17 save blocks
Developer: Crystal Dynamics


On The Internet
Official Site: Tomb Raider: http://www.tombraider.com/
Wikipedia: Tomb Raider: Underworld (all platforms): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomb_Raider_Underworld


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