Tomb Raider Underworld: Beneath The Ashes/Lara’s Shadow
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Eidos - Xbox Live/PlayStation Store premium download
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1
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It seems a long time ago that it was muted that Tomb Raider would become available as an “episodic” adventure, and I’m not sure what ever happened to that idea but it never came about. I’d like to say here that going by these two extra missions for Underworld that’s probably just as well...

Firstly to Beneath the Ashes, a mission that sees Lara explore a new dungeon that she has inexplicably never previously discovered underneath the smoking ruins of Croft Manor – But really, is this possible? I mean, that girl is just so darned nosey, how would she have never found it before? This dungeon is vaguely reminiscent of classic Tomb Raider level The Cistern, and contains some typically Tomb Raideresque puzzles and more bats and thralls to fight. It also has some innovative use of Lara’s grapple in a couple of puzzles, which is nice to see. It’s quite a confined level that has a few head-scratching moments to it, but experienced raiders will be through Beneath the Ashes in a couple of hours – 3 to 4 max even if you’re going through it with a fine-toothed comb looking for the hidden relic and all of the secret gems.

Lara’s Shadow is a rather different kettle of fish. You play as Lara’s evil doppelganger that was summoned by Natla. Shadow can move like lightning, run faster, jump further and punch and kick like Chuck Norris in a bad mood. This means the Thralls that were such a pain to the human Lara now tend to come in gangs, but can easily be dealt with by the Shadow’s powerful blows. The Shadow has constantly recharging “shadow power” shown by a “shadow meter” (well duh) that allows her to perform super-powerful blows with RB or LB + X (punch) or Y (kick), and “shadow fire” her pistols for a short time. She can also scamper and scrabble her way up slippery rock veins that Lara couldn’t climb. Shadow power also basically means that the Shadow gets a kind of “bullet time”, and so can dodge past chopping blades, crushing blocks, deadly blue waterfalls and spouts of flame without a scratch. Lara’s Shadow isn’t going to win any prizes but the change in gameplay was a welcome thing, and finally being able to simply punch and kick the crap out of tough enemies instead of circle-jump-and-shoot around them until they’re dead in the traditional Tomb Raider way was quite cathartic.

I don’t think it’s actually technically possible but the clipping (where Lara disappears into the scenery) seems even worse on these two new adventures than it did during Underworld itself. Many a time the rough collision detection makes it look like she’s levitating above or sinking into surfaces, and simply hanging from a ledge her hands or arms will often disappear into a solid rock/stone/wood surface. I may sound fussy but it looks really shoddy and should have been sorted. Some of Lara’s reactions to slopes and invisible walls are clunky too, and sometimes she’ll stick to something unseen on the floor and refuse to turn – this sticky handling passes over even to when she’s hanging from her grapple rope or standing on a pole, it’s sometimes completely impossible to get her lined up precisely where you want her to point, and even if you do when you make the leap she’ll redirect herself to where she seemingly wants to go, often resulting in death. Silly cow.

But on the good side though, the two new areas look superb, the environment artists can give themselves a pat on the back as the textures once again are some of the best that I’ve seen, although in Lara’s Shadow you’ll be sick of the sight of the blue glowing gunge (or “Eitr” a mythical substance in Norse mythology that was said to be the origin of all living things). At 800 MS points each these two new missions seem hugely overpriced to me, 800 for the two would have seemed more realistic, and I can only recommend them to complete TR addicts.

Note: both new missions require the original TR: Underworld game to run.

Best Bits

- Looks great, apart from the clipping
- New doppelganger abilities are fun (for a while)
- Some good puzzles and massive mechanisms
Worst Bits

- Too much darned eitr
- Frame rate stutters and terrible clipping
- Too expensive at 800 points

by: Diddly

Copyright © Gamecell 2009