Tomb Raider Underworld Review

Tomb Raider Underworld can be an enjoyable adventure, but it’s marred by bugs, camera issues, and ill-conceived Wii extras.

The Wii version of Tomb Raider Underworld is a success, at least in how well it apes its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 counterparts. There are small differences to the control system, tweaks to the level design, and some Wii-specific puzzles, but this is a very similar adventure to those on other consoles. There is a downside, however--the exclusive puzzles are incredibly simple, and the bugs and camera issues are even worse on Nintendo's console. The combat is also fiddly, and the motion-sensitive controls feel shoehorned in to areas where they don't really fit. There's some enjoyable adventuring to be had in Tomb Raider Underworld, but you have to look past many flaws to find it.

Lara's Wii expedition offers all the same locations and challenges as the other versions.
Lara's Wii expedition offers all the same locations and challenges as the other versions.

As the "Underworld" suffix suggests, this Tomb Raider covers darker territory than its predecessors. It's the same sort of adventure that we've come to expect, but it teeters into new territory with death, resurrection, and even Norse mythology in its story. Things start out badly for Lara; the prologue finds her racing to escape her lofty mansion as it burns to the ground. Cut back two weeks, and we find her trying to take care of some of her father's unfinished business, something that leads her to discover more about her mother, characters from previous games, and the mythical Hammer of Thor. It's badly written, poorly voiced, and instantly forgettable, but the cutscenes are mercifully short, leaving you to get down to the serious business of raiding tombs.

The Wii version of the game takes advantage of the console's motion-sensitive controller. You can waggle the Nunchuk to make Lara shimmy faster across beams, and the infrared sensor is used to aim wherever you want to shoot. Neither of these really adds anything to the experience, and trying to aim with the remote while guiding Lara around small ledges can often be frustrating. The puzzles have also been given a Wii Remote makeover, and Lara has tools such as pliers, chisels, and an air canister with which to solve certain puzzles. While this might sound great, the puzzles are insultingly simple, and motion controls such as pulling down on switches feel shoehorned in for the sake of it.

Tomb Raider Underworld is constructed almost identically to its predecessors, with exploration in exotic locations punctuated by occasional combat and vehicle sections. The interaction between Lara and the environments has long been the draw of the series, and performing daring jumps to scale seemingly impossible heights is as satisfying as ever. Lara's even learned a few new moves in the year since Anniversary: she can now free-climb, balance along thin beams, and abseil using her rappel line. Crucially, none of these moves complicates Lara's basic movement, and while you have to adjust your eyes to the many new visual cues showing you where to go, they all add new levels to the simple pleasure of adventuring.

While these new abilities expand Lara's already impressive acrobatic skills, many gameplay issues continue to annoy. The world is incredibly rigid, with strict rules on which platforms, objects, and edges can be interacted with and which can't. The places where Lara can go are well marked out--they feature nice, right-angled edges and are usually lighter than the surrounding material to signify your route through. This makes it easier to figure out the correct way to go, but at the same time it means there's little room for improvisation, and the genre has moved beyond such linear progression. Even worse, Lara will frequently clip into a piece of the scenery and then refuse to come out until you stop, turn around, and run out of it again. This is especially bad on the Wii, and Lara will frequently do strange things like pick up a boulder as it appears suspended in midair next to her. Moreover, the camera is particularly unruly, often obscuring the action or getting stuck along a wall, which can make even simple exploration frustrating.

The Wii-specific puzzles use the motion-sensitive controllers to guide Lara's hands.
The Wii-specific puzzles use the motion-sensitive controllers to guide Lara's hands.

There's an impressive mix of locales in Underworld, and the environments boast greater scale than ever before. Some sections are less grand on the Wii than on the Xbox 360 and PS3, but the lack of running back and forth is definitely to the game's benefit. The puzzles in the Wii version are broadly the same as in other versions, but the items you need to collect are less widely dispersed here. It helps that this version also has a SitCam, which can help point out key locations and items, as well as a field assistant that offers tips on your general objective.

Combat plays a relatively small part in the game, which is fortunate because Tomb Raider is best when you're exploring and solving puzzles. You'll fight against both real and mythological beasts, but the combat is clunky and simple thanks to the lack of a cover system. Enemies stand there while you fire at them, with little interest in fleeing for safety. The aiming system uses the Wii Remote's infrared sensor, but aiming at someone while also trying to steer the camera and escape danger can be complicated. At least Lara's health regenerates automatically in the Wii version, so you don't have to worry about finding and using health kits.

Tomb Raider Underworld offers an enjoyable adventure, but it's ultimately an unremarkable entry in the series. On a technical level, the Wii version is an impressive facsimile of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, but the Wii-specific elements are weak and there are more bugs and camera issues to contend with. If you really like the Tomb Raider games and want to experience more of the same, it's worth checking out. Ultimately, though, this is a buggy and rather lazy port of Lara's latest adventure.

The Good

  • Great mix of outdoor, underground, and underwater locations
  • Lara's new moves add to the sense of adventure
  • Some excellent level design

The Bad

  • Plenty of clipping and camera issues
  • Forgettable story and cliched dialogue
  • Lack of refinement to the core gameplay
  • Simplistic Wii Remote puzzles
  • Wii-specific controls detract from the adventuring

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