Tomb Raider for the PS2 is going and going, and "poof"...
There's no denying that Underworld is still Tomb Raider to its core, thank the developers for that. But it's only there to make you want to play the next-gen console version of the game. Don't get me wrong, I loved the game's puzzles and the new gameplay features that are introduced, but those features are extremely few, and noticeably, some of Lara's talents from previous sequels are rudely removed. I'd hate to say it but it feels as though she just had a major accident that left her forget most of her great moves that defined her as one of gaming's most versatile and powerful women.
Here's the nitty-gritty: The story focuses on a surprisingly linear plot (at least for the PS2 version): Find Lara's mom who's supposed to be trapped in one of the otherwise wonderful yet treacherous locales featured in the game, from an underwater fortress below the Mediterranean Sea, to virgin forests in Mexico. Along the way, you encounter twists that 'push' the story to newer ground. The problem is, these twists are so cheap and poorly written that you'd actually miss the point to care about them at all. Almost all of these twists are (spoiler alert!) recurring characters from previous games who you thought would be rotting in some ruin by now, and they are the ones who immediately steal the story.
However, the mythological part of the game's tale is interesting. Now, Lara tackles the topic on Norse gods, particularly Thor and his gauntlet, belt and trusty hammer, Mjolnir. Lara thinks that finding the Norse god's weapons would help her find her mother. This part of the story is what brings a curiosity about these stories from the different cultures of the world, and it's certainly one of the reasons why Tomb Raider became one of the most phenomenal games of all time. It's too bad there's too much mythology, rather than history. The historical aspect of mythology is arguably a more powerful aspect to a game, which is beautifully exampled by another historically inclined action-adventure game, Uncharted. In Underworld, the Norse plot point is too clichéd and is over-the-top.
The gameplay however is still bare-bones Tomb Raider, with platforming and puzzle-solving abound. Lara still moves well in this game but the PS2 version lacks fluidity in her actions. Controlling her feels a little stiff, although she still moves like a goddess (an under-appreciated goddess of the PS2, that is). A noticeable addition to her actions is the climbing ability. She can now move on cracks on the walls without constantly hopping on said walls. There are sections, however, where after climbing, you can't move Lara at all. You'd have to really shake the left analog stick a few times to regain control of Lara. The camera during climbing is also frustrating. Most of the time, you can't see where you're going when on a wall, and the camera is too shy to give you a 360 degree perspective of what you're traversing on. Sometimes, when solving a puzzle, the camera would pan too close to you, making you feel nauseated (this should not happen, because it should feel like you're hugging Lara or something); other times, it's so far away, you could only distinguish Lara as a minute moving figure in the distance. You're also robbed of another one of Lara's great move-sets: the wall run, which is not only fun, but also puts a frantic pace and variety to this game.
Camera problems aside, the set-pieces are still a wonder to behold, even on the PS2. The visuals are somewhat good, but I, for one, would definitely root for Tomb Raider: Legend in the graphics department. The loading corridors are still there, but sometimes, you'd come across empty canvases where you'd fear the game would crash, especially on the motorcycle levels. Not to worry, though, the data would eventually catch up and reveal the setpiece. Yes, there's a motorcycle section here, and it's a surprisingly fun experience. Too bad exploring on the motorcycle is too claustrophobic; the locations are too cramped. On or off the motorcycle, you'd experience a cool array of locales that complement Lara's drive for adventure, and brings a sense of mystery that would drive you as a player to explore them. There are few types of enemies featured in the PS2 version and they all feel like they're hastily placed on the map. Neither the tigers, nor the panthers, nor the mercenaries, nor the mythological creatures that you face throughout the game are significant threats to your quest. They're just a few seconds worth of diversion, and they don't feel like they're supposed to hurt you or something.
Like all the other Tomb Raider games, you still have the option to find treasures. In previous games, though, it always feels like an achievement to do so; in this game, finding treasures never feels like a challenge as you'd almost always see those supposed 'hidden' treasures within plain sight. Furthermore, the 'treasures' themselves look more like huge chunks of cheese, rather than actual artifacts from ancient times. It's another reason to feel frustrated about how hastily this version of the game was done.
The next-gen has finally overshadowed the PS2's reign. This old machine still can bring lots of fun, but developers really are moving forward. Tomb Raider: Underworld for the PS2 is still a fun yarn, but it's very incomplete; too incomplete, in fact, that it's extremely short. Expect to finish this game in under 5 hours. Replaying it would feel insignificant, even if you know you haven't acquired all the treasures (those damned cheese things).And did I ever mention that playing this game would only make you want to play the next-gen version of it? Oh, well.
Although it's not a great game, PS2 Underworld is still a fun way to spend 4-5 hours of your time, if you only have PS2 as a console.