|Min OS X: 10.6|
There are some pretty terrific environmental effects, too; the snowstorm on Jan Meyen Island, in particular, impressed me, and even the rain in various parts of the game is very convincing, and can be seen to spit and bounce off Lara's bike, for example. Fire, too: Croft Manor burns depressingly convincingly. But I'd like to reserve a special commendation for the game's depiction of water in general. Water is hard to do well, and even in otherwise graphically impressive games, it's often easy to spot repeated textures in large stretches of water (I recall seeing this problem in Anniversary). But in Underworld, water looks like water, no matter how far into the distance it stretches or how it's being disturbed by Lara or her boat. And when Lara is swimming in the ocean, things are convincingly cloudy, with appropriate bubbles in the right places. Underworld has the best depiction of water I've seen in a game so far.
I could go on, but suffice it to say that Underworld has some seriously good graphics, especially for a game that's four years old. Full marks (literally).
Any criticisms? Just one. For the most part, the graphics were as smooth as butter on my 2008-vintage Mac Pro with its standard-issue GeForce 8800 graphics card, running at the full 1920×1200 resolution of my 23" monitor with most available settings turned up to top quality (only triple-buffering was left off), so any more recent system should fare very well. The only problem I had was when Lara stomped on a thrall to kill it. In such circumstances, the explosion of fragments caused a very appreciable graphical slow-down every time, which was a pity. Certainly not a game-killer, but it marred the otherwise superb graphical performance. However, it wasn't enough to make me want to deduct a point from the graphics score; for the overall look of the game and the generally excellent performance, I feel that the rating of 10 is deserved.
Sound: In keeping
There's little to say about the sound and music other than that it's very much in keeping with the game itself and the rest of the series. Although not the same title music as in earlier games, it pays homage to the earlier game theme in character and melodic motif. Fragments play at appropriate times within the game; everything is orchestral and of suitably good quality; but ultimately the music isn't what I'd call memorable. For atmosphere music it's absolutely fine and serves its purpose perfectly. However, I can't help but feel that it's in some ways less effective and successful than the atmosphere music of earlier games in the series. On the other hand, maybe there was too much repetition in those; here, some of the music only ever plays once. So, no complaints here: just nothing especially memorable.
As for other sounds, I wonder if I'm the only person left who still misses the "Mm-hm!" utterance that Lara used to make when discovering a secret… She's become blasé in her advancing years, and now remains silent.
Conclusion: One of the best
I really, thoroughly enjoyed playing my way through Tomb Raider: Underworld. On top of the outstanding graphics and smooth performance, the game is simply enjoyable and relatively easy to play. There's enough challenge in it to provide lasting interest; some of the puzzles will require a fair amount of exploration and experimentation to solve, and some of the location-based challenges take several attempts to overcome. But at no time does the game seem to be asking too much of the player, or to be being unfair. So, for that it wins my hearty approval.
I do, however, question its value for money relative to its predecessor, Anniversary. Anniversary had tons of unlockable content, including cheat/modification modes and a time trial for each level. Underworld has only some concept artwork which, while interesting to look through once, is hardly exciting. And although you can revisit any level once you've completed the game in Treasure Hunt mode, to find any collectibles you may have missed, Anniversary's challenging time-trial mode is absent.
Also pretty disappointing is the knowledge that there's a couple of substantial bonus levels for this game that aren't included here. I refer to two special story-continuation levels, Beneath the Ashes and Lara's Shadow, that were made available exclusively to Xbox 360 players in early 2009. It seems that Microsoft approached Eidos for them, and thus presumably intends them to remain exclusive to the Xbox. So Mac users are not alone in being at a disadvantage: the extra chapters aren't available for the PC version of the game either, or for any other platform than the Xbox. Nevertheless, more than three years after these extra levels appeared, it does seem rather a shame that they couldn't have been incorporated into a special edition release. Mac users quite often get special-edition games with additional content, partly as compensation for having to wait so much longer than everyone else! It's a shame that couldn't have happened here, especially after such a lengthy delay.
Minor negatives aside, though, I'd like to finish with a positive: for me, this was the most enjoyable Tomb Raider game I can remember playing since Tomb Raider II, which remains the standard-setter in my mind. Maybe some players will consider it a bit on the easy side, and I can't argue with that, but it's a game of a good length with plenty of variety and lots to do, and it lacks the most frustrating and unfair aspects that have occasionally afflicted earlier games in the series (and particularly the at times excessively difficult Anniversary). And it has the best graphics to date, too.
So if you're feeling Lara-starved, then this is certainly one to get. I just wish that Feral would bring the missing Legend to the Mac (it would still stand up graphically to its two successors, I'm sure). Not to mention the forthcoming Tomb Raider game that's scheduled for next year… Let's hope we don't have to wait until 2017 to get that one!
• Stunning graphics, especially considering the game's age
• Huge levels with no in-level loading breaks
• Impressively short loading times
• Classic Tomb Raider content
• Fair, balanced content: challenging at times but never too difficult
• No stupidly difficult boss-battles
• Easy controls
• Saves limited to checkpoints (as in previous games)
• No windowed mode
• Lacklustre secrets and bonus content (just concept artwork)
• Uninspired combat (no different from previous instalments)
• Some players may consider the game too easy
• Irritating bike
• Bonus content from Xbox version not available here