I’m about halfway through Tomb Raider: Underworld. I’d never played a TR game before. It’s a lot of fun so far, and quite pretty:
It owes a lot to Indiana Jones, but so far as I’m concerned it’s an improvement to replace Indiana with a hot British chick. I’m finally glad I played Prince of Persia, because I immediately remembered how to climb bits of broken columns and leap from one to another. Fortunately it’s not twitchy like POP; you can take your time with the puzzles, and often there are multiple solutions. Lara is awfully athletic, and it’s fun moving her around these huge maps, kind of like Mirror’s Edge without the speed.
The title is perhaps unwittingly accurate: Lara certainly doesn’t act like an archeologist. She breaks vases, grabs treasures without bothering to record location or any other information, and breaks at least one enormous statue or mechanism per ruins. Of course these are all endless temples lost for centuries but requiring no clearing or digging, the ancient mechanisms all still working. And the underlying story doesn’t bear much deep thought: Norse ruins off the coast of Thailand? It doesn’t really matter; cheesiness doesn’t really hurt a game, since the important thing is the gameplay. And in the first chapters at least, the game concentrates on what it does best: exploring beautiful temples, solving puzzles, and occasionally, for a break, shooting enemies. (This part is so unserious that there’s no actual aiming: hitting the fire button automatically hits the nearest enemy. Still, it allows you to do some new fun things like vaulting over enemies.)
As a character, Lara is a little too smug to entirely empathize with. Her reaction when ambushed by mercs is to ask if she can bribe them. And no real reason is given for why she’s pursuing this tomb raiding hobby, though perhaps that was covered in one of the many earlier games. (So I guess it’s about as amoral as Borderlands, but doesn’t know it.)
If you’ve never played either but have heard about it, you may wonder if the game has any of that vaunted fanservice.