This week Zero Punctuation gives the old girl another chance and reviews Tomb Raider: Underworld.
And so once again we slip into the D-cups of Lara Croft, world’s worst archaeologist. When she’s not putting her foot through inestimably valuable samples of ancient pottery, she’s stealing every slightly shiny thing that was ever buried with some royal dead guy and hoarding them in her basement. And yet the academic world continue to let her run amok, probably because a) academics are basically the alpha males of the nerd pack, and b) Lara Croft is built like a giant bong with two footballs nailed to it. That’s also a reasonable explanation for why this series is still going, because any cover art that shows off a decent enough pair of perky nips directly penetrates the primitive part of the male brain, and awkward nerds have to find a powerful instinct to club the game with a jawbone and drag it into a cave by its hair. Not that men ever seem to do very well around Lara Croft. They usually end up either dead or carrying her shopping. But if she did choose to settle down, I’ve got a perfect candidate for a husband - Jason Voorhees. They’ve got so much in common: they’ve both had an embarrassing number of adventures that all follow an extremely specific formula, they both have an irresistible compulsion to murder God’s creatures, they’ve both spent a lot of time underground, and most importantly, neither of them will ever just fucking die!
Tomb Raider: Underworld’s story goes as follows: Lara’s looking for her mum, who is dead. Only she isn’t really, she’s just stuck in the afterlife. So maybe she is dead, I dunno. And there’s this evil lady who blows up Lara’s house because...er...I guess she really doesn’t want Lara to find her mum. The story follows on from Tomb Raider: Legend, which I haven’t played, so I spent the whole game trying to figure out what was going on and who I was supposed to care about. The answer to that last question I eventually discovered, absolutely bloody no one. Especially not myself. In fact, towards the end I was considering slitting my own throat with the game box just because pressing the off button would have taken slightly longer.
The more games that pass, the more clear it becomes to me that Lara Croft is a completely unlikeable character. Part of it is her face: they’ve made an effort to keep her general appearance consistent with the days when she was depicted in '90s rendering (by today’s standards the computer graphics equivalent of Fuzzy Felt), and now, alongside more realistic characters, her face looks like a dinner plate with some paper cut-outs arranged on it. But the main reason why it’s hard to sympathise with her is because she’s...well...evil. Most of her villains are really just trying to steal the treasures before she can, and many of them are clearly significantly less wealthy than her. In Tomb Raider: Anniversary there were several amusing moments when she was forced to kill human boss characters, and after every single one, she’d always look at her hands in an insane, grief-stricken, “What kind of monster have I become?”, kind of way. But really, she’s fooling no one. She’s off her fucking rocker. This isn’t even mentioning her whole animal problem. At the beginning of Trunderworld, Lara has a boss fight with a giant Kraken. But the term, “boss fight”, may be a little generous. The bloody thing doesn’t move! He’s just chilling out in his front room. You could swim right up to his face and shake your ass and he won’t even try to eat you. He just wants you to fucking leave before all the other oceanic horrors arrive for his housewarming party. So of course, Lara drops a fucking spiky chandelier on his head and lets him die in agony. This is not appropriate conflict resolution!
Normally I’d spend some time explaining the gameplay, but why should I have to do that at this point? There have been nine of these fucking games, you already fucking know how it plays. Innovation is to this series what cheeseburgers are to a lactose-intolerant Hindu. You fling yourself around ancient cities where a whole bunch of sophisticated ancient mechanisms still perfectly function even while most of the ceilings have collapsed. And you die a lot, because your camera is being operated by an eight-year-old autistic child hooked up to an IV full of sherbet, and Lara is extremely snobby about what ledge-like objects she will and won’t dangle from. Controls are still a bitch. I would have thought that pressing forward and jump while under a ledge would communicate that I want to jump onto the ledge, but apparently I’m not speaking the right language, because this game assumes I want to breathlessly hump the wall like an extremely flat stripper’s pole.
Oh, Trunderworld isn’t completely without innovation. There’s a rather heavy emphasis on deep sea swimming this time around that comes with an intriguing new wetsuit costume cut so finely around Lara’s buttocks, you can practically see the fabric disappear up her rectum every time she bends over. There’s also a new texture effect wherein Lara gets dirty as she runs around, and if you look at the box art and can tear your gaze away from Lara’s proudly-displayed Bristols, you’ll notice that the dirtiness thing is prominently featured, and you know a series is stagnating when that’s the best they can come up with as a selling point (besides the aforesaid torso-fritters). And the dirtiness thing combined with the wetsuit thing keeps giving me the troubling feeling that Lara’s bum needs wiping.
But don’t let the top-of-the-range buttock physics distract you from what Tomb Raider: Underworld is: it’s the same thing every Tomb Raider sequel has been, another lazy stamping out of the same levels with different wallpaper and minor graphical and gameplay upgrades. Tomb Raider: Underworld is a particularly bone-idle example. The play time is shorter than a documentary on French war heroes, all the puzzles are artificially-lengthened by having you do them all twice to open both sides of a door, and the same enemies are recycled from locale to locale. You find jungle tarantulas in a jungle, then fight the exact same tarantulas in the English countryside, they all having presumably come over on a package tour.
It would be nice if people could prove me wrong for once and not buy a game just because there’s a set of big wobbly udders on the front, but then, I have no faith in the human race, at least not while Michael Atkinson is still alive.
- Anything more than a handful's a waste: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Lara Croft's boobs are so big, right, that whenever she gives someone a titwank they have to be recovered with spelunking equipment
- I might even update this site at some point