Sunday, November 9, 2008


So I played the Tomb Raider Underworld demo and found myself begging for mercy. Tomb Raider is exactly the type of game that I love: acrobatic world-exploration with fighting interspersed. But the core of the game is movement around luscious environments with a plethora of movement puzzles that force Lara Croft to pull off awesome looking stunts. And when the events work right, then the game is really cool. Hanging on ledges, leaping to rock outcroppings, doing random backflips, awesome stuff. All of these things are set up in a fashion so that each puzzle is a twisting rail that you've got to navigate to create a beautiful balance beam routine.

However, between each routine the game hates on your movement. There are so many context-sensitive dynamic events that the computer doesn't realize when you're just trying to run around or enter one of these things, when you're near something. I have never experienced before a AAA-game where I pressed a few different direction keys and nothing happened. I don't know if I want to see my character run in place, but not even having that image of the game being confused, it threw me. When I press the forward key, something should happen! The game is a lot of fun when it works, but be cautious about approaching anything while running on level ground. You will be stopped and Lara will attempt to do something and often fail.

In addition, I found the camera far too sensitive. I would set it up how I liked, but moving only slightly would shift camera position dramatically. This is especially an issue in tight spaces, where you might suddenly get a wonderful close-up on Lara that is appreciated for the few seconds before you attempt any movement, and then the camera freaks out. Also, I actually found myself sometimes falling to my death because I would approach a ledge while the camera stayed too low for me to know that I was about to plunge very far down.

All of this is too bad, because the game has a lot of potential. It feels very fluid at times, and animations interacting with the world are very enjoyable, especially the often easy ability to pull off incredible stunts. Perhaps the final game will correct these camera issues and movement sensitivity, but I'm not holding out immense hope for these things to be corrected to the point that I'd buy the game...

We'll see, Lara, we'll see.

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