Version tested: Xbox 360
How did you spend November 1998? I spent it having conversations like this.
"Try jumping to that pillar over there." "I've tried that, it's too far." "Are you sure? It definitely looks like she could make that." "I know. She can't. I've tried." "Oh. What about those rocks over on the left? Can't she climb up those?" "No." "But she climbed up that other bit before." "I know. I don't know. Hang on, what if... Yes, that's it... No... NO... YOU STUPID F****** BIG-TITTED B**** I HATE YOU I HATE YOU WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS I'M GLAD YOU'RE DEAD." "Oh dear. Can we put Baywatch on?"
How are you spending November 2008? I've spent it having conversations like that. (Except Baywatch has been replaced by Deal or No Deal and every other statement includes the word "bevelled", but more on that later.) Yes, it's time for a new Tomb Raider game. This one's prettier and shinier than ever, but it's still Tomb Raider. You can tell because of all the beautiful environments, clever puzzles, complex acrobatics and the moments you want to punch Lara Croft in the face until she's nothing more than a grotesque bloody stump atop a huge pair of tits.
With Tomb Raider: Underworld, Crystal Dynamics has kept its promise to deliver all the classic elements that made the original games so good. Unfortunately, it's also delivered all the rubbish elements. For starters, there's the plot, from which you can expect a load of blather about some rusty old historical tat and Lara's dead Mum.
The opening cut-scene ends with the set-up for a twist, which you'll guess if you've ever played more than two videogames, or seen a film. There is an African-American character whose main job is to say things like "Dayamn, this is creepy!" and "What was that thang?" Mythologies are thrown into the mix any-old how, with little consideration for historical or archaeological fact. So in Thailand you explore a Cambodian temple and climb a statue of a Hindu god, while on a quest to obtain a Norse artefact. Which will help you reach the final resting place of King Arthur.
Of course, Tomb Raider plots have always been about mythological gibberish, and for good reason. No one wants to see Lara embarking on an epic quest to find her car keys, or completing a difficult sequence of jumps, rope-swings, pole-slides and wall-climbs in order to reach the doorway to Argos. But I was hoping for a proper storyline, a narrative with real twists and an objective you actually want to achieve. What I got was a load of old bunkum and plot developments so tedious I'd forgotten them by the time the cut-scenes were finished.
At least you get to visit some exciting places. My favourite is Southern Mexico, where you explore realistic and spookily atmospheric jungle temples in the middle of a thunderstorm. On a motorbike. The bike is used in quite a few levels, and it handles nicely. As an added bonus you can use it to run over enemies and break its legs off, which is highly satisfying. There are also a couple of underwater levels. They've sorted out Lara's swimming, so no more 1998-style drownings because the stupid b**** can't turn around properly. But for the most part, it's business as usual; levels involve tramping through stone corridors, and doing an awful lot of jumping, ledge-grabbing, shimmying, sliding and swinging round poles.