The new Tomb Raider: Underworld DLC came out today. Titled Beneath the Ashes, this new add-on level starts off with Lara Croft in her father's study, hidden underneath the burned wreckage of Croft manor. For those who haven't played Underworld yet, the story basically veers off towards Norse mythology elements, and Ashes has our heroine going deeper underground into a new secret area that was underneath the first secret area. Allegedly there's an artifact down there that can create and control the undead thralls that populated the latter stages of Underworld proper, and Lara's not one to leave vital artifacts unmolested, natch.
I watched a "developer's diary" video on Ashes a few weeks ago, and one of the folks putting it together spent some time saying that the Tomb Raider team really worked hard on the puzzles and were able to dig in and give it their best. I appreciate that they probably put a lot of effort into it, but frankly, I don't see it. Although it's shorter and more focused than any of the levels in the retail release, it still suffers from a heavy feeling of blah, not being very visually interesting and lacking any real personality. There were also a few spots where I was stuck—not because I couldn't figure out what to do, but because the areas still have a vaguely too-open feeling to them which was often complicated by Lara not jumping where I wanted her to. The two things combined led me to believe that I wasn't performing the correct action, resulting in some minor frustration and wasted effort.
I still call myself a Tomb Raider fan, but out of the three titles that Crystal Dynamics has had a hand in, I would rank Underworld dead last behind Anniversary and the stellar Legend. This DLC does nothing to change that, and continues the mediocrity that was present in its parent title. Additionally, this new level is overpriced at 800 points ($10) since most players will be able to get through it in less than two hours. Unless you’re an absolute Tomb Raider fanatic, I'd say that it's not worth the download.
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