Reader Niallalot saw me writing about "Tomb Raider: Underworld" in my last couple of Diary entries and wrote: "Now hold on just a minute - did Lara's latest really leave you so non-plussed? For shame."
Niallot, because you asked, here's how I felt about "Tomb Raider: Underworld," which I finished on Sunday:
Yes, it was my first "Tomb Raider." I didn't love it. The game had me cursing at my TV, even. Why? Since it was my first adventure with Lara Croft, it's hard for me to say if my problem was specific to "Underworld" or to the series.
I wanted to play Lara as an athlete. She animates like one in "Underworld." But I also hoped that her adventures would be as exciting as those of Indiana Jones. That's where Lara and I stumbled.
Doctor Jones got to run away from rolling boulders, exchange idols with bags of sand and figure out what it meant that "Only the penitent man will pass."
Ms. Croft, I've learned, gets to go to gorgeous caverns and sea floors where must shove three blocks so she can jump to two ridges, swing around six poles, clamber across a rock and dive through one closing door... so that she can find the first of four stones that will raise a staircase. That's not a specific puzzle -- hey, I'm sparing people a spoiler! -- but you get the idea.
I wanted more of an adventure. Instead, I got a lot of interlocked environmental puzzles.
A funny thing happened as I neared the end of "Underworld" while playing on the Xbox 360. I noticed that my buddy from Joystiq Ludwig Kietzmann was also finishing the game. He cleared it about 15 minutes before I did, so I set up a voice chat to vent. He thought I'd gone bonkers. He told me that swinging Lara through a beautiful, lonely section of exotic terrain is the essence of "Tomb Raider." Having to figure out which wall to leap to next and solving the puzzles of a temples blocks and ridges is the draw of these games. I told him I wanted either more exhilaration moving through the game world -- as I got from "Prince of Persia: Sands of Time" and "Mirror's Edge" -- or a more exciting set of puzzles to solve in a set location -- as I get from most "Zelda" dungeons.
What I didn't want from "Tomb Raider: Underworld," which I get too often from too many games I play, is a sense that executing a solution to a gameplay puzzle isn't as fun as figuring it out. That's the problem, for example, with block puzzles in 3D games, of which "Underworld" has a few: you figure out what you need to do at some moment before actually doing it. And those seconds or minutes between figuring it out and doing it are the least fun moments I can have as a gamer. Isn't there a more fun activity I can be doing than pushing a block? Too many moments of "Underworld" felt like that to me. They didn't feel like fun. They felt like work.
So maybe I'm just not a "Tomb Raider" guy. Or just not an "Underworld" guy.
Sorry, Ludwig. Sorry, Lara. Sorry, Alison.
Niallalot, sorry you asked?
Got something to ask me? If it's about games or the people who work on them or near them, I'll answer. What do you want to know?