Sometimes, I worry about Lara Croft. Sure, the bloody vendetta against endangered animals and that egregious contempt for ancient pots were both neon-lit warning signs, but the writing on the walls has never been so clearly etched as on those found in her latest raid-worthy tomb. It's not the fact that she's willing to clamber, crawl and cartwheel through the decrepit crypt, her collapsed mansion as its gravestone, that makes me fret about her mental health. It's that she's willing to do it all in a camo bikini.
Unsurprisingly, the gaudy garment, no doubt picked up at a tacky souvenir shop on Normandy Beach, represents the more adolescent additions offered by Tomb Raider Underworld's first DLC episode, Beneath the Ashes. The rest of it -- a large, unexplored environment, a new enemy and some fresh puzzles -- should appeal to those who see beyond Lara's figure and appreciate a game of clockwork exploration and platforming.
Do you remember that puzzle in Underworld's Southern Mexico level, the one where you had to use your taut grappling line to push a block off a pillar? Calling it a puzzle might be a bit of a stretch, but it stood out to me as one of the most logical maneuvers in the entire game. We spend so much time suspending our belief that it comes as a bit of a shock when a video game tasks us to do something that would totally work in real life. Beneath the Ashes expands on that very puzzle, with Lara's grappling hook put to good use in securing several such surprisingly sensible solutions.
The new crypt-beneath-crib locale may not be as fantastic as those visited in the original game, but it preserves the lonely atmosphere and exciting verticality that the series has always excelled at. In the category of things not excelled at: the combat. It's not as wretched as most have deemed it (flying kicks and grenades!), but the frequency of enemy encounters here feels a tad too high in a game where fighting already ... unnecessarily ... punctuates ... the ... flow ... of ... things.
Still, Beneath the Ashes is a solid addition to the game's core qualities, with production value to match. This is probably going to take you about an hour and a half to complete, possibly an hour longer if you hunt down all the treasures and the hidden relic. That's definitely a bit on the short side for $10, but time isn't the only measure of a good piece of Tomb Raider content. How much is the thrill of reawakening an abandoned world worth to you? And how much if you're doing it in a bikini?