Developer: Eidos Monréal
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Released: September 11, 2018
Copy supplied by publisher
Lara Croft has been through several re-brands over the past few decades, but we’ve now reached the final chapter in the adventurous heroine’s most recent iteration, Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The 2013 launch of Tomb Raider painted a picture of a young and inexperienced archaeologist faced with adversity on the Japanese island of Yamatai. Lara next traveled to Siberia for 2015’s fantastic follow-up Rise of the Tomb Raider and transformed into a seasoned adventurer who wasn’t afraid to defend herself. The previous titles have set the stage for a character arc that sees Lara become a hardened killer who isn’t afraid to make the transition from the hunted to the hunter in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Eidos Montreal takes over the reigns as the lead developer this time around, with Crystal Dynamics stepping back into a support role. While Crystal Dynamics was responsible for the past two games in the series, Eidos Montréal has extensive experience with action adventure games with their work on the Deus Ex and Thief franchises. The developer was faced with the tall task of bridging the persona of Lara Croft the adventurer with Lara Croft the hardened survivor and completing this complex character arc. As the final act in the Trinity trilogy, Shadow of the Tomb Raider succeeds in providing an experience that fans of the franchise will enjoy, but it doesn’t quite live up to the hype generated by its predecessor.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider picks up two months after the events of Rise of the Tomb Raider and follows our protagonist as she travels to Mexico and South America in search of the lost city of Paititi. Lara inadvertently triggers the Mayan apocalypse and as she springs into action, she’s faced with the weight of knowing that her mistake was at the expense of thousands of lives. The story is more concise and character focused this time around, and it’s clear that an attempt was made to make players care more about Lara’s journey. While it mostly succeeds, the game tends to take itself a little too seriously at times, with emotional moments often falling flat. It’s almost as if the previous game, which often characterized Lara as emotionally distant, diluted any attempt at portraying compassion this time around.
The main plot revolves around an ancient cult who rule over the hidden city and hope to expand their empire; it’s interesting but doesn’t exactly push the envelope. The generic armed mercenary organization Trinity makes a predictable return, interfering with and often thwarting Lara’s attempts to save the planet from the disastrous fate she’s set in motion. There are a few sequences that interject some rich character development, including a playable flashback section that sheds light on the nature of Lara’s inquisitiveness and her relationship with her parents. There are also some great interactions between Lara and her trusted companion Jonah that provide some interesting fodder to break up the combat, exploration, and puzzle-solving gameplay sections.
Shadow’s lush environments provide plenty to do besides following its main story path, including tracking down treasure with the aid of clues written on monoliths, discovering hidden tombs, hunting exotic jungle creatures, and solving mysteries within the many settlements. For the most part, these side missions are great fun, especially the hidden tombs, but the rewards are mostly pointless. Salvaged outfits for Lara offer meaningless bonuses, crafting materials are so plentiful that they are not an exciting reward, and new skills or weapons are seldom used. It’s disappointing that so much of this optional content and upgrade system is incorporated so poorly.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is one of the most polarizing games I’ve ever played when it comes to gameplay. There are moments where it’s great and moments where it can be painfully frustrating. The game’s combat systems are a perfect example. The stealth mechanics are masterfully executed, with a wide variety of ways to approach each situation. However, once you are discovered, the gameplay turns into a complete mess that often led to me dying on purpose in order to reattempt the assault. The close-quarters combat is the easily the weakest part of the gameplay experience and is a step back from what was implemented in previous games.
By contrast, Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s exploration and platforming elements are well-executed and Lara has an assortment of abilities and equipment to aid her through every situation. However, there were several times where I wasn’t sure where to go or what to do next; not because I couldn’t figure it out, but rather a case of something not being clearly marked. I spent a half hour swimming around a pillar that I knew I had to dislodge and finally realized that I hadn’t been in the proper position for a quick time event to initialize. Speaking of swimming, the underwater sections of the game are a welcome addition and make for some interesting exploration and puzzle elements. The suspense of swimming through an underwater cavern and managing Lara’s oxygen while she avoids a school of flesh-eating piranhas is both fun and tense. However, when it comes to the game’s puzzles, I was a little disappointed. I have come to expect near perfection from this franchise in this area, but there were many instances where the route to the tomb was more exciting than completing the puzzle within it.
On the audio and visual side of things, Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks great, with some aspects standing out more than others. The game features several gorgeous locations that are beautifully rendered, with some impressive lighting and particle effects. Environments are full of exotic plants and wildlife, creating an authentic atmosphere that fits the game’s narrative. For the most part, the characters look great too, with the exception, ironically, of Lara Croft herself. There’s just something about Lara’s character model that looks a little “last gen”, for lack of a better term. It was something that I couldn’t help but notice and I found it strange considering how well the rest of the cast looks. That being said, the superb voice acting and character animations made for times where I felt like I was watching a film instead of playing a video game.
Despite its faults, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is still one of the best games in the series to date. Eidos Montreal has done a fine job in crafting the final chapter of this Lara Croft saga. Longtime fans of the series will appreciate the exploration through exotic locations and the welcome return of underwater sequences. The puzzles are fun but I never felt that sense of satisfaction upon completing a cleverly designed and challenging brain teaser. While the story doesn’t take many chances, I enjoyed the historical events that were intertwined with the main story and the cult leader villain serves as an adequate antagonist. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a great game that will, unfortunately, be overshadowed by its predecessor. Still, just because Rise of the Tomb Raider is a far superior game it shouldn’t dissuade you from playing this worthy sequel.