Crystal Dynamics (studio)
12 September 2018 (released)
19 September 2018
The final chapter in Lara Croft’s origin story is finally here in what is the darkest chapter of the trilogy. From 2013’s reboot of the franchise, we’ve seen Lara grow from a fresh face, naïve, upper class single child to a hardened adventurer who’s ready to sacrifice her life in order to protect and discover. The previous two games were highly immersive and were the energetic kick-start the franchise needed since it died out back in 2008. So now we’ve come to the end of the origin and I ask if Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a fitting end and beginning for what is yet to come.
Lara’s journey to stop Trinity takes her to the heart of Mexico where she unintentionally sets in motion the apocalypse. From here she’s racing against the clock to stop Trinity and the end of the world as she knows it. In order to redeem her actions, our favourite explorer ventures to Peru where she discovers lost civilisations, ancient tombs and the resting places of historic figures who are were part of a grander scheme. So Lara does what she does best and raids to her heart’s content while learning that maybe, somethings should be left alone in a tomb.
What this final chapter brings us is what we’ve seen a million times before; bad guys after a powerful artefact, main hero learning vital life lessons and being sent to exotic locations to band with the natives. This is my main problem with Shadow of the Tomb Raider as it’s just repeating plot elements and a narrative we’ve seen done to death. Jill Murray has taken charge over writing and it shows massively as everything from villains and the supporting cast become hollow shells of what they could be.
The leading villain is seen a couple of times throughout the long campaign and overall lacks any depth or personality. I gather what his intentions are but I never took interest in his motivation nor did I have any empathy for him.
The villains in the previous two games at least had understandable motivations, a threatening presence and appeared more often than any of the two villains here. Being a leader of a cult who’s stranded on an island and wants to return home by resurrecting a Japanese Sun God is far more understandable and makes him much more fearful in his actions. Or having a fanatic religious commander who believes he’s doing God’s work and suffers from stigmata is far more interesting and menacing than what we get in Shadow.
While I’m not the biggest Rhianna Pratchett fan I will say she at least gave the characters a sense of purpose and actual personality.
One of the more conflicting elements to the narrative is Lara herself who again is voiced perfectly by Camilla Luddington. Lara actually has more depth this time round as she battles many personal demons while the story tackles themes of obsession and family. Lara could’ve been a headstrong, ego maniac yet is grounded, likeable and we can identify with her in her struggles. She might rub you the wrong way in some parts of the story and even may get you to hate her, but overall has that stride of doing what’s right.
Now it’s time for gameplay!
The rebooted franchise has done an amazing job at bringing Lara Croft into a modern era of gaming, with high octane set pieces, brutal action and a beautiful mix of lateral and exploration elements. The Tomb Raider reboot has been utterly enthralling and the best in the series since Revelations. Shadow of the Tomb Raider continues the award winning formula with highly refined action, epic set pieces and blending together survival elements that make Lara feel like as though she is a true survivor. Even better now is how much she has become an utter bad arse hunter!
Stealth has had some more refinements as Lara can now hide along walls, cover herself in mud and use more gear to set traps and lure enemies with. Each area is set up beautifully, with different routes to take and a number of tactical advantages to discover. Trees play a bigger role as Lara can execute enemies from great heights and string them up to freak out nearby enemies. There’s a greater density of cover as that Lara can move great distances without fear of being seen. However enemies are relentless if they spot Lara but it’s never game over if this happens.
There’s some cool new additions such as the Fear Arrows which will turn enemies into crazed maniacs for a short period of time. This turns their direction of attack towards their own comrades and it’s pretty entertaining to watch as this happens. Grenades, Molotov’s and proximity mines still work a treat and their just as effective here than they’ve ever been.
My chief complaint here is that certain skills felt a little underused. Such as the tree hanging technique which is only given opportunity a handful of times. It’s a shame there weren’t more encounters that allowed this to be used as it was a cool manoeuvre and something very useful.
But then there are underwater stealth segments … yep, it’s as boring and tedious as it sounds. But thankfully there’s only a couple within the whole game and they’re not too difficult.
There are some great exploration aspects to gameplay as the world is amazingly beautiful and highly detailed. The jungles of Peru are thriving with organic detail and the world holds an abundance of side quests and hidden locations to discover, rewarding you with more loot. The world is double the size of Rise of the Tomb Raider and there are plenty of secrets to find once you obtain the right gear.
Platforming is enjoyable as you get to traverse an immense amount of locations in Shadow. Lara will be climbing natural formations, giant statues and even giant chambers where human bodies are discarded. Nice! While her jumping still feels a little floaty, there are never any real issues with the design of these sections. They combine different methods of climbing, hold some lateral elements and a nice degree of threat. Unlike Uncharted 4 which made platforming pretty boring.
One of the biggest strengths to Lara’s rebooted adventures is the action and combat. Crystal Dynamics does not hold back when getting Lara to go toe to toe with ravenous cannibals or highly trained mercenaries. Gun fights can be extremely intense and the range of weaponry, environmental interactions and tactical manoeuvres you can engage with make each encounter highly gripping.
I will say that the first 40% of the campaign is a little slow in terms of combat and set pieces. Compared to the first two games, there is a lack of set pieces in the first 40% of the game and encounters with enemies are more stealth focused. It can feel like a long time before any real action happens if you’re doing all the optional quests and earning extra XP.
The game does pick up immensely when you encounter a new and savage enemy type within the underground caves and ruins. The biggest highlight for the game is oil refinery segment, which is simply amazing to even watch, let alone play it. There could’ve been more action focused set pieces throughout the campaign but what we get is pretty damn good none the less.
Overall Shadow of the Tomb Raider is another fine entry to the franchise and thankfully holds up well with the previous two games. Despite the weak narrative, annoying issues with the enemy AI and underwater stealth sections, I was captivated from start to finish. Lara’s rebooted journey has filled me with hope for the future and while, this journey has had some bumps in the road, it’s still awesome and stands as one of the best adventure games this year.
++ Awesome and epic action
++ Beautiful game world
+ Lots of excellent optional quests and rewards
-- Generic characters and bland narrative
- Some cool skills feel under used
- Underwater stealth sections
A PS4 review copy of Shadow of the Tomb Raider was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.