Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a good game and I think you’ll have a great time playing it. I want to say this from the off before I get down to the nitty-gritty. Also, full disclosure – I have only finished the main story campaign and still have a ton of side missions and challenge tombs to complete. Second piece of full disclosure – I’m a hardcore Lara Croft fan, so I have probably have some bias, but I shall endeavour to steer away from it wherever possible.
Actually, being a fan probably added to my enjoyment of this game. I’m not sure how easy it would be for a newcomer to the series to pick up Shadow and understand everything that’s going on. It picks up plot points from the previous two games, and this third outing does little to ‘ease in’ the uninformed. That being said, the overall narrative of Shadow of the Tomb Raider is fairly linear and lightweight, so I don’t think many raiders will be dizzyingly confused. It’s your standard ‘save the world’ number against an evil organisation that wants a McGuffin for nefarious purposes, and it’s Lara’s job to stop them and thus avert a Maya apocalypse.
Carved into this is Lara’s own character arc that began in the 2013 reboot, from traumatised young woman to unwilling hero to merciless killing machine, tempered with a dash of wonder and philanthropy. The story finishes in a manner that confirms that Lara Croft has completed this journey, and it’s generally satisfying to experience, although I would have liked the process to have been a little deeper and perhaps more defined. However, this is arguably hard for the developers to achieve because, from my point of view, it felt like Lara became ‘the Tomb Raider’ at the end of the 2013 game…
Story quibbles aside, you’ll have a great time playing Shadow. Eidos Montréal has crafted a living, breathing world that is not only dazzlingly beautiful but is also incredibly seductive and immersive. Even the death-trap tombs with their spinning spike cogs – seemingly powered by the fires of Hell – are gorgeous to look at. Moreover, for this outing the developers have put a greater emphasis on exploration and puzzle-solving as opposed to combat, and I certainly think they’ve struck the perfect balance in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. There’s immense pleasure to be had just from wandering through the lush vegetation or abseiling into black pits to see what lies at the bottom, and if you ever tire of such endeavours, there are a plethora of side missions to undertake in some impressively-sized hub areas, which are bustling with interesting characters to interact with.
As such, contrary to what I speculated about in a previous article, I think Shadow of the Tomb Raider could be the prettiest game I’ve ever played. I was truly bowled over.
Conversely, I was also taken aback by some of the title’s clunkier elements. A couple of times I had the game’s title screen freeze on me, which was unfortunate, and some of the controls felt a bit less responsive, particularly when it came to switching weapons in the middle of intense combat. Having just replayed the game’s predecessor Rise of the Tomb Raider, there was a perceptible difference, and it cost me my life on a couple of occasions.
I also died when I tried to be stealthy. Admittedly this could just be down to my complete ineptitude as a stealth man (I’m a go-in-all-guns-blazing kind of player) but Shadow did treat me unfairly on a couple of occasions. For example, enemies are silhouetted in yellow when it’s safe for you to dispose of them without detection. However on a number of occasions they became visible to far-off baddies whilst I was in the middle of taking them down, and I was like “oh come on!” This was doubly annoying when I was weaponless in baddie-infested sections that required me to use stealth – and stealth alone – before I could progress. As such, when I died I was required to replay the entire section again, and again, and again – and that wasn’t fun. Even when I decided to just say “sod it” and charge through, the game forbade me from doing so; on one occasion it refused to let Lara pass through an open door!
On the whole, though, combat is fun and satisfying and you’re generally given great freedom in how you approach the game’s fire-fights. You can use stealth if you prefer, or you can blow people up with improvised grenades. Then there are ‘fear arrows’ which you can craft, and these cause the victims to go insane and cut down their comrades in a blind rage. The mechanics are pretty tight and there are few barriers to prevent you from playing in the manner of your choosing. The only downside is close combat, which the game doesn’t cater to very well. This is disappointing as there are a few occasions when the baddies use melee attacks as their M.O. and you don’t have many options left open to you.
Still, there is at least the option of upgrading your mettle (or indeed your other skills and weapons) at regularly-available base camps, which also act as teleports if you fancy journeying back to other areas of the map. You can also gather a very large selection of resources from the surrounding environment to craft into other weapons or survival aids to assist you on your travels.
The key thing about Shadow is that it’s a game that I was constantly itching to get back to, having played it in bursts over a four day period. Heck, I’ve completed the main story and I’m already wanting to play through again. And like any good TV series, book or video game, this is a sign of quality, and I will happily overlook Shadow‘s imperfections because on the whole it’s a very fun and rewarding experience. It also feels the most like a Tomb Raider game since 2008’s Tomb Raider Underworld, and I’ve come away with the sense that I’ve finally been reunited with the Lara that I love.
So thank you Eidos Montréal, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix – I’ve had a blast and I’m already itching for more. Keep the games coming!
And here’s my slightly less serious review 😉