Lara Croft is one of the most famous videogame characters of all time since she was created back in 1996. Lots of games and a few movies later, she’s still an icon in the gaming community, and her games are always received with great expectations. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is no exception, even if the circumstances aren’t all that great. It’s the third title since the franchise was rebooted five years ago, but this time another development team has been in charge of bringing Lara to life. In addition, the marketing campaign has been way too similar to the previous two games, promising we’d see “how Lara became the Tomb Raider”. I was pretty scared, honestly. Is the game any good? Let’s find out!
When Lara Croft, the already well known archeologist, accidentally triggers the apocalypse, she’ll have to take her abilities to their limits in order to put a stop to it. It won’t be an easy task, as Trinity, an evil organisation that seeks to obtain god-like power using the same artefacts Lara will need in her quest, a quest that will take her to the depths of Latin American jungles.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a huge game, since it offers lots of content to the players: a pretty long main story, lots of side quests, nine tombs to explore, lots of collectibles… As of the writing of this review, I’ve completed most of this content (with a completion of 90%), with just some collectibles missing, having played slightly over 20 hours to do so.
What players will find upon starting the adventure is very familiar, as the systems presented are similar to those found in previous games. However, the new development team (Eidos Montreal) has been able to take them to new heights, and the result is fantastic. Traversal is, simply put, incredible. Climbing is lots of fun from the get-go, but gets even better as more and more mechanics are thrown into the mix. Pickaxe, rappelling, grappling hook… Every element is at its best this time around. The game knows well how amazing they are too, so it makes extensive use of them. My favourite sections are those in which Lara has to run away from danger making use of all her abilities, which are nothing short of excellent.
When it comes to confrontations, Shadow of the Tomb Raider focuses less in direct combat than its predecessors. It still has the guns and shootings, but stealth gets the spotlight this time. Lara can hide in bushes, get covered in mud to hide behind vines, chain kill enemies without alerting anyone and much, much more. It’s very satisfying to complete a sequence without being noticed by any foes, which is why I thought the final confrontations, overly based on pure combat, quite underwhelming. Whenever Croft is detected, her plans must change immediately, finding cover to avoid getting shot. If she does get attacked, there’s a new system to get her health back, as instead of the usual med-kits, she must use herbal mixtures. Moreover, different mixtures can be used to improve her abilities, such as her perception and focus. This herbs aren’t all that useful, though, so I didn’t use them all that much during my adventure, so it’s kind of a missed opportunity.
All these systems are used to tell a story that’s written quite poorly, unfortunately. Especially the first few scenes are laughable, with lots of bad dialogue and terrible story arcs flooding the screen. Later, as it turns into a more traditional Tomb Raider, it does get better, but it’s not all that great anyway. However, it must be said that, unlike the previous title, does make sense as part of an origin-telling trilogy. Lara’s character definitely evolves throughout the playtime, and the story justifies the mechanics that players are given, making Lara a tougher woman that’s willing to go all the way to accomplish her mission. This is particularly obvious in a scene in which she has a meltdown, which is incredible presented.
Visually, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is impeccable. I’ve played it on PC, and everything looks brilliant. Vegetation is probably the most spectacular aspect, as there’s tons of it (who would’ve thought, in a jungle!), but lot’s of visual features make it look jaw-dropping. Lighting and shadows, even if there’s no Ray Tracing yet, look great. Fire, even if the animations aren’t all that fluid, create a glow that really boosts the atmosphere the game is trying to create. Character model’s quality varies quite a lot, and while it’s overall just okay, Lara’s is amazing, her facial expressions perfectly resemble those of real-world people, and as it happened with Rise of the Tomb Raider, there’s something in her gaze that feels very realistic and expressive.
As stated earlier, there’s lots of things to do in this game. However, the quality of that content changes quite drastically, since the main story is, as stated earlier, a lot of fun to play… unlike most of the side content. There side missions are quite poor, and they feel like Eidos just wanted to have enough filler to be able to say “this many hours of gameplay”. The cinematic sequences for those quests is really bad too, with standard shots that barely get the job done. Collectibles are way too abundant, with some collectibles being required to get other collectibles, as Lara will need the former to learn languages, in order to understand the latter. Pretty crazy, if you ask me!
Probably the biggest of those features is tombs, of course. There’s nine of them, named “Challenge Tombs”, and each one is a puzzle environment that unlocks skills for the main character as a reward. I loved these, had a lot of fun solving them and thought they were well designed overall. Sure, some are better, some are weaker, but they always pick a mechanic and try to take it as far as possible, which results in a fun puzzle. The environments are pretty varied too, so they are well worth the time, as they give you the chance to visit a submerged cave, an eerie tomb or even a Spanish galleon.
All in all, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a lot of fun. I loved playing the whole thing, I was never bored, I was always eager to see what the next show-stopping set-piece would be. Unfortunately, gameplay is presented with a story that shines at times with Lara’s evolution, but is overall terrible, with awful dialogues and a particularly frustrating few first scenes. Hopefully, Eidos Montreal will learn from the few missteps the game has, and can fix them with a sequel written with more freedom, without having to end a trilogy someone else wrote for them. 7/10