DISCLAIMER: A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, and PC
Developer: Eidos Montreal, Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
MSRP: $59.99, $69.99 (Digital Deluxe Edition), $89.99 (Croft Edition)
Release Date: Standard Edition – Friday, September 14th, 2018. Croft and Digital Deluxe Edition – Wednesday, September 12th, 2018.
Tomb Raider and Lara Croft are staples of the gaming medium. They’ve been here for nearly 30 years and have helped push this industry forward through advancements in storytelling with a badass female protagonist, graphical leaps, and much more. The series has had the highest highs, some pretty low lows, but it’s safe to say Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the peak of this reboot trilogy and also one of the highest points of the whole series.
Following the events of Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow finds Lara in Mexico in the midst of her attempt to foil the plans of the evil organization, Trinity. Unfortunately, her good intentions end up triggering the apocalypse when she retrieves a Mayan artifact that Trinity is seeking. A series of cataclysmic events begin to destroy cities, making Lara see the destruction and aftermath of her careless actions.
With Trinity still moving forward with their plan to cleanse the world and a world on the verge of complete and total annihilation, Lara follows a riddle to South America and believes she’s the only one who can save the day while redeeming herself for countless innocent deaths in the process.
Lara Croft’s biggest and most important story to date:
Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s story is one that helps shape Lara into the woman we know she inevitably becomes. It’s the darkest, most intense yet and all of the character development from the past two games helps cement her into someone much stronger. While she wasn’t exactly weak at the start of this trilogy, she was certainly more vulnerable and did what she had to in order to survive.
Still shaken by what happened, she was mentally fragile in Rise of the Tomb Raider but in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, she’s utterly ruthless. She accepts what she has to do and becomes a force to be reckoned with. She’s no longer just a girl who knows how to pull a trigger or is good at archery, she’s a full-blown predator that will use anything and everything to accomplish her mission.
It’s no longer about survival for her, it’s about being a hero. Shadow of the Tomb Raider about Lara paving the way for her future as that hero and moving away from her past. While there are still personal stakes for her, this story is much larger than her. There are others at risk, specifically 7 billion people. Square Enix has been talking about this game as the turning point for her character, the moment where she really takes on the title of the “Tomb Raider”, and the game does that brilliantly. All of the build-up has paid off, it all feels completely earned.
The core story is a bit convoluted and confusing:
While character development is certainly a strength of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, sometimes the narrative itself can feel very convoluted and confusing. There’s a lot of exposition which isn’t surprising, these kinds of stories tend to have that because they need to explain a bunch of various lores, histories of ancient civilizations, and so on. However, Shadow feels bogged down by lots of mumbo jumbo that began to lose me at times. There’s a lot to keep track of between beliefs and histories of rival factions that you become tangled up with, understanding the abilities and importance of the artifacts you’re chasing, and lots more.
At some point, it starts to feel overwhelming and becomes hard to follow. By the end of the game, I only had a very minimal understanding of what was going on which was just “This guy is bad, he has an important thing, stop him from using the important thing.” It’s not that none of it is incredibly incoherent or nonsensical, it’s more that the game is feeding you a lot of information constantly that it becomes hard to digest.
Thankfully, if for some reason that you just completely zone out during the story, the gameplay is really fantastic. Whether you’re taking your time to explore tombs or the absolutely astonishing vistas or being propelled through high-octane setpieces like a human bullet train, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is always engaging.
Exciting and visceral gameplay that gives the game a sense of identity:
The last two games have been fairly cookie cutter in terms of gameplay, they never really felt like anything particularly unique. Shadow eliminates that issue in a variety of ways. There’s really a ludicrous amount of tombs and various puzzles for you to solve, for those who took umbrage with the lack of tombs in the 2013 game, this is your heaven. There is far more puzzle solving, tomb raiding, and exploring than there is combat in this game.
Each puzzle feels like a big undertaking at first, there’s a lot of working parts and as you examine this whole beast, you mentally break it down. You figure out the small inner workings, maybe you don’t really see what you’re supposed to do, so you just begin experimenting until it clicks. These brain teasers were always challenging enough to where you felt like you were being tested but not so hard you’d get frustrated and walk away from them.
It’s great to see the series go back to just being a fun exploration game while still mixing in the blockbuster-esque setpieces of the new era of Tomb Raider. Just because Shadow of the Tomb Raider has a strong focus on testing Lara’s mental abilities doesn’t mean that she gets it easy when it comes to physical abilities.
This is by far the furthest she has been pushed physically. She’s trying to outrun apocalyptic floods, throwing her body across massive gaps in the Earth, rock climbing, swimming underwater for extended periods of time, and much more. Traversing this world is incredibly fun as its more varied than you’d expect, taking cues from platformers and requiring timing and precision to continue your journey across these treacherous lands.
Watching Lara endure these incredible feats of strength and endurance is enough to make you squirm. I found myself frequently involuntarily holding my breath as she swam through tight spaces and began to struggle for air or when she’s shimmying across a slim ledge hundreds of feet above a long and certainly painful demise.
The further she goes on her quest, the more deadly she becomes. She’s borderline Rambo in this game. You have the ability to cover yourself in mud to blend in with the environment and sneak up on enemies and plunge a blade in them, create explosive concoctions on the fly, hang foes from trees, and much, much more. It’s the deepest gameplay/combat mechanics in the series to date and finally does enough to set it apart from being just another action/adventure third-person shooter.
Ultimately, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a triumphant test of Lara’s mind, body, and spirit. Intertwining story and gameplay, Eidos Montreal successfully completes Lara’s long and tiring arc. They tie things up in a way that this could be a satisfying conclusion to this story permanently but they also leave enough room for more should they have another adventure for Lara to go on.
While the main narrative outside of Lara’s personal journey may be one that is too jumbled, there’s a lot to love about Shadow of the Tomb Raider that it’s worth experiencing even if you are slightly confused at times.