The Tomb Raider reboot brought Lara back in style, Rise of the Tomb Raider gave us a beautiful jungle and many tombs to “raid”. Shadow of the Tomb Raider takes Lara’s journey farther by dropping you into the wildlands of central America. This savage spot may symbolize death but it’s where this game comes to life amazingly well.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider shows that Lara Croft is still human, capable of making mistakes. In the first moments, Lara removes an ancient artefact from a tomb and the consequences are catastrophic. It turns out that Lara has triggered disastrous events (a tsunami that results in massive death, earthquakes etc) and this lays the foundation for the events of the game. It is up to Lara to find a way to stop all these natural disasters from continuing.
For anyone who has played the previous titles (the reboots, not the PS2 games), Trinity will need no introduction. They are an organisation who tracks down artefacts for monetary gain rather than intellectual discovery. Naturally, this means that Lara despises them immensely. As Lara makes her dangerous journey through the jungle she often crosses paths with Trinity. These encounters can be completed using stealth or you can go in guns blazing, the choice is up to you.
The 15 to 20-hour gameplay of the storyline flies past you as you search through tombs, clamber past walls or attack enemies during various fights. The formula hasn’t changed a bit since the first game and that’s not a bad thing! The DNA may be the same but each edition brings with it new experiences and secrets to uncover. There are regular puzzles to solve or secrets of a new tomb to unravel. Other times you must run away from hordes of enemies or escape from earthquakes that are so fierce that everything around you begins to collapse.
Natural disasters play a big role in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Within the first few hours of the game, an entire town get’s washed away by a tsunami. Quick reflexes play a big part here as you sprint over crumbling buildings and over obstacles to get to a safe high point. All the while you see people, cars and buildings being dragged through the water.
Missing a ledge will drop you into the water and straight into a spike. Disappointedly, no matter where you fall the death scene is the same. Lara gets dragged away in the rushing water and straight into a metal pole. Actually, nearly every death scene is the same with very little variation other than the direction in which Lara plummets.
The story of Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a bit darker than the previous games in this trilogy. The story becomes very realistic with the addition of enhanced the facial expressions of the characters. They have been worked out so well that it speaks volumes. This is mainly due to the fact that the game is graphically very detailed. Those who have upgraded to Nvidia’s new 20-series RTX cards will also notice a huge graphical improvement due to the raytracing feature.
The immense detail in the game becomes apparent as you sneak through the dangerous jungles of Peru. The place is dangerous, not only because it is home to murderous predators such as jaguars but also several Trinity expedition members who are chasing after the same artefacts as Lara. There are often moments when the enemies are too powerful and can’t be taken on until later on in the game when you have stronger weapons and more skills.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider lets you become one with the jungle, giving the player many new stealth abilities. You can now conceal yourself in wall-growing vines and Lara can cover her completely in mud to blend in with the environment. This is helpful when taking the stealth approach and killing off enemies one by one. You can also climb up into trees and take down enemies with silent or poison arrows. Poison arrows put enemies into a frenzy and they begin attacking other enemies around them.
As an alternative, you can go full on the attack. If this is your preferred method, it is useful to set the difficulty level of the combat to easy. This is a welcome new feature that lets you play the game the way you want to play it. Setting it to easy mean that the enemies do much less damage and headshots are much easier. If you lower the difficulty you can expect an easier game with much less confrontation.
The game gives you the opportunity to completely customise the difficulty of encounters, puzzles and discovering the world. On easy, the game indicates where you can or can not clamber and you can choose whether Lara gives you an extra helping hand every now and then when solving the different puzzles you come across.
Conveniently, you can also adjust the difficulty level on the fly. If you find that the game is too easy then you can easily change up the difficulty level a bit. You can also lower the difficulty of puzzles if, after ten minutes or so, you still can’t figure out the solution to completing a tomb.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider offers many different ways of completing the game, and with different challenges at each difficulty level. If you finish the game on a low difficulty then it is a welcome option to try it again on a harder difficulty. You can even make use of the new Game Plus mode (a game mode that allows you to bring all your weapons, outfits and character development to a new save file). There are also challenges, collectables and side missions where you can discover extra tombs.
What I especially love about the game is that you can talk with a vast amount of NPCs (non-playable characters). There is a lot of hidden details in the game world and by interacting with certain characters, they can reveal locations of certain items such as documents, ancient artefacts and hidden caches. By adding more depth to the characters of the world it makes everything feel more lively.
No excuse for boredom
What brings the world even more to live is that many of the characters will speak to you in their original language. Not all characters will have secrets to share but you can still talk to them or go back to characters that have already shared what they know. If you are a fan of the deep storyline or a game’s lore than there is more than enough to keep you entertained.
It is also striking that there are huge hubs in this game where you can talk with a large amount of non-playable characters. Because there is a lot of detail in the game world, everything feels very lively. It is also nice that the game world feels very real because many residents speak to you in their original language. If you are not looking for new things to collect, then you can still look your eyes at all the detail that lies in this game.
As I mentioned before, the game at times demands quick reflexes. This can sometimes lead to a frustrating experience, especially where wildlife is concerned. When getting attacked by jaguars, it can be difficult to quickly aim with your bow. Between dodging the jaguars pounces, getting hits in and making sure that you don’t run out of arrows, it can quickly become repetitive.
The one mechanic I was hoping would be rectified, but is ultimately the same, is the ropes. There have been many times where I have gone to cut a rope but I had to manoeuvre to get in the exact spot. It’s the same with zip lines. More often than not I am always in the wrong position to attach the rope to whatever post I am standing beside. It’s not a game breaker but it does get on one’s nerves from time to time and knock my immersion a bit. These were downsides that we saw in the earlier Tomb Raider games and it is a pity that they have not improved.
Ultimately, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is perhaps the best game of the trilogy. From start to finish you are taken on an amazing adventure where Lara Croft becomes more and more human. With a good balance between puzzles, fights and explorations, you are given everything you need to become the true Lara Croft. If you enjoyed the previous games you will fall in love with Shadow of the Tomb Raider!
With this game, Lara Croft gets a worthy conclusion that makes you want more. The mechanics are slightly improved over the previous titles but where the game really excels is in its stunning beauty. Even without the rayshading, Shadow of the Tomb Raider boasts amazing graphics and monumental views. Even the small details like characters hair or the textures on the sides of buildings are extremely detailed. This game definitely holds it’s own against other titles such as God of War as one of the best games of the year.
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC (Reviewed)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montréal
Release Date: 14th September 2018
Age Rating: PEGI 18+