Review | Shadow of the Tomb Raider
The Tomb Raider franchise has been an iconic one for well over 20 years. Series mainstay Lara Croft is not only one of the most iconic females in gaming, but also the world. So when it came time to reboot the series in 2013, Square-Enix and Crystal Dynamics put a lot of focus on Lara as a character. Telling the origin story with Tomb Raider (2013) and progressing further with Rise of the Tomb Raider, this arc finally comes to an end with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Eidos Montréal was given the reigns with the final part of the story, and it’s safe to say Lara was in good hands.
The story of Shadow of the Tomb Raider is one of discovery, despair, and a little bit of revenge. Lara Croft is still focused on stopping Trinity, the militant organization that tries to use ancient artifacts to control the world. Trying to get one step ahead of Trinity, Lara unwittingly sets the Mayan apocalypse in motion, and it becomes one of her biggest challenges thus far. As natural disasters start to take lives due to her actions, Lara is filled with regret. To redeem herself, she does whatever it takes to stop Trinity from achieving their goal.
Lara isn’t alone on this journey, as her friend Jonah from the previous two games is by her side. Traveling from Mexico to Peru, Jonah acts as not only a sort of liaison, but also her voice of reason. Lara nearly succumbs to the dark side, almost giving into the power of these forces. Jonah grounds her, making her maintain her sanity and also her heart. This game truly shows what kind of person Lara can be, and to some, that can be a nightmare. That isn’t to say we don’t ever see her gentler side come out.
The gameplay of Shadow of the Tomb Raider hasn’t changed too much from Rise of the Tomb Raider. There is a lot more emphasis on turning Lara into a hunter, or more accurately, a predator. Not only will she hunt wildlife to craft items and upgrade her gear, but she’ll also hunt her enemies. Using new guerilla tactics, Lara is the deadliest she’s ever been. Using bows, knives, guns, and more, she’ll acquire plenty of weapons to become a walking arsenal. With the ability to cover herself in mud and hide within nearby foliage, she truly becomes one with her surroundings. New abilities like fear arrows and using rope arrows to string enemies up to tree branches, Lara has plenty of tools at her disposal.
Despite Lara becoming even deadlier than before, her new jungle environment is just as deadly. She’ll have to avoid deadly booby traps, dangerous cliffs, and even a few surprises here and there. Lara will also have the ability to rappel from cliffs, even able to use her ice axe to grapple across large chasms. Perhaps one of the biggest additions to the game is the underwater traversal. While Rise of the Tomb Raider has some swimming, it was never like the diving in the classic games. Aiming to change that, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is filled with tons of underwater segments. Not only will Lara have to keep herself from drowning, but she’ll have to fight off moray eels and piranhas in claustrophobic spaces. It’s a welcome addition and it’s used just enough to keep it from getting boring.
That isn’t to say that Shadow of the Tomb Raider is nothing but danger. There’s a handful of hub areas where players can set their mind at ease. They can shop from local merchants, take on side quests, and complete various challenges. Paititi, the largest hub in the franchise, is a large hidden city full of tons of secrets that players can spend hours in. This city and its people will react based on the player’s progress, not to mention the outfit Lara is wearing. Fans of the franchise will be happy to know that Lara has a very extensive wardrobe in this game. Players with other Tomb Raider data on their system will even unlock some legacy outfits.
With these hub worlds and side quests comes a lot of NPCs in the game. It’s a minor nitpick, but some of the dialogue from these characters feels a little phoned in. The timing and direction on their lines can sometimes feel unnatural and it might not even match their actions. As for Lara, Jonah, and other important characters, their dialogue feels better and works well with the story. The whole main cast does a good job, especially Camilla Luddington, who has voiced Lara since the 2013 reboot. Interestingly, the game has a “voice-over immersion” option where locals will speak their native language with English subtitles. It’s a nice touch, but Lara still responds in English, something we noted in one of our previews.
Moving from the voices and getting to the sound design, the game really sets a tone with its sound. Tribal drums, howler monkeys, and more immerse players into this jungle environment. Sometimes this can make certain areas a bit more tense, as the game will have subtle jump scares. It’s a fitting aspect, especially as players explore the hidden tombs throughout the game. It can especially make underwater segments that much more intense.
Speaking of hidden tombs, those optional challenges return in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, adding some variety in exploration. Each tomb has deadly traps and most have some of the best puzzles the series has ever seen. Finishing a tomb will grant players with a special skill from the skill tree, upgrading Lara further. There are also optional crypts, which are like smaller tombs, but instead of unlocking a skill, completing them will grant Lara an outfit to craft. The game has quite a few of these, which should keep fans occupied for a good portion of the game. For those that want to just progress through the story, they can do that too. The story will also have tombs and puzzles, so players have the freedom to challenge themselves more if they wish.
The world is full of collectibles, with tons of documents, relics, caches and more. One thing that could’ve been handled a bit better is the conquistador chests scattered throughout the game. Observant players will likely find many of these throughout the game. Sadly, a lockpick is needed to open them, and that won’t be acquired until pretty late in the game. While it can be good to backtrack for things missed, it can be a pain for those that got everything except for the chest. It would’ve been better to make it a skill to give players the option to unlock it a bit earlier.
Visually, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is incredibly impressive, especially on an Xbox One X, PlayStation 4 Pro or gaming PC. While the game offers a resolution mode and a frame rate mode, resolution mode just made the game look amazing. The lush jungle environments can be absolutely breathtaking, and the lighting gives off a natural glow. Character models look great for the most part, especially with the main characters. That being said, a lot of enemies and NPCs will start repeating pretty quickly, especially in Paititi. Some skin textures will also look a little like plastic, but overall, the graphics are a solid upgrade from Rise of the Tomb Raider. The game also includes a fun photo mode, which can give some extra fun to players.
Overall, Shadow of the Tomb Raider does a great job at being the definitive experience in this trilogy. While the ending could’ve used a little bit more explaining, the overall story is solid. Lara’s challenges and sacrifices all come full circle here, even offering a bit more light on her past. With Lara’s new origin story coming to a close, one must wonder where the developers want to take her next. It’ll definitely be interesting to see what they’ll do to enhance the gameplay too. A round of applause for Eidos Montréal and their incredible effort to close this book in Lara’s daring journey.
Final Score: 9 out of 10