Despite being the third entry in the reboot of a much-loved series, Shadow of the Tomb Raider seems to have had a lot less fanfare leading up to its release than the two titles that came before it. It’s a surprise too, because from the outside it looks like yet another quality adventure for Miss Croft – it even has a new developer at the helm in the form of Eidos Montreal (of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Human Revolution fame), so that gives it the potential to have a ton of new ideas on show throughout that really change things up.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t, and it’s a lot more of the same. That’s not really a bad thing though, especially since the standard of the series was just so damn good to begin with.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider sees Lara’s rivalry with Trinity continue, though she has more pressing issues to attend to this time after accidentally setting forth the events that lead up to the apocalypse. Brutal, right? The only way to stop it is to recover artefacts in Peru, but with Trinity hot on her tail and the odds stacked against her, it won’t be an easy task.
One thing I can really appreciate with the reboots is just how dark and grim they can be, but I think Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the most mature yet. There’s a sullen tone throughout with the fear of the end of the world on the horizon, whilst Lara’s also feeling the guilt of actually triggering it and already costing so many people their lives. The last two games went a long way in humanising Lara and showing how she became the adventurer she is now, but this time around there’s a stronger focus on the vulnerabilities found in her emotions as opposed to her physical being – it really is the making of her, with the finale truly defining who she really is. It makes for a really interesting tale and one that’ll keep you hooked in throughout.
One thing Shadow of the Tomb Raider has in abundance is areas to explore, collectibles to find, and puzzles to solve. The Peruvian jungles and towns offer some of the largest environments seen in any Tomb Raider game, and they’ve all been beautifully designed here to make each exotic locale you traverse across feel wonderful to explore. There always seems to be SOMETHING special to see no matter where you are (there’s nothing quite like venturing into what seems like a dead end only to find a piece of hidden treasure), whilst the sheer amount of traps and little puzzles will keep you on your toes throughout.
There’s a good variety of things to see in the game too, with towns, jungles, caves, underwater caverns, and Peruvian temples to explore as you try to bring an end to Trinity and the impending apocalypse. Eidos Montreal have done a fantastic job in bringing each location to life, with a mixture of ambient lighting and sprawling wildlife really making it feel like you’re right there on this treacherous journey.
One thing I really appreciated this time around was the emphasis on exploring underwater, which felt like a blast to the past – the Tomb Raider games on the original PlayStation used to send Lara on underwater escapades, but it’s something that’s been neglected in the reboots. Thankfully, the controls are tighter than before as is the camera, so they make for some genuinely enjoyable segments that change up the formula a fair bit. That being said, the waters just so happen to have piranhas roaming through them, so you might not want to stay in them for too long…
Of course, this is Tomb Raider – naturally, you’ll also be raiding a few tombs along your journey. They’ve been one of my favourite aspects of the last two games, so it’s great to see that they’re even better this time around with even larger tombs with more elaborate puzzles on offer. There are some genuinely tricky enigmas to solve that blend together platforming and puzzle-solving, and I can guarantee more than a few will leave you scratching your head before you get that ‘eureka’ moment. They’re all great though and each one has a unique vibe that helps them stand out from the rest. It’s not compulsory to complete all the tombs in the game, but I’d certainly recommend players seek out as many of them as they can.
Something that surprised me about Shadow of the Tomb Raider was the amount of interaction the player has with NPCs. Whilst it’s something we saw in the last two games (especially Rise of the Tomb Raider), it takes an even bigger role this time around with the player able to explore hub-like towns that are full of inhabitants to meet. These inhabitants are often interesting folk and add an extra degree of personality to the game, showing that not everything that’s going on in the game revolves solely around Lara.
You can find plenty of secrets within these towns too, as well shops to purchase new gear and side-quests to complete, each of which give you a little something extra to head off the beaten path to uncover. Admittedly, some of the side-quests can be a bit naff, but there are still plenty that actually tie into the narrative nicely and give Lara some interesting tasks to complete – there are experience points and bonuses to be earned too, so they’re all worthwhile.
Once again, you can level up Lara to improve her abilities, with her skillset broken down into three different categories: Scavenger, Seeker, and Warrior. Scavenger skills focus on Lara’s manoeuvrability and stealth abilities, Seeker skills focus on her resource-gathering abilities, whilst Warrior skills improve her combat capabilities and make her much more efficient at taking down foes. You can cater Lara’s skillset to suit your playstyle – if you prefer taking the stealthy approach you’ll want to focus on the Scavenger skill tree for example, but those who prefer to go guns-blazing and go head on with enemies will probably prefer Warrior. A blend of them all is probably the safest route to go, but hey, you can do you.
Combat feels the same as it did in the last two games, with the shooting satisfying and making for some action-packed set pieces. All of the weapons feel great to use (especially the bow) and when you find yourself in a shootout you can always guarantee some intense battles that blend together cover-based shooting with some good old fashioned running-and-gunning. Admittedly, Lara’s close-ranged skills can feel a little clumsy when you get up close with enemies, but if you stick to shooting from afar you’ll have a good time.
Of course, the reboot of the series has seen Lara take a much more stealthy approach to taking down enemies, and that hasn’t changed much in Shadow of the Tomb Raider – especially since you’ll often find yourself outnumbered and outgunned on your journey. Fortunately, Eidos Montreal have introduced some new stealth mechanics, including the ability to use mud to cover up your body to blend in with your environment and even the ability to use rope traps to fling your foes up and trap them in trees. There are also plenty of different areas of the environment to sneak through, with bushes, tree tops, and the water making for perfect hiding spots as you stalk your foe and pick the perfect moment to take them out. It makes for some incredibly gripping moments in the game where you have to be patient as you wait to strike, but it’s always incredibly satisfying when you clear a camp of enemies without them ever noticing you were there.
Between the exploration and combat, there’s a nice variety of things to do in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It never overdoes anything to the point where it grows old either – you’re never left platforming or solving puzzle for too long without an action-focused break in between, whilst you won’t find shootout after shootout without a tricky enigma to solve along the way. The game balances everything out nicely and it sees the adventure progress at a nice pace where you never grow tired of anything you might be doing.
That doesn’t mean that Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn’t have its flaws though. Enemies are very predictable and vulnerable to Lara’s attacks for example, even when they’re aware that she might be in the area. It’s easy to predict their movement patterns for easy stealth kills, whilst they never try to protect themselves from incoming fire when in shootouts either – it certainly leans towards the easy side as far as combat is concerned.
Then there’s the fact that not a whole lot has changed from a gameplay perspective, with Shadow of the Tomb Raider feeling just like the two entries that came before it. Now, to me this isn’t a huge problem because I’m a fan of the series anyway, but those who expected an evolution upon the formula might find themselves left a little underwhelmed. The game never grows boring by any stretch of the imagination, but it does become clear that even with a new developer at the helm that the series might be running out of ideas as to what to do next.
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC