- Absolutely gorgeous world to explore
- Challenge Tombs are a joy to find and conquer
- Gunplay and stealth make for some strong encounters
- Lara Croft continues to be a strong, well acted heroine
- Narrative is weak, disjointed and throwaway
- Pacing undermines exploration and mechanics
- Fails to capitalise on past game’s characters and story
- Still no dinosaurs...
- Review Price: £39.99
- Developer: Eidos Montreal
- Release Date: September 14, 2018
- Genre: Action Adventure
- Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Lara Croft is all grown up, again.
Developed by Eidos Montreal in collaboration with Crystal Dynamics, Shadow of the Tomb Raider follows Lara as she once again tries to stop The Order of Trinity from finding artifacts capable of destroying the world. It’s a harrowing tale of Lara coming to terms with her own morality and realising the value of friendship, although it seldom gels together in a satisfying way.
The closing chapter of Lara Croft’s reboot trilogy is a complicated one. It’s simultaneously the most accomplished chapter thus far, but also continually trips up under the weight of its own ambition. Whether it’s narrative, combat or exploration, very little in Shadow of the Tomb Raider feels as good as I’d like. That isn’t to say it’s bad, it’s consistently great, but it ends up sitting in the shadows of its contemporaries.
Troubled pacing and an odd mixture of performances kept me from getting truly invested, and the absence of Rhianna Pratchett’s writing talent is most definitely felt. Arcs are established without ever being paid off in a meaningful way, or otherwise prance around in limbo without being touched for hours. It’s frustrating. Yes, Rise of the Tomb Raider could feel generic but it still managed to weave an excellent yarn regardless.
The opposite is true here. Things wrap up in a hugely anticlimactic final act that fails to deliver thanks to a clumsy narrative which juggles far too many elements when none of them have enough depth. Lara spends time either talking about her dead parents, realising her own misguided intentions or fending off Trinity, an evil organisation whose motivations are muddy and inconsistent.
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Shadow of the Tomb Raider begins with the literal apocalypse. Upon stealing an ancient dagger, Lara is warned by her enemies of the cataclysm she’s set in motion. This immediately becomes clear as a rapturous tsunami tears through Mexico, killing thousands and leaving our heroine a battered, broken mess. Jonah’s shoulder is the only one left to lean on, a close friend of Lara whose relationship is a pleasure to bear witness to.
The relationship between Lara and Jonah is a brilliant one. It’s filled with history and a genuine care that shines through until the end. It should have been the main focus, but instead finds itself on the sidelines as multiple, far less intriguing arcs are given prominence. It feels like Eidos Montreal wasn’t sure how to conclude this trilogy, resulting in a cavalcade of hollow yet lavishly produced cutscenes that take you from one set-piece to the next — all of which are, fortunately, an absolute joy to experience.
Aside from a few bespoke locations, the majority of your time will be spent in the Hidden City of Paititi. Discovered in the opening hours, this ancient abode is positively huge, acting as the main hub area you’ll return to again and again as the story progresses. It’s cleverly designed and bustling with life as citizens go about their daily routines. Lara is a stranger in a strange land, and its occupants react accordingly.
You’ll receive questionable glances while exploring, whether peering through an empty household or discovering ruins that have remained untouched for decades. There’s a comedic element to Lara Croft digging through primitive huts like a student on her gap year, but it’s also where the greatest part of Shadow rears its head: exploration. Stumbling across hidden crypts (essentially miniature tombs) to find a useful upgrade and a few tidbits of lore is an engaging treat, developing the game’s world in ways I didn’t expect.
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Challenge Tombs are the real highlight. Hugely expanded from previous games, they now feel like levels within themselves as you can spend upwards of 30 minutes trying to solve a fiendishly crafted puzzle.
Tomb designs can range from a crumbling Spanish Galleon amidst the boundaries of a cliff to a mixture of labyrinthian waterways that will enrapture you in seconds. Every single one is polished to perfection, idyllically placed when encountered throughout the story. Some are hidden away in and around Paititi, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t seek them out.
Eidos Montreal made a point of emphasising the sheer size of Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s hub world prior to release, and it was worthwhile to do so. You can easily lose hours finding all the hidden relics, crypts and tombs scattered about the place. Citizens can provide you with side quests, but these are painfully boring, crippled by the same lacklustre writing weighing down the main campaign. It’s sad that dialogue feels so inconsequential. The history of this city is fascinating, yet it’s hidden away in artefact descriptions and rarely excels outside of them.
The solo campaign is arguably the least compelling part of the entire package. Spectacular action sequences aside, it’s a whistlestop tour of a world I was waiting to be unleashed in. Within of seconds of unlocking the ability to fast travel, I returned to previous locations to sweep up anything I missed. Doing so is an exercise in satisfaction, largely thanks to Lara’s upgrade progression which does an excellent job of maintaining interest in the wider universe.
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Split into three distinct skill categories, Lara can upgrade and acquire abilities that will become key to combat, exploration and the gathering of resources. Each one feels like a substantial step forward, especially if it results in you now being capable of chain takedowns or firing off three arrows with a flick of the shoulder button. Despite making a real difference to how you play, upgrades to hunting and plant gathering feel trivial as I always had enough crafting components, and going out of your way to slaughter animals feels largely pointless as a result.
When Lara Croft isn’t destroying monuments or raiding tombs she’s found with an assault rifle in hand and endless corpses at her feet. While a little less gratuitous than past entries, Shadow of the Tomb Raider still takes a morbid pleasure in Lara’s talent for slaughter. She’ll hang enemies up by treetops before slitting their throats or set them ablaze in an explosion of fire. The tonal shift between a timid adventurer who’s almost ashamed of her own actions to a mass-murdering psychopath is hard to swallow and doesn’t have the charm of Uncharted to help pull it off. Don’t even get me started on her death animations.
At least combat is serviceable. Armed with a bow, pistol, shotgun and assault rifle, Lara is a force to be reckoned with as she blows away soldiers almost twice her size. Weapons can be upgraded, too, providing a reason for mixing things up with different attachments and quirks. A personal favourite of mine was a flare attachment for pistols that could both distract foes and set the cheeky buggers alight. I found stealth to be the most enjoyable route, though.
Nearly all encounters can be conquered without a single bullet fired thanks to new stealth mechanics. Lara can now cover herself in mud before sinking into a nearby wall, waiting for Trinity to stumble into slaughter. This feels fantastic and chaining together a dozen or so attacks as you hide in bushes or atop trees never gets old. So it’s a shame that combat encounters are surprisingly few and far between this time around as yet another victim of Shadow’s mediocre pacing.
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Enemies range from cannon fodder infantry to more powerful variants you’ll need to think strategically to dispatch. Those with helmets can shrug off headshots while heavily armoured foes aren’t as vulnerable to stealth attacks. There’s a reasonable amount of nuance here, but only if you’re willing to play by the game’s rules. Otherwise, a constant hail of bullets will make mincemeat out of anything.
Traversal in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a real accomplishment, even if certain segments can be finicky. Climbing jagged mountain sides with your ice picks before precariously grappling downward into a small, tight ravine are just some of the vertigo-inducing sights you’ll take in.
Visually, it’s a masterclass in environmental detail and genuine spectacle. I played on Xbox One X, which is capable of running things at a native 4K resolution with HDR alongside it. Aside from a few performance hiccups, it ran without any issues at all at 30fps. If you’re a sucker for a juicy framerate, there’s an option to prioritise this above resolution to run the game at 60fps, and it still looks wonderful.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an enjoyable action-adventure for the most part, yet frequently falls victim to a haphazard narrative and structural pacing that stops the trilogy’s finale from truly standing out.
The evolution that was steps away from reaching its crescendo in Rise of the Tomb Raider is pushed aside here in favour of an experience that feels needlessly disjointed, making the main campaign feel like a distraction from the otherwise exceptional side content.
Challenge Tombs are a joy to navigate while the ample amounts of relics and treasures waiting to be found in and around the city of Paititi are a frequent blast to uncover. I’ll be going back for more, and I’m excited to see where the series goes next, but I can’t help but feel disappointed when all’s said and done.