Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review
Back in 2013, Square Enix, in partnership with Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal began to recreate the Tomb Raider franchise with a trilogy of games that would launch over the next 5 years. It began with Tomb Raider in 2013, Rise of the Tomb Raider in 2015, and finally this week, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft’s pinnicle moments and where the trilogy meets a timely and hopefully satisfactory end. The advancements from the 2013 to the 2015 release were immense, but little has changed between the 2015 release and the game launching this week. Is that bad? Let’s dive in!
For those who have played through Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow of the Tomb Raider will feel very, VERY familiar. Things have been tweaked to be sure – there is more of a focus on stealth combat than actual fire fights this time around – but the core game play remains much the same, and during my 20 hours or so with the campaign and a good amount of side quests, there were time when I felt I was playing Rise of the Tomb Raider, except the version set in South America and Mexico.
After the credit rolled and I sat back, I started to feel this wasn’t actually a bad thing. Rise of the Tomb Raider was such a fantastic experience, that I remember wanting more of it back in 2015. Now I have more of it, with the major changes in the franchise being attributed to Lara’s character, rather than the skills she posses.
And ultimately, that actually makes a whole lot of sense. The battle with trinity rages on, and the tomb raiding, puzzle solving skills she mastered in Rise of the Tomb Raider SHOULD make a return in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, if not for anything else but for continuity and accuracy. Add in a few game changing mechanics like being able to grapple and wall run (while grappling), and enough is added to create new and unique puzzles we’ve never seen before.
On top of a few mechanical changes and equipment upgrades, Lara will spend considerably more time underwater in this adventure than in the past, and thanks to some tight swimming controls, tackling water based puzzles were much more enjoyable, and much less frustrating than in Rise of the Tomb Raider. With a lot more water based traversal, this change is welcomed and frankly, quite necessary.
Tomb Raider has always shined in the environments created, the puzzles carefully crafted, and the character progression of Lara primarily, but her sidekick Jonah as well. Between 2015 and today, the developers took major steps forward in all of these things, creating an environment I wasn’t that excited to explore, until it pulled me in during the first few hours. Jungles have been done to death in video games, but the development team made this environment particularly intriguing. From wild animals to good amounts of Trinity foot soldiers, there was always plenty to be aware of when working my way through the campaign.
The story in Shadow of the Tomb Raider wasn’t anything particularly crazy, but frankly I play Tomb Raider for the environmental puzzles and the character progression, both of which are on point in this experience. When Lara sets off destruction of the world by removing a Mayan artifact from it’s resting place, she must travel from Mexico to Peru to find the other artifact, uniting the two and stopping the destruction that is quickly whipping out cities and countries. Watching her character deal with the guilt of her own tomb raiding, as well as her revengeful thirst for Trinity blood, is fantastic, and keeps players guessing what mood she will be in.\
And revenge is the name of the game here. While outright fire-fights are much less common in this release – as players will quickly realize Lara is built for stealth combat now, not a run-and-gun approach – stealth plays a huge role in moving quietly through the dungeons. And it is a bloody path Lara blazes. Her thirst for blood is more real than ever before, and her abilities in the jungle to surprisingly take down unsuspecting enemies is more thought out than ever before. Whether blending into walls of brush, or smearing dirt across her body to blend into the undergrowth, there are now more ways than ever to quickly and quietly move around and through enemy operations.
This is where the game can become a bit too easy, however. With a host of new hiding abilities, it’s great to find the perfect place to take down unsuspecting prey. The issue is that in most situations, the prey makes the hunt to easy by moving away from other allies and walking straight into your traps. Oftentimes, I felt that using Lara’s various skills to get into position was often a waste of time, as patience would often create the openings I needed to clear a path to my next objective.
But that is a small complaint in an otherwise brilliant game. So often, we want more out of sequels and are upset when we don’t get it. And I’m sure a number of reviews have, by now, pointed out that Shadow of the Tomb Raider is simply Rise of the Tomb Raider, but with a new skin. While that statement is largely true, I personally don’t see that as a negative, but rather, a statement that guarantees me a fantastic experience with a character I really enjoy.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider isn’t breaking new ground for the franchise, but with the series coming to a close, I’m glad the development team stuck to what they knew, expanding where they could, but leaving the overall experience familiar, yet engaging.