It has been five years since we saw the reboot of Tomb Raider, which told the original story of Lara Croft. With Shadow of the Tomb Raider, we see the trilogy of her origin story come to a supposed conclusion in an epic adventure that sets her in a race against time to stop the world from ending. This third entry is not only filled with blood-pumping action but also with a lot of heart and emotion. If you liked the first two entries then you really will like this one, as it builds on what made those games great, and also exceeds them in many ways.
Becoming the Tomb Raider
Shadow of the Tomb Raider sees Lara travel to Peru as she tries to stop Trinity from world domination or something like that. It is a bit of a clichéd start to the story, but things quickly get turned on its head and we end up with a plot full of twists, drama, and intrigue. It is a good story that keeps you interested all the way throughout its 12 odd hours. You will probably spend more hours playing the game though since there are quite a lot of added side missions and activities to keep you busy. As is the case with previous entries, you have different regions of the map to clear, each having different collectables, tombs and challenges to complete. It’s entirely up to you whether you want to pursue these, but many of them add so much to the overall experience.
This is especially true of the Challenge Tombs, which for the first time feel like proper tombs that take a bit of effort to complete. There’s not too many of them, but each one of the tombs that I entered was totally worth the time and effort, not only for the reward but for the sheer enjoyment I got out of them. These tombs are, as their names would suggest, quite challenging, and requires you to solve some very clever puzzles in order to reap their rewards. It’s made in a way that it never got frustrating trying to figure it out, with some very obvious solutions once you grasp it. Shadow of the Tomb Raider has some of the best puzzles I’ve seen in a game in some time and solving them was an absolute blast.
The game features a few hub worlds of sorts and in them, you meet people that can give Lara side quests and missions, that can yield special rewards and XP. These missions aren’t too long and can be fun to do, but it does detract the sense of urgency of the main story a little bit. It was weird seeing Lara help a kid find his lost dice while the fate of the world is at stake. And boy what a beautiful world it is. The game looks amazing, and there is a lot to do in it besides just helping out random strangers. The game world comprises of separate smaller maps, each offering their own challenges and puzzles. You can find murals and that helps you decipher languages that can, in turn, help you uncover the location of some treasures.
But, being the Tomb Raider is not just about solving puzzles and helping people out, as it requires some other skills as well, such as traversing dangerous terrain, and killing any poor nameless mercenary that gets in your way. There are fewer instances of Lara engaging with enemies head-on in firefights with a bigger focus on stealth, and it is a welcome change from what we’re used to with these types of games. Lara doesn’t just go from one firefight to the next, so when she does start throwing down lead it feels both impactful and intense. As mentioned, stealth is the main focus of combat, and Lara is a very efficient killer. She can take enemies down from just about anywhere with a quick and silent strike, whether it’s from the jungle foliage, veins on a wall or from the treetops, she can do it. It also never feels too slow, as some stealth in games can be, with her being able to move from one vantage point to the next very quickly and silently. The only issue is that the enemy AI is really stupid, but it could be that this improves with higher difficulty levels.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider has some really good platforming, and there’s a lot of it. Lara is capable of climbing and swinging just about anywhere she needs to, and it works very well. The levels are very well made which makes it fun and exciting to explore. You get to use all of the skills and tools available all the time, and this ensures that the platforming and exploring never get old. Something that did annoy me a little bit at times was with platforming and traversal. There were a few instances where Lara would not stick to the level as she was supposed to, and this would ultimately cause her to fall to her untimely and sometimes brutal death. While it is understandable that the game wants you to get the timing right, it sometimes happened during epic and explosive setpieces and having to reset a couple of times did break the immersion a bit. Nobody is perfect and I’ll own up when I make a mistake, but in some cases, it felt like the fault of the game, rather than my own.
In terms of levelling up and progression, Shadow of the Tomb Raider features quite a big skill tree. You can invest your XP points that you earn through the world in the three distinct branches of the tree. Each of these branches helps you out in different aspects of the game, such as hunting, exploring and combat. You can also upgrade your weapons, but because there’s less of an emphasis on combat this time around, the weapon upgrades feel a little downscaled and a bit less needed.
A story with a lot of heart
Voice acting and motion capture for the main characters in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is on point. Throughout the story, you’ll come across some really good characters, including a believable and grounded main antagonist. The real stars though are Camilla Luddington and Earl Baylon, who voices Lara and her friend Jonah respectively. The chemistry between the two is incredible and you can feel the friendship and emotion between the two. It is some of the best voice work I’ve experienced in a game, and it really gives the story and a lot of heart and soul. It also helps that the rest of the supporting cast does a stellar job as well, but it is Lara and Jonah that really stand out.
The same can unfortunately not be said for the general NPCs you’ll come across in the world. Throughout your journey, you’ll come across these NPCs that will give your side missions, but the voice work is not really that great. Shadow of the Tomb Raider has an option to turn on immersion mode, which has them talk in their native languages, but it felt strange hearing them talk in Spanish or something, and Lara replying and interacting with them in English. When they do talk English they have accents, but it was a little wooden and uninspiring. Thankfully you don’t deal with them too much, so it doesn’t have enough time to ruin the experience. The story is very well written, with some light horror elements and a few cool twists and turns and it can be quite brutal. There are some very intense and violent sequences which are both scripted and not, and you can see that the series has grown up a lot. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a much more mature game from its predecessors, and it is all the better for it.
An epic adventure
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is probably the best game in the series. It learns a lot from the previous two instalments and builds on it. It doesn’t dwell too much on the past games and get going on its own right away. The story is well written, the stealth and combat mechanics work and exploring the world and solving puzzles are fun and engaging. If you liked the previous two installments, then you will love this game. It is the end of the origins trilogy of Lara Croft, but we are sure to see more of her in the future. The game has a lot of heart to it, and although it has these huge action set pieces and violent scenes, it is the quieter, character-driven moment that makes this game really stand out. It took us three games to become the Tomb Raider and oh boy did I enjoy the ride!