A trilogy reboot that began five years ago is finally coming to a close. A reboot of a franchise that I hold near and dear to my heart. I’ve long been a Tomb Raider and Lara Croft fan.. so much so that I often considered myself a bigger fan of hers than I did of Nathan Drake once the Uncharted games started releasing on PlayStation 3. But by the time Uncharted 2 rolled around, I was firmly in the Drake camp and hadn’t looked back, even though I still had my raiding tomb roots, so to speak, with Lara. After having finished Shadow of the Tomb Raider and letting what transpired over the twenty hours or so it took me to reach the conclusion sink into my brain, I can honestly say I’m torn again between Drake and Croft. And you know what? That’s a fantastic feeling.
Title: Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 Pro
Release Date: September 14, 2018
Game Provided By Square Enix for the Purpose of This Review
Shadow of the Tomb Raider takes place in my favorite locale of the new trilogy. Featuring Mexican culture and Mayan artifacts and ruins, I was overjoyed with how much detail was crafted into every picturesque moment and scene. Overcoming a jungle where everything wants you dead, Lara Croft continues in her quest to stop Trinity, but ends up stumbling upon something much bigger, and now has to do her best to prevent a Mayan Apocalypse from occurring.
Without question, this is the darkest and grittiest you’ve ever seen from Tomb Raider. Death and destruction are literally lurking around every corner, and the team at Eidos Montreal have used the notion that these types of games feature a protagonist relentlessly going on a killing spree to their advantage. In a way, it almost seems as if everything taking place around you, all the death, all the chaos.. it’s Lara’s fault. Throughout the campaign, witnessing everything that has happened has transformed Lara into an empty shell as she kills in any manner possible. Avoiding spoiler content, the team has done a terrific job in turning a common complaint with these games into a more positive one by incorporating that feeling into the narrative.
An immediate positive with Shadow of the Tomb Raider is that Lara retains a majority of the weapon skills and abilities picked up in her previous adventure. You will instead be learning a new arsenal of tricks to utilize in getting around the harsh terrain and environment, such as rappelling down from rock walls, swinging to the hard-to-reach areas, wall running, and the overhang climbing gear which allows for climbing on the ceiling of structures and at steep angles. Another new feature is the ability to rub mud on your arms and face and then blend into the dark walls for the sneak attack and silent kills. You’ll want to be doing this often, as the journey is not particularly easy. Playing on the normal difficulty still provided a slight challenge, but there are additional levels beyond that if you’re seeking the ultimate thrill.
Some of the most fun had in the two previous games were the challenge tombs, and that’s no different here. Scattered about across the jungles of Peru, the optional tombs offer intense puzzle solving and exploration bits as you work to uncover their secrets and unlock a new skill. Half the challenge is even finding a few of them, as there were a couple I had to double back for after completing the main story since I had initially left them undiscovered. New for this game are crypts, which act as mini-tombs. While not nearly as challenging to complete, these are still fun to discover and go through for the rewards, which can even grant new pieces of gear.
Speaking of skills, the same type of system returns that veterans of the franchise will be used to. Several different mechanics will contribute to Lara’s personal experience, such as combat, finding the various relics, documents, murals, and monoliths all over the place, and main story progression. These ultimately end up in skill points that can be used to unlock new abilities and ways to progress through the game. One thing worth mentioning is that not every skill is worth just one point, as there are now tiers. Skills range from free if you discover them in a tomb, all the way up to three points for the ones on the outer edge. There are still three categories to choose from, with Seeker being the exploration tree, Warrior being the combat tree, and Scavenger being the looting and gathering tree.
There are more than a handful of comparisons that can be made to the more recent adventures of Nathan Drake found in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. One section in particular I want to leave for you to discover on your own. However, Jonah plays a much larger role in this story than he has in previous ones. While he has always been present, he now actually adventures with Lara, walking alongside her for large sections of the narrative, and doing things that play a major role to the overall equation. In a sense, this feels the most Uncharted-like of any previous Tomb Raider game, and that’s not necessarily a negative aspect.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a powerhouse of a game graphically. Some of the best visuals ever experienced in a video game live within these jungles and beautiful scenery. I cannot recount the amount of times I was left in awe with the surroundings as I explored about. From the Mayan pyramids and temples, to the little Mexican towns and villages you will explore, to the main city of Paititi, everything feels natural and looks superb.
That isn’t to say this is a perfect game, because it’s not. There were a few instances where the camera would get stuck in the surroundings and make stealth or combat tricky, and the default volume balance would sometimes drown out the characters speaking with the amount of background noise going on. But hey, if that’s the only two things left to complain about at the end of the day, someone is doing something right.
The imagery used in several key scenes in Shadow of the Tomb Raider are still weighing on my mind days after finishing the story. I was invested from start to finish in this emotional journey Eidos Montreal is taking players on, and it was truly hard to stop playing. Some sessions even stretched into the early morning hours and turned into sleepless nights. I’m honestly not sure where the franchise goes from here. One thing I can assure you though. Wherever Lara’s journey takes her next, and whenever that may be… I’ll be there. Do not skip this experience and conclusion to a wonderful reboot of a classic franchise.
9.5 / 10