Shadow of The Tomb Raider is the third and (presumably) final instalment in the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy. The new games in this trilogy have always reminded us of other action-adventure franchises like Uncharted. With their heavily linear structures and a focus on character development, these games are hard to come by in a market filled with multiplayer-focused, loot box heavy games (Yes EA, we’re looking at you). As gamers, we’ve always asked for more from our games, and it’s not hard to see why people would like to spend $60 on a game that provides them more content than the traditional single-player game.
Enter Shadow of The Tomb Raider- a game which recognizes what it is and never overstays its welcome. The game picks up some time after the last entry, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and follows Lara as she embarks on yet another adventure, this time in a Mayan setting. While the game manages to stand on its own, it does falter when it comes to the idea of reinventing/innovating the core mechanics of the series. Which is to say, you’ll still be doing the same things you did in the last 2 games, albeit with a reskin.
Story & Setting
As is usual with the franchise, the game follows Lara as she tries to get to a mythical artifact before Trinity does. Again. Yeah, while the basic premise is essentially the same as the last game, it’s still fun. It’s a tried and tested narrative, presenting itself in a lot of notable adventure stories (Indiana Jones, Uncharted), so it makes sense that this installment would stick to it. What’s disappointing though, is the lack of any sense of wonder that is usually associated with it. How many times are we expected to stare in wonder as Lara uncovers yet another hidden ruin, another hidden city or discovers a sect of hidden civilization? So what’s new you ask? Mayan & Incan civilization, or rather the inspiration that the game draws from them. It has to be noted that this time, it was Eidos Montreal who took the reins from Crystal Dynamics to handle the game, which is perhaps why the narrative here feels a bit disjointed at times. The excellent sense of continuation that Rise had over the 2013 reboot is gone, with Shadow feeling like just another one of Lara’s numerous adventures.
The setting has moved to cover certain parts of Southern America, with the hidden city of Paititi acting as the base hub of the game. Paititi is a richly interesting place, with tons of NPCs interact with. It’s always a joy when games give you the option to learn more about their settings, and while Shadow of The Tomb Raider follows in those footsteps, it never quite manages to do anything more. Yeah you can talk to certain people and they’ll tell you a little bit about the city but that’s pretty much it. And given just how immensely knowledgeable Lara is, there’s this empty space of information that either Lara herself knows or the NPCs let out. No, most of the storytelling here, just like the previous games, are environmental. Each tomb is intricately detailed and it’s here that you’ll learn more about the city than interacting with any other citizen.
Gameplay- Combat, and Exploration
Regardless of what you might say, it has to be agreed that exploration has always been the key thing to do in these games. The game presents some gorgeous locales, each of which you can explore to some (controlled) extent. The platforming and puzzle sections are back too, and it’s those that make this game stand out more than its predecessors. In fact, the number of combat scenarios is just too low here to justify calling it an “action-adventure” game. Nope, it’s almost always just adventure. Which, while not necessarily bad, does overstay its welcome. Gunplay is mostly the same as the previous games which is fine. Although close quarters combat does seem to suffer. You can’t really do much when all you have for melee is a slight hit to subdue enemies. The game would rather want you to pick them off from a distance, or from cover.
And what about platforming? Well, expect a lot of that too. Half of my time was spent on just getting from point A to B. And while that’s fun, I did want to stray off the path to explore even more of the map that the game, sadly, never allowed me to do. There’s also a lot of underwater exploration here. Much more than the previous games, and that’s a welcome change. While seeing Lara Croft go to unbelievable lengths to hold her breath is, well, breathtaking it does tend to overstay its welcome.
The Tomb Raider games are not open-world games. We get it. But their art direction (specifically this one) have always yearned to say otherwise. The first 20 minutes of the game made me feel like I was suddenly in an Assassin’s Creed game, social stealth included. As such, I really wanted to see more of what the world had to offer, but couldn’t due to the game’s mostly linear structure. Yes, there’s plenty of side missions and extra tombs to be raided, but in the end, it just doesn’t feel as grand as the game wants it to be.
Lara Croft’s Dark Descent
Much like how a lot of the other franchises tend to market their newer installments as “bigger and better” or “darker”, Shadow of the Tomb Raider does the same. And dark it is. Gone are the days when Lara would hesitate to kill. Oh no, the Lara we get here is much closer to John Rambo than in any other game. Combining her ability to use her environment to her advantage as well as her expertise in weaponry, we get a much more mature version of Lara. You can now use the jungle environment to your advantage, like using mud to blend in with the rest of the…jungle. And you’ll be using your survival instincts a lot more too.
The game does give you an option to make the platforming sections easier. With the difficulty turned on ‘easy’, certain places of interaction like ledges and climbable walls will be painted in white, allowing for easier navigation. Also, much like the headline of this review, the color palette has flipped completely. You’ll be scrambling to find the next base camp, or for that matter, any source of light. Seriously, look at this. You can’t, can you?
For a game with this setting, I don’t blame the developers’ intent. However, when pretty art direction interferes with actual gameplay, that’s when things start to get messy. It comes to a point where the line between player control and in-game animations started to get blurred. The sense of control here is fundamentally different (and perhaps less) from the previous games. Even games such as the Uncharted series, which have been hailed as ‘cinematic’ gave more sense of freedom and control. The game runs at a mostly 30 fps on the base PS4, which is the system we used for reviewing. I say mostly because there were some noticeable frame drops near base camps and merchants. Aside from that though, the game runs fine. Check back here for the PC performance review, especially with the RTX features support turned on.
Shadow of The Tomb Raider is a good game. It’s been made with a respectable budget and decent writing, with tried and tested gameplay tropes. But that’s where the praise ends. For the final installment in a trilogy, the game does not do enough. Not nearly enough at all. With Eidos Montreal taking the helm from Crystal Dynamics, the game loses the focus that its predecessors had. A decent story and tiring gameplay mechanics, it fails to innovate on the long-standing franchise’s tropes. However, if judged just as a singular game, devoid of the pass afflictions it’s got with the franchise, Lara Croft’s final journey of becoming the Tomb Raider that we know and love is a pretty fun time.