Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the final chapter in the Lara Croft origin trilogy that rebooted the franchise in 2013. The reboot has rekindled a love for one of gaming’s most iconic characters, re-imagining Croft as an even more hardcore adventurer than she was when the original Tomb Raider came out in 1996. Square Enix and Eidos Montréal – in conjunction with Crystal Dynamics – don’t pull any punches in the finale, delivering an immersive adventure with convincing character development, while being the darkest, grittiest game in the trilogy.
For those who have played the two games prior, Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s in-game mechanics will come as second nature with Croft’s tried-and-true methods of scaling cliffs and completing acrobatic puzzles. However, rather than having traditional difficulty settings such as “Easy”, “Normal”, and “Hard”, players have the option to independently adjust the difficulty levels for each of the game’s separate phases of puzzles, exploration, and combat. For example, for those that are dedicated to exploration without the assistance of hints or Croft’s survival instincts, a “Hard” or “Deadly Obsession” difficulty level could be set while still maintaining a “normal” difficulty for combat and puzzles. This dynamic allows players to truly cater their Shadow of the Tomb Raider gameplay experience, ultimately creating a personalized, more rewarding adventure in the end.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider takes place two months following the events of Rise of the Tomb Raider, with Lara Croft and her expedition partner, Jonah Maiava, in search of an ancient relic that holds a connection to Croft’s father. After yet another run-in with supernatural-seeking guerilla group, Trinity, Croft accidently sets off a chain of events associated with a Mayan apocalypse, forcing her and Jonah to race to the jungles and ruins of Peru to stop Trinity and prevent the world from coming to an end.
At a glance, Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s plot is vaguely familiar to that of the first two games in the trilogy. However, it becomes increasingly clear that this Lara Croft is not the strong-willed, level-headed explorer from before. Early on, Croft often acts on impulse without considering the consequences of her actions. As the game goes on, we watch her develop in a more introspective manner, moving beyond that of merely her physical skill development. This internal exploration is a refreshing focus for Croft’s character, which Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider hardly touched. Croft’s experiences and her supporting cast of characters – Jonah, Unuratu, and Etzil – help in developing a well-rounded main character with considerable depth.
The main villains and combat system in Shadow of the Tomb Raider are relatively unchanged from the first two trilogy titles. Boss fights leave plenty to be desired, with most battles requiring little strategy, and a ton of endurance. To be fair though, the Tomb Raider trilogy has never really been about boss fights, focusing more on combat strategies within the exploration phase of the games. Consequently, there is an increased emphasis on stealth combat versus going in guns blazing. Shadow of the Tomb Raider adds some new stealthy mechanics that make creeping around and taking out groups of bad guys one-by-one incredibly satisfying.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider contains several updates to the game that improves overall playability. The control scheme for swimming – of which there is a great deal – has been overhauled, making it easy to quickly maneuver through the open water areas. Another nice quality of life update exists when picking up special items. Rather than interrupting the game and automatically looking at the item in a menu screen, the name of the item simply appears in the bottom corner of the screen and gets added to Croft’s collection, which players can access on their own terms.
In addition, a number of Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s puzzles go beyond that of perfectly timed jumps on moving contraptions (although plenty of those also still exist). Many of the puzzles require pattern matching and a bit more critical thinking, resulting in a more rewarding feeling when completed correctly.
Superior level design and audio direction make Shadow of the Tomb Raider stand out from the first two games in the trilogy as the most immersive and engaging title in the series.
The game certainly holds true to its namesake with the multitude of tombs and ruins that Croft explores. Often, even open jungle environments feel somewhat like a tomb with its thick canopy and vegetation. Audio cues are kept to a minimum and music is well-timed, effectively heightening the intrigue, tension, or dread of each environment.
As such, it should be noted that Shadow of the Tomb Raider is not a game for the faint of heart. Well-executed claustrophobic moments occur throughout the game, such as Croft navigating her way through tight rock crevasses (sometimes even happening while underwater). Another such instance has her crawling across hordes of dead bodies and pools of blood while being hunted, a part of the game that bears a gruesome resemblance to the 2005 horror film, The Descent. Even underwater swimming has an odd effect that may make players inclined to breathe with Croft whenever she is able to come up for air (which is not often). Shadow of the Tomb Raider does a superb job of putting players in Croft’s shoes and creating an immersive experience.
Square Enix and Eidos Montréal clearly wanted to create something special for the last chapter of Lara Croft’s origin trilogy, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a proper sendoff that ties-in perfectly with the original games. Especially for those who grew up with the original Tomb Raider games, be sure to stick around after the credits roll.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider successfully closes out the rebooted trilogy, commemorating the legacy of the of the entire Tomb Raider franchise and rewarding long-time fans of the series with fun nods to Lara Croft’s early adventures.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is now available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. A copy of the game was purchased by The Gamer for this review.
4 out of 5 stars.