Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics retelling of the origin of Lara Croft has been stellar. These studios have evolved a busty 90’s heroine into a modern-day adventurer, making her a deep and complex character to tell stories with. Even Dark Horse Comics have done some fine comic book work using the modern version of Croft. This week, Eidos Montreal finishes the trilogy of Lara Croft’s coming of age in Shadow of The Tomb Raider.
SHADOW OF THE TOMB RAIDER
Developed by: Eidos Montreal
Published by: Square Enix
Available for: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. (Septemeber 14, 2018)
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the (Reboot) third in the action-adventure game series which brings Lara Croft into a modern age of gaming. Croft is a young explorer who we see on a quest for revenge against the supernatural mercenary organization known as Trinity, lead by a charismatic and deluded man named Dominguez. If you’re new to this series it reasonably catches you up by letting you know this group is responsible for the death of Lara’s father, ultimately setting her on her Tomb Raiding path of vengeance.
2013’s reboot of Tomb Raider was about our hero trying to deny her father’s belief in the mystical legends of ancient civilizations and the sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider saw Croft accepting her place in that legacy; Shadow is the refined edge of the sword that is Lara Croft. Even in the game’s epic opening, Croft radiates determination bordering on narcissism to see her mission to its end. What SOTTR does for this character is heartbreaking in a necessary way. When she inadvertently causes the apocalypse of a small town in Mexico, audiences may be a bit conflicted in their view of her. Lara feels the weight of her actions but her overzealous need for retribution outweighs the remorse, even the pause one might feel in that situation, in the early parts of the game it’s offputting to us by design.
The game’s meat takes place after the prologue as Croft and her partner Jonah head to the jungle of Peru in order to stop Trinity from uniting an ancient dagger stolen from her in the Mexico scene with a long-buried mystic box that has the power to reshape the world. Eidos narrative team show some big stakes quickly in this game. While it burns through the game’s plot a bit fast, it’s these same straight to the point dire consequences that leave room to show how Lara evolves from the time you’re dropped into the adventure to when the credits roll. As you progress you’ll see a different side of Croft, a woman who’s quest has turned her introverted. For all the confidence she exudes in base jumping and recklessly killing, her awkwardness in dealing with the locals is a welcome levity for her.
Much of that is weaved into the overall design by the developer. See Shadow isn’t a typical open world like Grand Theft Auto or the recent Marvel’s Spider-Man, it’s more of a social interaction world. Lara will encounter villages of people living simple south American lives and the game’s biggest hub is a fictitious village of indigenous people untouched by modern civilization. This village called Paititti is one of the most gorgeous environments built in gaming. You can’t help but be struck by the balance between human characters with nature. Indigenous people living in huts or shelters in one spot, then children playing near its riverbanks while exotic birds, plant, and animal life thrive around you. The relationships you’ll form with this ecosystem is what gives Lara Croft a true sense of humanity and leads her to make the ultimate choice.
But if you’re looking for an action adventure game, chances are you aren’t looking for afternoon tea with the locals. Shadow of the Tomb Raider still does what these games do best. Players will guide Croft over death-defying cliff jumps and bullet flying shooting sequences in some cinematic gaming moments which feel just like the games that came before it. Lara is about evolving, including the way she takes down her opposition. The Peruvian jungle is both her friend and foe in combat. Like Arnold did in Predator, Croft can sneak around groups of enemies and conceal herself from more advanced thermal imaging by covering herself in mud. You’ll find fewer satisfactions in gaming than the feeling of dropping into a glimmering wet jungle filled with mercenaries and skulking through ivy and tall grass in order to get the drop on an enemy as you swing a pickaxe into their chest cavity. I only wished this game let you do more of it.
The jungle isn’t always your friend. As you evolve into a predator, the game reminds you that you aren’t the apex predator. Some of Lara’s most difficult challenges are with ravenous wildlife from an encounter with a Jaguar that would make Leo cringe to fending off packs of wild hounds. This place can kill and you’re equipped with a scarce array of weaponry consisting of an automatic rifle, handgun, and shotgun which you’ll really only find yourself using against the game’s more…ravenous underground enemies. Most of the time you’ll find yourself relying on little more than your bow & arrow as it’s just ultimately more fun to find ways to stealth kill Trinity soldiers.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a massive game which took me close to 25hrs just to complete the story. This much real estate is difficult to fill for any game and here the developers don’t get every part of it right. Much of the issue is with balance. While you’re introduced to some meaty combat mechanics in the prologue mission, the early parts of the game are heavy in exploration, puzzle solving, and platforming. At long intervals, it felt as though too much time had passed before I needed to use any weaponry in a meaningful way. Then as you enter the fourth act, the action starts to avalanche with one fighting sequence after another till you get to the climax battle with the leader of Trinity himself.
Pacing is indeed the game’s biggest issue to the point where you can’t help but notice it. Yet the matter of filling in the actual massive world designed here is well done. As you go through the game’s story you’ll come across challenge tombs and crypts, some you’ll be able to explore as you find them while others will require upgraded gear to access (meaning completionists will need to play this more than once). There’s a variety of craftsmanship in all of them, some make you solve a challenging puzzle like counterweighting statues in the right order while others make you swim in a lengthy underground maze filled with sea creatures trying to kill you. I hate swimming and swimming levels because the idea of drowning terrifies me and one dip in these Tomb Raider waters had me reaching for oxygen in my own house. It’s just that visceral.
Shadow’s design team raises the bar in an area most games settle, all the puzzles and challenges you’ll encounter in the game are unique, even to one another. Where most games settle for making you solve slight variations of the same hacking or coordinating puzzles, Shadow of the Tomb Raider never recycles its material. Every tomb, challenge, or door you need to open never loses the feeling of reward and that’s commendable in a blockbuster experience that has plenty of other areas it could have put that could have stolen the resources needed to build that part of the game.
Overall, Shadow of The Tomb Raider is a journey. Every journey has its ups and downs, long stretches and bumps in the road. This game certainly has a few bumps in the form of some lulls but it’s worth the adventure moments of its heart attack inducing escapes from death traps. While the previous two Tomb Raider titles had more combat action, this one raises the bar of rewarding experiences.
8.5/10 – Shadow of The Tomb Raider is one of the meatiest game experiences you can find for 60 bucks today.