Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the third chapter in Eidos Montreal’s revival trilogy of Lara Croft’s modern adventures. Released on September 12th, 2018, from Square Enix, Shadow takes place just a few months after the events of Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015). Unlike its predecessors, Shadow of the Tomb Raider was developed sans Crystal Dynamics and came to fruition via the clever minds at Eidos Montreal. Players find themselves far away from the cold wilderness of Siberia, where we last saw Lara, and instead, are plunged into the unforgiving heat and dangers of Central and South America. But does this new chapter give enough oomph to this legendary franchise to make it a must-buy for fans?
In both Rise of the Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider, players found themselves treated to a much more Action-Movie style of gameplay – no surprise, considering the film franchise of Lara Croft’s adventures has also enjoyed a recent and moderately successful reboot. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is no different, and from the opening scene, the gameplay attempts to thrust players into a gripping, visceral experience of Lara’s adventures. Unfortunately, Shadow ends up feeling like an irrelevant addition to prior stories – Ms. Croft doesn’t have any significant upgrades to her gear, her combat abilities, or even her understanding of exploration; it’s just another chapter, in a new location, rather than feeling like a polished third instalment of a new trilogy.
Players are meant to believe that Lara has come into her own, and is now a highly deadly, incredibly efficient raider, archaeologist, and killing machine. But the opening storyline feels too contrived, too recycled – plus a scary Mayan apocalypse, which just left the plot feeling needlessly bloated without triggering the emotional response I feel the writers had bunked on. Johan, Lara’s companion, is helpful but rather unimpressive; I suppose Lara isn’t in need of a partner-in-crime at this stage of her journey, which would be lovely, except that Johan quickly feels like a nuisance and tag-along rather than an interesting sidekick. Everything is once again happening under the fear of Trinity and Doctor Dominquez, but it’s Lara’s clumsiness that loses her the special dagger rather than a villain that’s genuinely scary.
Convinced that she’s started the Mayan apocalypse and caused the tsunami that wrecks the city in the opening scenes, Lara convinces Johan that they must steal the dagger back, or everything her father sacrificed was for nothing. But the writing is clunky – I certainly expected better dialog and more intrigue from a franchise of this caliber. I found myself far more impressed with the pretty world and RPG-style skill trees rather than anything related to the storyline – and that’s the problem. Shadow was allegedly designed to be a more “character-focused story,” but the characters are boring – including Lara, who seems to have grown very little since the first two new instalments.
Speaking of combat, the mechanics in Shadow of the Tomb Raider are polished and precise enough to be enjoyable but lack the true finesse of a frustration-free experience. I did love that the difficulty is customizable – players can choose to adjust sliders for difficult on puzzles separate from combat, for example. Still, I encountered a few glitches in my first few hours of gameplay that left me unable to complete a puzzle until I reloaded or got me killed when Lara’s jumping mechanics just didn’t work well with that particular challenge. But Shadow does give Lara lots of room for cinematic greatness, between her fancy rappelling skills and climbing upside-down over obstacles. She can use camouflage to enhance her Stealth abilities, or, if you’re particularly brave, you can run in and melee your opponents. This further promotes truly customizing your experience and play style with Lara’s skill tree options, and there is a lot of replay value added by giving a host of skill options. Whether you prefer raw combat or want Survival traits that allow you to produce poison from frogs and things of that nature, Lara’s arsenal of abilities isn’t shabby.
Immersion Mode was a great idea, but it’s implemented in clunky ways. When engaged, Lara interacts with NPCs who speak their native language, rather than automatically being fluent in English; unfortunately, Lara is only able to respond in her British tongue, and everyone magically understands her. Considering that Lara learns languages throughout her travels, I would have enjoyed something more in Immersion Mode; subtitles are important for accessibility, but the literal spoken word context could have been handled better.
One thing that Shadow of the Tomb Raider gets very, very right is the additional tomb exploration via challenges. Bringing back the campfire save point dynamic from the other games, Shadow players can use their camps as teleporters. This means you can revisit the tombs at any time and complete the puzzles within for much-needed bonuses to Lara’s talents and resistances. The crypts rely heavily on puzzles vs. combat, but these small additions work not only to add gameplay time and replay value, but also the additional enjoyment of these beautiful, detailed locations.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is absolutely gorgeous, and the jungle, underwater locations, and even building interiors come to life in great detail – in no small part due to Eidos Montreal’s fantastic use of lighting. Although a few scenes were just too dark for me to enjoy, most of the game is stunning. The dialog is lackluster, and I found the storyline to be tired and cliché, but the world is a joy to explore. Still, I expected more from the final instalment of this ambitious new trilogy, especially since Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider managed to revitalize the series with a lot of innovation, originality, and cutting-edge implementations. Shadow is solid if you’re looking for a pretty game with fun combat, and plenty of puzzles to solve; however, if you’re a die-hard fan of Lara’s story, you might fun the writers missed their mark on this one.
If you’re a Tomb Raider fan and you’re excited to see the new chapter, Shadow of the Tomb Raider could be a worthy addition to your PS4 game library. It excels in exploration and stunning visuals, and the tombs are satisfying and truly challenging. But Lara’s story finds a subpar conclusion in this chapter, and for that reason, I would recommend waiting for a sale to give this one a try.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.