Lara Croft is back for her third adventure since she was rebooted in 2013. That 2013 release didn’t initially click for me but after trying to start the game three times it ended up being the reason I bought an XBox One. Since then the Tomb Raider franchise has come to represent what can be so great about the action adventure and exploration genre.
In the first two games we came to know a young Lara that was looking to find her way in the world. In Shadow the game is tonally much darker than the previous entries. Yes, in Tomb Raider, and Rise; Lara explored tombs and fought Trinity even killing when she had to. In Shadow we have found that Lara has spent the last few years hunting down Trinity cells and “eliminating” them. Lara over the course of five years has transformed from wet behind the ears anthropologist to an assassin with a vendetta. While once Lara could be viewed as a sympathetic protagonist she has grown to be villainous in her own way.
Still at Lara’s side is Jonah. The chemistry between these two works well. While they are not a couple they communicate with one another on a level only two people who have spent years together through tragic circumstances can. Jonah will call Lara out on her bullshit when she’s grown blind to the fact she can be her own worst enemy. He will also point out that she has become a bit of a narcissist to boot.
While it’s a running joke that in Raiders of the Lost Ark the movie would have had the same outcome whether or not Indiana Jones had even been involved, that is not the case for Lara in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Lara, in her hubris, believed that she was the only one capable of handling a precious artifact. In an attempt to prevent Trinity from stealing it she stole it first. By doing so Lara triggered the apocalypse and unleashed a tidal wave killing hundreds of innocents. She is now left to burden that grief while seeking to correct the mistake she has made.
Beyond the story the game itself is fantastic. It immediately jumps right into the action. We’ve seen Lara live through shipwrecks and avalanches and now we see her survive a plane crash in the jungles of South America. Immediately following this first bit of adventure you’ll get about 10 minutes of exposition explaining the back story and a short mission that reaquintes you with your skillset. Even if you’ve never played another Tomb Raider game the first 30 minutes will get you set up with most everything you need to know to enjoy the experience. The game is also filled with a number of short in engine cutscenes. They look so good that sometimes I didn’t even notice that one had ended and the game resumed and I just sat there while the game waited for me to do something.
The game is truly gorgeous. I’ve been reviewing the game on an XBox One X. The character models and the environments look fantastic. The textures are generally very good. While people look life like and real there hair could be a little better. Most prey animals are very well done. However, the predators, such as the jaguar which you’ll run into early in the game, doesn’t measure up to the standard set by the rest of the game.
This is Lara’s third go round and as such it would make sense that she wouldn’t start the game off with a complete power reset. Thankfully she does not unlike everyone’s favorite blue bomber. She knows the majority of her old tricks like rope arrows, and double axe climbing up walls. She even knows a new one right from the get go. Lara can now repel. This adds a new level of verticality to the game. In the previous two entries it felt like you were mostly climbing up. Now you will have to focus on looking below you as well. Lara can lower herself on her rope and swing back and forth. She can also run against horizontal surfaces this way giving herself a little extra boost to try and clear a gap.
Shortly into the game there will be an event that causes you to lose your gear. Lara even makes a bit of a reference how she should learn to pack her stuff better. So while your skills won’t get reset your gear will. But like in previous entries to the franchise you’ll be able to collect items and build new gear and improve the gear you do have. There are also a number of new skills that Lara will be able to learn in Shadow that she hasn’t had in the past including a handful that deal with perception and seeing things easier than she could normally.
While combat is an important aspect to gameplay it is not the most important aspect to gameplay. You’ll earn a lot of experience from discovering new areas, solving puzzles, collecting items, and completing quests. Exploration and puzzle solving are as important if not more important than combat. Shadow also places a renewed emphasis on challenge tombs. These tombs are generally larger than tombs from previous TR games and upon completion will reward you with a new skill.
Walking through small settlements and villages the game does a wonderful job of creating ambiance. There will be crowded plazas with people having conversations about certain events that are going on in the world. You can change in the options to have these conversations take place in the local’s native tongue or your localized voice setting. I played the game in English with English subtitles and the locals in one Mexican town spoke Spanish with English subtitles so I could hear them they way they would speak but understand what they said. Also to increase accessibility for the hearing impaired the game can provide subtitles for everything that is said and give each person that is speaking a different color subtitle so you can better distinguish who said what.
In addition to accessibility options there are a number of different difficulty options. Instead of being able to make the game just easy, medium, or hard, which you can do, you can also pick different difficulties for the different pillars of the game. This way if you want to flex your trigger but not your brain you can amp up the combat, but make the puzzles and exploration easier. Or if your reflexes aren’t what they once were you can make the puzzles difficult and make the combat easy. You can even drop everything down and make it to where you can play the game and experience the story without having to stress yourself out about finding hard to see collectibles and blood thirsty jaguars.
The game is filled with items to find and nooks to explore. Each relic or letter you find will give you more back story to pull you into the world of Tomb Raider. You’ll also find scraps of material to upgrade your tools and weapons. The more you put into exploring the more you’ll get out of it. Exploration is such and important aspect to this game. The puzzles are also very important and you’ll find them just about everywhere you look. While some puzzles can be daunting other’s you’ll end up making harder than they need to be. Sometimes a puzzle is as easy as it seems. Also if a solution doesn’t seem readily apparent make sure to walk around and look for paths or ledges to climb on. You might just be overlooking an obvious answer. I’ve spent over 30 minutes trying to solve a puzzle because I didn’t see a path going down a ravine right next to me.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a heavy experience. Lara has grown up over the last few years and we have had a chance to watch her mature. Some may not like the person she has grown into but she is definitely not the victim she once was when she fell off the boat. Shadow deals with dark subjects but does a nice job of interspersing some scenes to try and lighten the mood, a favorite of mine involves a young Lara in Stark Manor. For those that don’t like the turn the story has taken the gameplay is still fantastic. The exploration is as good as it has ever been and the Tombs feel even more rewarding than they ever have. If you’ve enjoyed the first two Tomb Raiders there is even more to like in Shadow.
- Fantastic Graphics
- More Tombs
- Fun Exploration
- Darker Lara
- Controls don’t feel as precise as they should be
A review copy of Shadow to the Tomb Raider was provided by Sqaure Enix’s PR team. This was reviewed on the XBox One X.