Developer: Eidos Montreal, Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix Co Ltd
Platform: Playstation 4
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the third and final instalment in the latest series of Lara Croft adventures. This series reboot which started in 2013 with Tomb Raider and continued with Rise of the Tomb Raider in 2015, charts the origins of Lara Croft and how she came to be the ass-kicking, globe trotting treasure hunter we meet in the original Tomb Raider all the way back in 1996.
In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara and her best friend Jonah continue their struggle against the sinister Trinity organization, as they race one another around the globe to discover powerful artefacts that could give unimaginable power to those who wield it.
In this chapter, Lara and Jonah discover a long lost civilisation in deepest, darkest Peru where an ancient Mayan prophecy grants control of the lost city to the one who possesses a special ceremonial dagger. When Lara initially gets her hands on the dagger, she unwittingly triggers a cataclysmic event that threatens to wipe out the entire indigenous population of Paititi. Lara becomes riddled with self doubt as Jonah challenges the person she has become and asks whether she is actually doing more harm than good with her treasure hunting obsession.
We’re now five years into the current generation of game consoles and its safe to say that when it comes to triple A character action games, there has been a homogenisation in design elements where most blockbuster games (including God of War, Assassin’s Creed, Spider-man) have RPG-lite traits including skill trees, weapons crafting and loot collecting. To be honest, I don’t really begrudge seeing these familiar elements pop up again in Tomb Raider. They’re neat features and help bring a sense of progress to the proceedings.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider has received generally positive reviews, but there’s an acknowledgement that the formula is now pretty well worn and feels kind of stale, especially if you’ve played any of those other titles recently.
I think if anything, Shadow is a slightly underrated game and there a couple of design elements that I feel have gone under-appreciated by critics. Firstly, I think a refreshing part of Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the heightened emphasis on adventuring and puzzle solving, particularly in the first two thirds of her journey, where there are only very infrequent breaks for combat. Anyone who has read my reviews of Uncharted games know that I have a love/hate relationship with them. I love the characters and presentation of the game but I get increasingly worn down by the tedious waves of repetitive combat the games makes you grind through. In the original Tomb Raider , Lara spent the majority of the game exploring her environment and there was only a total of six human enemies that she encountered. While the number in Shadow of the Tomb Raider isn’t quite that low, it is nice to the developer shine the focus mainly on exploring exotic locales and solving puzzles.
Secondly, and this is a very personal appreciation of the game mechanics relative to my current lifestyle, Shadow of the Tomb Raider offers a unique breadth of options when it comes to tweaking the difficulty of the game. Instead of providing the player with the standard difficulty settings, players can choose to tweak easy/medium/hard settings on combat, exploration and puzzle solving. For someone like me who enjoys certain aspects of the game but has limited time because I’m raising a seven month old baby, I genuinely appreciated this set of options to customise my experience. In fact, that overall flexibility is a fantastic part of Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It’s possible to simply barrel through the story mode, focusing solely on plot progression, where you can wrap things up in between 15-20 hours. However, for those who have the luxury of time, there is a lot of additional content including collectable rare items, challenge tombs and a New Game+ mode. Variety is the spice of life and I like that Eidos let me enjoy my Tomb Raiding experience in such an accommodating fashion.
Beyond that, this is very much a Tomb Raider game that has the playability and production values of the previous two entries in the series. For some people, it may be a touch too derivative when compared to Naughty Dog’s franchise but I’ve loved what Camilla Luddington has brought to the role and although I can take or leave many of the story elements, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring ancient ruins with Lara and the combat with the bow and arrow is still a delight.
Where to for Lara from here? As the story neatly wraps up the origins of Lara Croft, I suspect we may see Square Enix take a break from producing these games for a while. But I hope its not for too long. I have a sweet spot for the Tomb Raider series and I’d be happy to sign up for whatever adventures Lara gets up to next.