An Indifferent Ending To A Tumultuous Trilogy
Since its reboot in 2013, the Tomb Raider series has had quite the tumultuous ride. After a decent opening chapter, Rise Of The Tomb Raider became an Xbox exclusive and suffered poor sales before finally dropping on other platforms over a year later. Skip forward to 2018 and Shadow Of The Tomb Raider drops the final chapter in our heroine’s journey into becoming the hardened Tomb Raider we’ve come to love and the result is somewhat underwhelming.
If you haven’t played the previous games since its reboot in 2013, it’s highly recommended you do so before playing this. The story continues where it left off from the previous game, with Lara Croft on the hunt for a lucrative treasure in a race against time with the Trinity group. Acting as a one-woman army, this journey sees Lara travel to the lush tropics of Peru to stop an impending apocalypse and fulfil her destiny to become the woman she’s destined to become whilst fighting off Trinity alone the way.
Visually at least, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is a beautiful game.
The story is largely predictable, relying heavily on big set pieces with Trinity outgunning and outsmarting our heroine seemingly every step of the way. Most of the story sees Lara try to stop Trinity from unleashing hell on Earth, with plenty of puzzles, platforming and combat along the way.
Graphically at least, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is a beautiful game. Character animations are on point, the lighting is rendered exquisitely and water effects look amazing. If there’s one thing the game excels in, it’s the locations Lara visits and whether it be a quiet village dwarfed by a Mayan temple or a rain-drenched segment in the muddy woods of Peru, every location looks incredible, making it an absolute joy to explore.
Trial Of The Eagle is the stand out puzzle here and one of our favourites in recent memory in any game
With such a good looking game, Developer Eidos Montreal pads the game out with a lot of cut scenes to show off its beauty. While these do add to the cinematic appeal of the game, at times these feel more showy than they should be. One cut scene starts while you’re underneath a tank and shows you crawling out, covered in mud, and silently takedown an enemy infront of you. Another triggers as you first enter a temple, panning the camera around to show off the beautiful architecture in the torch-lit ruins. Moments like this take away from the experience and left me asking just why I couldn’t have discovered this for myself whilst playing, rather than watching.
Inevitably, Tomb Raider is likely to be compared to the Uncharted series and with many of the same gameplay elements shared in both franchises, these comparisons are almost inevitably going to happen. Unlike the Uncharted series, Tomb Raider’s collision detective is far more unforgiving resulting in more cheap deaths than it perhaps should. This is made worse by a troublesome camera and a lack of in-game direction over where you’re supposed to go next. While these troublesome segments are few and far between, at times it becomes more frustrating than it perhaps should be.
Most of the combat is reserved for the final few hours of the game
There are a few gameplay hints for the different mechanics and where to go next though, helped along by pushing the right analog stick which highlights key parts of the area. Unfortunately, during puzzle segments and certain logic-based gameplay movements you’re stuck with hearing a stock Lara Croft phrase repeatedly, with little help on actual progression.
For the most part, Shadow assumes you’ve already played the previous games and follows many of the same mechanics the previous games adopted. Completing challenges in the wilderness, hunting animals, uncovering artifacts and completing quests all give experience points which are then converted into skill points. These in turn allow you to upgrade Lara to play the way you want – with better aiming, favourable prices from merchants and better perception for uncovering traps to name a few abilities you can upgrade.
Much like Rise Of The Tomb Raider, there are side quests here but most of them revolve around simple fetch quests and generally aren’t very exciting.
Thankfully, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider more than makes up for this with some of the best puzzles seen in the franchise for quite some time. One such puzzle, called the Trial Of The Eagle, will probably go down as one of my favourite platforming puzzles I’ve had the pleasure of playing in a video game for a long time. Every part of this 10 minute segment is so beautifully presented, mixing subtle set-piece driven action with smarts and a challenging, thought provoking solution. The rest of the puzzles are equally well designed although they are inevitably going to draw some frustration, especially the last puzzle.
The story is okay but largely relies on formulaic set pieces and predictable story tropes for this final chapter
The combat, or lack thereof, is something that Shadow Of The Tomb Raider really struggles with. Whilst I appreciate the series has never really been known for its combat, there’s probably 3 or 4 big combat sequences in the entire game, with sprinklings of fighting dotted throughout the 12 hour play time for good measure. Most of these can be completed through stealth but are noticeably absent given most of the time you’ll be solving puzzles or exploring the beautiful locations.
Given the fact the final boss of the game relies heavily on combat, it seems like an odd inclusion not to put more of it through the game. While this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, given this is supposed to be the final, ongoing chapter in the prequel-Lara story, it all feels a little too underwhelming and lackadaisical for what should be the big, triumphant ending for our heroine. Unfortunately it just doesn’t deliver on this premise.
Shadow Of The Tomb Raider bows out with a whimper rather than a roar. The gameplay may be a little better this time around but the disjointed nature of its various mechanics make this game more frustrating and under-developed than it has any right of being. I love Tomb Raider and have played almost every game since its original on the Playstation but Shadow feels like a cruel, fitting name, dwarfed by its predecessors and failing to really innovate and deliver when it matters. Excellent puzzles aside, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is a very inconsequential game, one that suffers some serious story issues and fails to give this prequel trilogy the dues it deserves.