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 sale figures before finally dropping on other platforms over a year later. Skip forward to 2018 and Shadow Of The Tomb Raider’s final installment in this trilogy learns lessons from the past and drops as a multi-platform title, delivering a somewhat underwhelming and mediocre finale.
If you haven’t played the previous two games in the trilogy, it’s highly recommended you do so before playing this. The continuing story picks up where it left off from the previous game, with Lara Croft on the hunt for lucrative treasure while trying to outsmart and outwit an ever-present Trinity group in hot pursuit. Acting as a one-woman army, this journey sees Lara travel to the lush tropics of Peru to stop an impending apocalypse and fulfill her destiny to become the woman we’ve come to know over the years.
The story is largely predictable, relying heavily on big set pieces with Trinity outgunning and outsmarting our heroine every step of the way. Most of the story sees this familiar loop of Lara arriving at an area and trying to stop Trinity, culminating in a climactic finale involving a world-ending event you need to try and stop. Along the way, Shadow does throw in plenty of puzzles, platforming and combat to mix things up but it never really feels like it adds anything new or unique that hasn’t been done better or more effectively in other titles within this genre.
Graphically at least, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is a beautiful game. Character animations are well rendered, the lighting is excellent throughout and the water effects look very realistic from a distance. Some of the choppy water splashes and individual frames close-up do look a little awkward but to be honest it’s a minor point in what’s otherwise an aesthetically competent game. The underwater sections only reinforce this beauty, adding muffled sound effects and a murky, blue hue that combines to produce some of the most realistic underwater sections seen in a video game for quite some time.
If there’s one thing Shadow excels in, it’s the introduction and exploration of different locations Lara visits. Whether it be a quiet village dwarfed by a Mayan temple in the distance or rain-soaked muddy woods, every locale looks incredible and the level design plays off this nicely with a combination of platforming, combat or puzzles depending on where you are.
With such an aesthetically pleasing game, Developer Eidos Montreal pads the title out with a lot of cut-scenes to try and show off this beauty as much as possible. While these do add to the cinematic appeal, at times these fall into the trap of show-don’t-tell. As an example, one cut-scene starts while you’re underneath a tank and shows you crawling out, covered in mud, silently stealth killing 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 are memorable set-pieces that should be playable to reinforce the feel of you being in control but oftentimes you’ll find yourself placing the controller down and watching these moments play out, wondering just why you weren’t in control and experiencing this yourself.
Tomb Raider will almost certainly be compared to the Uncharted series and with many of the same gameplay mechanics across both franchises, these comparisons are almost inevitably going to happen. Unlike the Uncharted series though, Tomb Raider’s collision detection when grabbing walls or ledges is far more unforgiving, resulting in an abundance of cheap deaths that could have easily been avoided. 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 directionless segments are few and far between, the moments they do show up prove to be more frustrating than they should be.
For the most part, Shadow assumes you’ve already played the previous games and follows many of the same mechanics you’ve grown naturally accustomed to. Accompanying the main narrative are the usual wilderness challenges, animal and artifact hunts as well as side-quests. All of these offer up valuable experience points which can then be converted into skill points. These skill points allow you to upgrade Lara to play the way you want – with better aiming, favourable prices from merchants and better perception for uncovering traps a few such examples of abilities you can upgrade. Much like Rise Of The Tomb Raider, the side quests that show up here boil down to a very simple and mundane number of 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 the best platforming puzzles in any adventure game from the past few years. Every part of this 10 minute segment is so beautifully presented, mixing subtle set-piece driven action with a challenging, thought provoking solution. The rest of the puzzles are equally well-designed although they are inevitably going to draw some frustration from fans thanks to the aforementioned directionless clues, especially the last puzzle of the game.
Combat is something Shadow Of The Tomb Raider really struggles with and its an achilles heel that the series has never really managed to recover from. While I appreciate this has never been a high point of the series, there’s probably 3 or 4 big combat sequences in the entire game, with a couple of skirmishes sprinkled in throughout the 12 hour play-time for good measure. Most of these can be completed without much hassle through stealth kills but expect to spend most of your time solving puzzles or exploring the beautiful locations the game serves up instead.
Ironically, this lack of combat makes the final boss of the game even more bizarre, as it throws you into a combat-driven sequence that feels ill-fitting compared to what we’ve experienced over the course of this journey. While this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, given this is supposed to be the final ongoing chapter in this trilogy, it does feel like a bit of an underwhelming way to finish off something that should act as a big, triumphant ending for our heroine.
Shadow Of The Tomb Raider ultimately bows out this trilogy of games with a whimper rather than a roar. The gameplay may be a little better this time around compared to Rise but the disjointed nature of its various mechanics make this game more frustrating and under-developed than it should be. I love Tomb Raider and have played almost every game since its original on the Playstation all those years ago but Shadow Of The Tomb Raider feels like a cruelly ironic name for this final title; a game overshadowed by what’s come before and never once looking like stepping out of the darkness and becoming a shining beacon for the franchise.
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