End of a trilogy.
When the Tomb Raider reboot burst onto the scene in 2013, it revitalized the dying Tomb Raider franchise with a gorgeous setting, Uncharted inspired platforming, and brutal combat that felt right. Lara’s transition from innocent explorer to deadly killing machine may have been a bit exaggerated, but the steps, albeit rushed, were natural. It’s a game that deservedly garnered much positive attention, and Lara Croft was back and better than ever. Then Rise of the Tomb Raider was announced as a console (timed) exclusive for the Xbox One. Fans were outraged, and it seemed like Square-Enix managed to bungle another deal for exclusivity on a rival console. This could have been remedied, of course, if the game was good; alas, it was far less than what I expected, and it left me vastly disappointed. So when I learned about Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I was justifiably a little concerned.
Enter Lara Croft, back for her alleged Tomb Raider reboot trilogy finale. After the silliness of her sophomoric release, she’s indubitably self aware of some of the absurdities she consistently faces. After accidentally dooming the world in an ironic twist of fate and watching the poor villagers of the town she was inhabiting killed by her mistake, Lara realizes she must race against the villainous Trinity before its head honcho, Pedro Dominguez, can reshape the world to his liking. It’s not an altogether unique premise, but with a little touch of the aforementioned self awareness, it actually works.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider, to me, both expanded upon and called back to the previous two entries. Where Rise of the Tomb Raider felt too big and empty, perhaps with purpose, Shadow of the Tomb Raider felt more like the Tomb Raider reboot with its large, explorable areas and access to a few “off-the-map” side quests. Challenges, of course, return in all their glory, too, and the stealth mechanics, a disaster in game two, are refined and feel great. Overall, it’s a grand entry – but we’ll get to that.
Gameplay in Lara Croft’s latest adventure sees itself much improved over the previous entry. While gunplay and platforming remains relatively unchanged from each entry, the stealth mechanics work much better this time around. Lara smoothly transitions from corner to corner or bush to bush, and she glides through the trees with ease. Additionally, her stealth kills and tree stealth kills are particularly cool, but I rarely was spotted while performing one. If anything, soldiers lose you quicker than before once spotted; that, or you’ve got more real estate to lose them in.
Visually, Shadow of the Tomb Raider stuns. I played this one on my PS4 Pro and basked in the vibrant 4K HDR colors, often pausing to absorb the verdant landscapes. It’s something that made exploring worthwhile and enjoyable, which is something I don’t often do or think. For a game like Tomb Raider, strong visuals, particularly in the environment, is vital and only enhances the overall experience.
What really stood out to me in this game, however, were the moments of pure adrenaline that fueled a few of the most memorable set pieces. There’s a segment toward the end of the game that sees Lara trudging through a horde of soldiers, and it’s one of the most badass moments in the past year or so of gaming I’ve experienced. Lara’s always been a likeable character, in my opinion, and her growth in this game continues on her strong – if at times, unbelievable – character arc.
Overall, Shadow of the Tomb Raider was certainly game of the year material (though with the slew of games that also arrived in 2018, it won’t win any awards). It features slick and tight gameplay with a much better story than the previous effort. Characters felt fully fleshed out, and the environments breathed with life. The game’s weakest link was its main antagonist, who ran with the cliched, “I’ll destroy the world to reshape it the way it needs to be for the good of all mankind!” Still, for a genre that relies less on storytelling and more on gameplay, Shadow of the Tomb Raider puts out a strong effort on both sides. I highly recommend this one for fans of the series, and I certainly recommend the series for newcomers.