Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Review (PS4)
Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise have been staples in the gaming world since their debut in 1996. With the advancement of hardware in the years since, it was only natural that the series received a well deserved reboot. In 2013, Crystal Dynamics and publisher Square Enix began their attempt at delivering a trilogy that fans of the series would be proud to play. After experiencing Shadow of the Tomb Raider, it’s apparent that they have succeeded in providing fans of the series a satisfying conclusion which puts an emphasis on Lara’s narrative; a narrative that has been building over the course of the trilogy.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider starts off with a flurry as Lara and her best friend Jonah are scrambling in a deteriorating plane as they try to brace for the sudden impact of the inevitable crash. After the crash, the final installment in the trilogy sets our protagonist off in the Peruvian jungle as she attempts to prevent an apocalyptic scenario (which she set in motion herself) for the city of Paititi. Just as we’ve previously seen her, she’s attempting to locate artifacts before the vile organization known as Trinity can get their hands on them. The artifacts in question are a dagger and a silver box which are necessary to perform the ritual used to stop the city from being wiped out. The setting and mission objectives serve as the perfect backdrop to the real story that unfolds: Lara’s individual growth over the span of three games. Deciding to show us a version of Lara we aren’t accustomed to was a bold move, but one that Crystal Dynamics pulls off well.
Placing such a strong emphasis on Lara’s story means that people who haven’t played Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider won’t feel as invested in the characters as those who have played through the entire series. For returning players, you’ll find Lara to be noticeably different in terms of her attitude and choices she makes. Her quest to stop Trinity at all costs leads her to make some obviously questionable decisions that will cause the player to second guess her overall motive. The writing team does a stellar job of making sure characters around Lara, namely fan favorite Jonah, openly question and berate her when she goes too far. It’s easy to think Lara has become arrogant after thwarting Trinity in the previous installments, but her personality change is a lot deeper than that. She has always blamed Trinity for the death of her father and that death was the catalyst that turned Lara into the intelligent, fearless, and capable woman we all witness today. Shadow is all about Lara learning to use that motivation for something other than revenge and while her early decisions seem to be made due to arrogance, the reality is her desire for revenge is clouding her judgement. Fans of the franchise might be turned off at how Lara is portrayed early in the game but I can assure you her arc pays off in the end with a satisfying conclusion.
Having Shadow of the Tomb Raider set in the jungles of Peru allowed for some welcome game play additions. Notably the ability to smear mud all over Lara and hide against walls in order to stealthily take out enemies adds some depth and creativity when approaching areas filled with Trinity soldiers. Another new feature is the use of the repel rope that Lara can use to swing from ledge to ledge. After playing so much Spider-Man last weekend, it was fun having small moments with Lara Croft: Webslinger. Adding to the stealth tactics, Lara is able to climb up trees and sneak attack enemies either by jumping down to them and attacking or stringing them up. Having multiple stealth options at any given combat moment is necessary because the game’s weakest point is its gun play. Granted, while I prefer to take the stealth approach in any game that gives me the option, I felt it was vital in Shadow because aiming down the sights of the various guns lacked fluidity. The bow is still the best weapon in the game but when things go south in a hurry it just doesn’t fire quick enough. On the bright side, there are only a handful of moments in the game where you are forced to move through an area without being given the stealth option. The crafting mechanic remains largely unchanged but they did add the ability to craft “Endurance” and “Perception” remedies which allow Lara to take more damage and be able to spot animals in the environment around her, respectively. Both are crafted exactly as the health remedy is and, luckily, you’re never short on supplies. Playing on normal I never ran low and most of the game all of my supplies were completely filled.
Ranking up Lara is similar to the previous two installments. As you complete main and side missions, find documents, monoliths, and other artifacts you gain XP. Gaining XP will lead to receiving skill points that are used to unlock various skills in three different categories: Seeker, Scavenger, and Warrior. Seeker will allow Lara to reveal various items in the world when she enters her “sense mode.” Scavenger will unlock skills such as faster swimming, breathing longer underwater, as well as improving upon Lara’s stealth takedown abilities. Lastly, Warrior will improve her ability to withstand damage and increase her combat abilities. All three serve their respective purposes and thanks to the vast amount of activities to do (side quests, tombs, crypts) you’re able to gain enough XP to fully rank her up. The skill trees lead to an inherent push towards completing tombs and crypts. You can only unlock certain skills by completing the various tombs and crypts that they’re assigned to. These events certainly don’t feel like a chore as they represent the best of what the game has to offer. It is during these moments that Shadow puts an emphasis on solving puzzles to advance. Successfully completing each one leads to a well deserved, gratifying feeling all while immersing the player in the beautiful world around Lara. With all the chaos that happens so frequently it’s pleasant to have these one-on-one moments where it’s just Lara and the player working towards finding a way out.
Just as we’ve seen in the previous two installments, Shadow of the Tomb Raider combines stellar visual graphics with a perfectly timed score which adds weight to some of the tenser moments. Going through the series’ trademark closed quarters set pieces and hearing the music cut out instantly fills you with dread as you wonder what’s about to jump out at you. Combat scenes are fast paced and exhilarating even though the gun play is less than ideal. The cinematic scenes convey real emotion and the voice acting delivers on all fronts but especially in regards to Camilla Luddington and Earl Baylon as Lara and Jonah. Playing on a PS4 Pro favoring high resolution over frame rate I only had a couple of instances where the game paused and provided a “waiting for streaming” message. Other than those rare occurrences I enjoyed watching what was unfolding as much as actively playing.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider provides fans of the trilogy a meaningful end to a well done reboot. Instead of going with a more open world style they stayed true to their linear approach and emphasized Lara’s narrative which has been built superbly over three installments. For those who crave that open world experience, Shadow gives players enough activities outside of the main story to keep them busy. If you weren’t a fan of the first two games then this one surely won’t win you over. However if you are a fan of this reboot, you’ll be pleased to see an impactful ending to Lara’s story.