Reviews for Lara Croft’s latest adventure had been a bit of a mixed bag from when it arrived last September with descriptions varying between a great conclusion to the series to a significant misstep. After loving the reboot and its amazing sequel I’m finally getting a chance to see Shadow of the Tomb Raider for myself thanks to Xbox’s Game Pass. Development duties had been passed on from the series current custodians in Crystal Dynamics to the team at Eidos Montreal (Deus Ex: Mankind Divided) and though it may not be a high point for the series but there is still plenty here for fans and gamers who can’t get enough of adventuring with the video game icon.
The story this time revolves around Lara letting her ego get the better of herself when she sets off a series of events that are leading towards an apocalypse. So once again she is off on another adventure but this time around it involves her trying to repair the nasty situation she created. It’s commendable that the writers have tried to delve deeper into the characters and their motivations but I think they may have tried a little too hard. Where the previous games felt like the story was woven around the game and its environment this time it feels like the opposite and it suffers a little as a result. I’ll say that some of the smaller, self contained areas are quite well done in piecing together a story but I also feel that they unnecessarily interrupt sections where I felt the momentum needed to be carried rather than stalled.
One thing that’s definitely in the game’s favour is that it immediately puts Lara in a position where she is already a formidable character and capable of handling the tasks ahead. The locations you encounter early on are good in reminding you of that and are help you in getting acquainted with the controls again. Before you know it you’ll be climbing cliffs and murdering soldiers like the best of them (watch out Rambo). Movement is mostly intuitive with Lara responding to the environment that you throw her at with some addition button presses to commit to actions such as using your climbing axe to cling to rocks. As the environment doesn’t always make clear what she can interact with there’s also a button which briefly highlights all of the visible interactive elements that you can climb, collect or attack. It does feel like a bit of a concession but it’s not always clear what you can interact with (especially in the jungle) so it would be worse to make players feel like they have to go into old school adventure mode, trying to run around everywhere to see what they can do. In most situations I do feel like I’m in control of the character though there are some quick time events and combat encounters where you are more likely to need to fail first so that you learn what not to do.
Like its predecessors as you progress through the game you will accumulate materials which are then used to construct and upgrade items to be better or serve additional purposes. The introduction to this works well with Lara needing a knife to get her supplies but it’s at this point too that I think they take the process a little too far. Warning: a small gameplay spoiler ahead! You see, creating the knife lets you cut down cargo hanging from a tree so that Lara can get her bow. She’s had a bow for a couple of games now, and been constantly upgrading them, so you’d think if she had one as part of her gear it’d be one deadly bit of kit but once again you find there’s yet another half dozen upgrades to be applied. It just seems like an unnecessary obstacle being thrown at the player.
One thing that can’t be disputed is just how brilliant it looks. From the outset you’re plunged into environments that are both beautiful and detailed. When even the tutorial level can astonish you with just how awesome it looks then you know the artists are seriously working some magic and it creates the ideal first impression. The world Lara inhabits has always been the star of these games so Shadow of the Tomb Raider has a lot to live up to and at times the game does a brilliant job of showing the environments at their very best. Being able to stand up and be looking out across a valley and see your destination in the far distance is really impressive and feels like it’s at a greater scale than ever before… maybe because both Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider also targeted previous generation platforms to some degree this is the first time we’re seeing the game engine flex its muscles without compromises.
Seeing as this is being treated as the end of this trilogy of Tomb Raider games it saddens me to think that this may be the last we see of this series for some time. I’ve played these games through what I consider it’s three generations (the original Core Design games and then both Crystal Dynamics “reboots” starting with Tomb Raider Legend and Tomb Raider respectively) and this last series of games has been one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had on my Xbox One.
Despite my early trepidation in playing this final game I’ve been quickly turned around and am finding it to be a great addition to the series that is still delivering on what I’ve wanted in terms of action and thrills. The positives I see more than outweigh the negatives. I’m frankly surprised to see this appearing so soon on Game Pass and it really is quite a coup for Xbox. Using the popular Netflix comparison it’s like getting the game equivalent to Rogue One or Infinity War and it can only be an overall boost to the quality of titles on the service.
Still happy to say that you can’t go wrong with a Tomb Raider game. 🙂
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is out now on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Played on Xbox One X via Game Pass.