Unlike movies, only a handful of video game characters manage to pierce through a franchise’s shortcomings to become a character that people love to play as. Well, Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, for me personally, is high up on the list of such games. Thanks to her charming personality and determination to explore mindless quests for retribution, Lara has managed to stick around for over two decades now, and even today, she’s seen preying on enemies and exploring ruins.
In Shadow of the Tomb Raider (Rs. 2,990 on PS4; Rs. 3,770 on Xbox One), Lara is on the last leg of her journey to find the missing piece of the puzzle that she’s been wanting to solve by putting herself in some of the most ridiculous life-threatening situations. And after playing this latest entry, I can say that Lara’s reboot story has found a fitting ending. But is it a fun one to play? Well, let’s find out.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider picks up where the previous title left. Both Lara and her close friend Jonah are seen traveling through Mexico and South America to stop Trinity from acquiring an artifact and, you know, save the world. Yes, it sounds just like any other Tomb Raider game we’ve played before, but game directors Daniel Chayer-Bisson have narrated the story in an interesting way.
The story revolves around the consequences of Lara’s actions. To stop Trinity from acquiring the Mayan dagger, she snatches it herself early in the game causing the Maya apocalypse. Unfortunately, Lara gets captured by Dominguez (the leader of Trinity and primary villain) who takes the dagger and reveals his evil plan to unite it with the ‘Box’ and remake the world.
So, you spend the rest of the game trying to stop Dominguez while meeting new characters in the process. However, the uncertain apocalyptic event set off by Lara, in my opinion, is an interesting narrative element as it develops a sense of maturity, making her realize that every action has a consequence. This brings out the best of Lara’s character. I am not going to spoil the fun by revealing too much (also because there are too many things to mention), but you’ll be pleased with the character building.
Lara goes from being a survivor to a BADASS Silent Killer.
The story of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, just like the first two Tomb Raider games in the modern trilogy, takes some time to kick in. But once it does, you’ll see Lara mature as a character. She’ll start learning new skills to evolve as a “Silent Killer.” Instead of blowing up an enemy base or raging on enemies with an assault rifle, Lara turns into a mud-covered jungle warrior. You’ll find yourself lurking in the shadows sending poisonous arrows, which I found to be more pleasing and rewarding at the same time.
Yes, the Shadow of the Tomb Raider has a well-executed narrative, but sadly, I never found myself on the edge of my seat wanting to know what’s next in store for me. And that’s because Eidos Montreal seems to have put more emphasis on exploration, an aspect of the game which can be both positive and negative depending on how you like to play. So, let’s talk a bit more about exploration, and some other aspects that make Shadow of the Tomb Raider a compelling title.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider, just like its predecessors, rests on some important pillars – exploration, puzzles, and combat. Having spent more than 20 hours in the game, I am happy to report that the game scores good marks on all three aspects, at least in my books.
First off, I’d like to point out that the game lets you choose how difficult you want each aspect to be. Yes, Eidos Montreal has included the ability to modify the difficulty level of combat, exploration, and puzzle solving independently of each other. This, in my opinion, is one of the best things to happen to the game and I wish I could get this level of customization on all AAA titles.
I personally wanted to go easy on the puzzles, so I set it to easy, whereas I bumped up the combat difficulty to hard to face challenging encounters. You can also set the ‘exploration’ option to hard and play as the ultimate “Tomb Raider”. But that, along with the lack of a Heads-Up-Display (HUD), will force you to bring out the best explorer in you.
Raiding the Tombs Like a Pro
Speaking of exploring, it is hard not to address the introduction of ‘Hubs’ in the game. Hubs are essentially unique locations where you can interact with the local inhabitants (in their local language with the immersive mode). Exploring a hub makes Shadow of the Tomb Raider feel like an open-world game, which, I believe, is where the franchise is headed in the future.
While interacting with the local inhabitants, you unlock various side-quests as well. I am not a huge fan of side-quests in this game as they turned out to be rather weak. Yes, the side-quests introduce an RPG flavor, but I couldn’t see myself going through the pain of completing them, as they are very inconsistent at keeping you engaged. I found other aspects like the ability to interact with the locals to be a bit questionable as well, but they might come in handy if you choose to play the game in its immersive mode.
Jump Lara, Jump!
Lara has also learned a couple of new moves in addition to the ones that are carried over from the previous titles. These include both combat moves as well as the moves that let you traverse the vast landscape in style. Lara can now hang freely from a wall/ rock or use a rope to swing around an obstacle. Don’t worry, though, the game does a great job of teaching you everything, so you won’t find yourself stuck in the learning phase for a long time.
Lara’s skill set, on the other hand, is now split into three sections as well. You have seeker skills, warrior skills, and scavenger skills. Acquiring new seeker skills will enhance Lara’s exploration skills. Warrior skills, as the name suggests, will make Lara good at combat, whereas learning new scavenging skills will make Lara good at resource management. You are free to upgrade your character as you see fit, as there’s no right or wrong way to play the game, really.
“There’s no right or wrong way to play the game, really!”
I also like how you can acquire different costumes for Lara. You can literally play as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider 2 or even Angel of Darkness. It’s obviously not for everyone, but hey, it’s nice to have a touch of nostalgia, right?
Lastly, just like every other Tomb Raider game, you’ll be thrown into a situation where solving a puzzle is the only way to progress. As is the case with every new sequel, the puzzles keep getting better. I personally found the “Trial of the Eagle” and “Oil” to be the most time consuming and somewhat complicated (and frustrating) puzzles in the game.
Visuals & Sound Effects
Visually, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is arguably one of the best looking games in the franchise. In fact, it is high up on my list of best-looking AAA titles released this year so far. Props to Eidos Montreal for delivering fantastically detailed graphics. The animation and environment design, in particular, are truly impressive. I won’t say the character animations match the level of something like, say, Uncharted 4, but there are plenty of details to be seen in almost everything around you.
“Cinematic cutscenes are all rendered in real time using the game’s engine”
On the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One X, the game offers two different modes – High Resolution (HDR, 4K, 30 FPS) and High Framerate (HDR, 1080p, 60 FPS). I chose to play the game in the High-Resolution mode on my PlayStation 4 Pro, and needless to say, I was blown away by how incredibly detailed the game really is. I did experience occasional frame drops while exploring places like “The Hidden City” but I decided to continue experiencing this gorgeous game in high resolution because of the crispness.
The underwater sequences in Shadow of the Tomb Raider are probably one of the best that I’ve seen in any games. Also, the cinematic cutscenes, which look incredibly detailed, are all rendered in real time using the game’s engine. There were moments when I couldn’t tell the difference between cinematic cutscenes and actual gameplay, but I guess that’s a happy problem to have.
The developers of Shadow of the Tomb Raider have also paid great attention to the smallest details when it comes to the in-game audio experience. You can literally hear anything and everything from rustling leaves, crumbling rocks, etc. Thanks to the support for Dolby Atmos, you can hear even the smallest of noises like people talking in a distance if you are paying close attention.
“Non-playable characters (NPCs) can speak in their native language”
Before I drop my final words on the game, I’d like to appreciate the developers for allowing the NPCs in the game to speak in their native language. It is, however, ruined by the fact that Lara can only talk to them in English. I hate to call it a half-baked feature, but I’d like to see some development in this space if/ when the next game arrives.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Pros & Cons
- Gorgeous and detailed visuals
- Tight gameplay
- A fitting end to the origin story
- New abilities are questionable
- Weak side-missions
Shadow of the Tomb Raider: End of the Origin Story
Shadow of the Tomb Raider follows the franchise’s arc to find a fitting finish. It builds on the foundations laid by the previous two titles in the reboot trilogy and delivers a heartfelt and action-packed gameplay.
As a longtime series fan, I started playing the game expecting it to be the best one in the franchise, and I wasn’t disappointed. From new control mechanics to Lara’s emotional journey through the jungle, Shadow of the Tomb Raider makes up for a truly memorable experience. Lara does get pretty dark in this game, but I can’t wait for her to get out of the shadows and embark on her next journey.
Overall, I absolutely enjoyed Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and if you are into adventure titles or if you’ve played the previous two titles in the reboot trilogy, then I encourage you to take this journey. I am sure you’ll dig this one.
Buy Shadow of the Tomb Raider for PS4 from Amazon (Rs. 2,990)
Buy Shadow of the Tomb Raider for Xbox One from Amazon (Rs. 3,770)