Shadow of the Tomb Raider connects a story with three games, with a very clear ambition: to re-invent one of the most influential characters in the history of video games without digging into anything that really makes the Tomb Raider series fun.
The new Tomb Raider reboot from Crystal Dynamics 2013 brought Lara Croft back to the first place, without the cool confidence we would expect from the character. This was a skillful, yet fragile explorer who did her best to survive, let alone save the world from bad paramilitary organizations – although she obviously did both.
Three years after a follow-up follow-up, Shadow of the the Tomb Raider (Xbox One, PS4 and PC) sent Lara to Latin America to pursue a Mayan artifact that was hunted by her deceased father. Cue a lot of digging, some great realizations about the past of her family, and a real Maya apocalypse to start up.
The end of the trilogy is just as concerned about Lara's personal growth as the natural disasters that hit the places she visits – Mexico, Peru and the lost Inca city of Paititi – but with some great platforms and a whole series of new traversal mechanics. those things shake up. Shadow of the Tomb Raider was meant to be the game in which Lara & # 39; s the Tomb Raider that she should be & # 39 ;, and her skillset has been upgraded accordingly.
So how did it play? After completing the roughly 12-hour campaign, we can confirm that this is an end that its predecessors deserve.
Light, camera, action
From the beginning, you try to dodge and outsmart the power-hungry Trinity organization and its charismatic leader Dominguez, chased by a number of Mayan and Incan ruins in classic Tomb Raider style.
Camilla Luddington is back as Lara, with a great voice from both her and the returning co-star Earl Baylon, who plays her loyal companion Jonah. Their relationship is a real basis for the action and offers a lot of emotional strength in the recurring cut-scenes of the game.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is explicitly & # 39; cinematic & # 39 ;, to the point that it does not always tell you whether you still have to press buttons or just want to see how the action goes. But the animation is winningly realistic, from the crumbling stone cliffs to the coiled muscles of the jaguars that hunt you in the jungle, and you will be impressed by the endless vistas and scenery that tie the levels together.
A huge amount of resources have been invested in animating Lara's hair and facial expressions, even if her commercially-ready & # 39; do not stand out when she is otherwise covered with dirt and blood.
Climbing for the sweet life
Whether you play primarily for exploration, puzzles or battle, Shadow of the Tomb Raider delivers on all fronts – with a new scalable difficulty setting for all three gameplay areas.
If you want to run through Trinity's goons and spend your time on physics-based puzzles in a lost Peruvian city, or have mastered your firearm without having to follow the route, you have complete control over how much help the game has you give, if there is one.
The puzzles here are just as smart as ever, and the interlocking parts of each mechanical room are satisfying to navigate, even if you play with full white ridge & # 39; signage that shows you where to go. Lara will occasionally murmur the purpose of every room if you have trouble figuring out while her survival instincts & # 39; with the right difficulty important objects for the coming task will illuminate. It means that you will never be dumped in a room without explanation or support, while you never have the feeling that it is feeding you.
Challenge Tombs come back stylishly, with many optional areas scattered throughout the game. You will often have to do your utmost to find them, but they offer some challenging puzzles and a breathtaking level design, while at the same time extending the mythology and scale of your world in which you are.
When it comes to exploration, there is enough variety to keep you busy. The setting is somewhat … warmer than Rise of the Tomb Raider's trek through Siberia, with volcanoes and jungles instead of frozen waste, and the result is a lush environment full of life, from birds and scratching frogs to the populated city nodes of the game, full of people are about their days.
There are plenty of side missions and collection assignments as usual, which – like the Challenge Tombs – remain optional and can work out the story as you go or add a stimulus to re-enter old areas after you complete most of the game .
There are also two important dimensions added to traversal in the game. The first is under water, with flooded corridors and caves that bite unexpectedly nailing – Lara can hold her breath only for so long and tries to dodge piranha's while she occasionally turns up for air and led to some of the most exciting moments of the game.
The second is your rope. In addition to clambering over rock walls with your faithful climbing ax, you can now descend into holes and swing on ropes to get over platforms. It adds a whole new verticality to the platforming and throwing your enterhook in the Peruvian jungle feels exciting, sometimes inaccurate.
In the true Mayan apocalypse style, you will try to find your feet against a background of floods, earthquakes and cataclysms, and the real highlights of the game are when the ground literally breaks under you, forcing you to jump fast and move without the luxury. of forward thinking.
Prey and predators
One thing that really marked the 2013 Tomb Raider Reboot was that Lara Croft was not seen as a badass action hero, but as a resilient survivor in the face of both natural and supernatural danger. By the time you are at Shadow of the Tomb Raider, you know how to walk around a weapon, but there is still a sharp sense of danger around what the jungle may contain.
Whether you're wiping off jaguars or gigantic eels – or other chilling enemies we do not spoil for you – the game uses masterfully exciting, giving Lara a quick glance at her enemies in the distance, often long before you face them in a fight often without an indication of when that will be.
Lara is clearly a survivor, but the game is cautious and you never have too much control over any situation. Ledges are just on the edge of your range, ladders break apart and every combat encounter feels like an almost brush with death. Lara hangs on her fingernails – often literally – and the snake pits, spear traps and flooded corridors of the game always want to remind you.
The developers' tasks are now somewhat shared between Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal – the latter bringing their more stealth-focused experience out of games like the Thief of 2014 or the recent Deus Ex games. And the new influences are clear, while you still feel like the same Lara from previous games.
The slow-moving stealth sections offer a welcome change from more high-octane sequences, with more similarities to Predator or Rambo than the Indiana Jones films that Tomb Raider is so obviously to blame for. You stick in the mud to run around undetected, and only a certain amount of phlebotomy is mandatory – although dismissing each enemy one by one is still the easiest way to pass each level.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider really tries to interrogate the violence of the game, with Lara often reminded of her own rising body count, even if she tries to save others from execution by the supporters of Trinity. As the game progresses, however, the contrast between beating henchmen and gently crying about it on your campsite becomes clearer.
For all its interlocking puzzles and smart platform actions, this is an action game and it tends to lean on generic gunfights for the main pressure points and boss battles of the story.
Worst tourist ever
Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal have certainly not been deaf to the usual criticism of the tokenistic use of & # 39; exotic & # 39; environments by Tomb Raider as a backdrop for white adventurers, traditionally abandoned in even more ruins by run and rifle of players through ancient tombs and crypts.
Here, characters openly criticize your disregard for sacred tombs and objects, while there are some unintended consequences for Lara's stubborn pursuit of a certain Mayan artifact at the beginning of the game. This is a mention of Tomb Raider who looks critically at the optics of his franchise, and there is a seed of something very radical in it, even if it prefers to point out something problematic instead of repairing it (a scene that Lara literally revered through "savages" in one way or another managed to make the cut).
However, the rebooted trilogy has clearly tried to make more contact with the cultures and people that Lara visits, with a dedicated team of cultural consultants in development – even if the educational value of collectibles and Maya monoliths is more focused on completists than on budding historians.
In addition to the usual language and subtitle options, players can now also switch to an Immersion Mode & # 39 ;, in which background characters speak in their own language instead of your own preset language. And the care that is put in the hustle and bustle of a small town in Peru, or the wandering inhabitants of a lost Maya city, provides a more thoughtful awareness of the cultures you encounter, with missions that involve you in the inhabitants of instead of just running and shooting them by.
All the signs point to a franchise that grows alongside the main character – this is perhaps the most mature Tomb Raider entry in the series, and one that does not forget to make an exciting and varied blockbuster game in the process.
Our verdict: play now
Shadow of the Tomb Raider marks the end of a dignified trilogy, one that introduces the hard graft to develop Lara's character and emotional journey, against the usual limits of an AAA action game. It might question the legacy of the series more than any other part, even if it does not have the decision to answer all the difficult questions it raises.
The main story can be cut in about 12 hours, if you do not stop picking flowers or digging the challenge and watching side missions along the way – but that is only about half of the content that is offered. There is sufficient motivation to redefine previously researched areas with your equipment and skills for late playing and the Challenge Tombs are satisfying additions to the main course of the game (there are still seven available for those who invest in the Season Pass DLC of the game).
The platforming and traversal mechanics are really spectacular here, while the customizable difficulty settings make this a truly accessible access point for the series – even if we recommend playing the entire trilogy to get the best feeling Lara Croft comes from.