When Tomb Raider was rebooted by Crystal Dynamics in 2013, I was excited to see where they would take the character of Lara Croft. Before the first rebooted title, Lara was an individual who was charismatic and heroic. The 2013 reboot showed us a side of Lara that we never had the chance to experience before.
She was vulnerable and put into numerous dangerous situations of needing to escape the deadly island she was trapped on. Lara’s vulnerability came with her being more relatable as a character and through this we saw the beginnings of her rising in the face of adversity to do what’s right, becoming the character we know and love today. While these newer Tomb Raider titles were more combat focused than prior titles, it did fit the context of the story and has laid a great foundation for this new Lara.
Rise of the Tomb Raider expanded upon what was started with the original reboot and focused on Lara’s past with her father, as well as introducing her main enemy: Trinity. Rise also improved the action/adventure elements by having larger environments to explore and focusing more on her actual tomb raiding rather than the combat. I enjoyed my time with both games and while they weren’t without their flaws, I found this series to be enjoyable and engaging. Square Enix gave me a hero I cared about, tons of fun content to explore, and relentless combat.
Based on the marketing, Shadow of the Tomb Raider from developer Eidos Montreal, appeared to be more action focused than any of the previous titles, but in all actuality Shadow puts more of the focus on exploring, platforming, and puzzles. Fans of the series looking for a Lara that is more into exploration and discovering new tombs should be pleasantly surprised with the tonal shift of this entry.
First off, anyone who has played Rise of the Tomb Raider (and if you haven’t yet, you should before playing this!) will feel right at home with Shadow’s more deliberate pacing. The first half of Shadow focuses more on platforming and puzzle solving over combat encounters. The platforming feels great, minus some magnet-like jumping patterns where Lara sticks to a ledge, with the jumping, sliding, and climbing all feeling intuitive.
What is most satisfying about the gameplay mechanics is the subtle weight and push of momentum you get from swinging with the axes or rope. You can also use her climbing axes as a way to repel down from an area and then swing. The climbing is as satisfactory as the other titles and I loved the sound effects and nice details when your axes struck a surface.
Traversal mostly stays the same like Rise with a few additions. Later in Shadow you earn climbing gear that will let you climb from different angles and it functions like the regular climbing axes, but makes climbing more efficient. With Shadow of the Tomb Raider, swimming is a new gameplay mechanic allowing for more widespread traversal options. While I’m never a fan of swimming mechanics in any video game due to oftentimes poor implementation, I have to say Eidos Montreal delivered an adequate control scheme and the environments look absolutely gorgeous underwater.
The presentation for the story sequences, along with the locations, can be absolutely stunning. Camilla Luddington again adds her voice acting talents to Lara Croft and she does a great job conveying Lara’s emotions. Without stating spoilers, I liked how the story challenged Lara in different ways and we see her having some new types of conflict with completing missions and remembering that the people surrounding the mission may need her help to. Much of the narrative is predictable, but I think them putting the focus on Lara as a character really elevates Shadow’s story above the rest as her final story thread of this trilogy.
Just like other Tomb Raider titles, you have your bow that is used for combat, but is also used for successfully exploring the environment and puzzles. You can use the bow to create these rope climbing points and pulling down weakened doors. The bow will be your most used weapon and tool, and fortunately the bow feels like an extension of Lara that provides a more memorable experiences with performing certain kills or by solving a troubling puzzle.
Tombs are more puzzle focused in Shadow and will have you either completing one large puzzle or a series of them to get through. These sections are very much improved and more rewarding than what they were in 2013. While those challenges were still fun in the reboot, they lacked a sense of awe and wonder that you wanted from a Tomb Raider title.
In Shadow, these tombs actually feel like long-lost structures with a history around them. They even have their own personalities and aesthetics to them which adds even more to the experience. Also, these tombs are more worthwhile to complete, especially because they give you a beneficial perk, such as faster climbing or better health regeneration.
Crypts function much like tombs, but are more based on platforming and avoiding traps. They follow the same style as tombs being optional to explore. While tombs give certain perks, crypts will give you different pieces of gear that will provide you with more assistance. Both tombs and crypts really provide a classic Tomb Raider feel that any fan of the series can appreciate.
When you’re not puzzle solving and platforming, there will be plenty of combat scenarios to take part in. Many of the combat encounters provide you with the options for stealth or going all out, although the latter is not advised. Stealth kills can especially be brutal and very satisfying to performing, picking off one person at a time in the shadows or foliage. I particularly appreciated how camouflaged the developers made Lara look when hiding, as most of the times you can’t even see her and provides a new level or realism when even the player can’t see her.
Even during a few sections where stealth is favored, Shadow doesn’t restrict you into automatically being a death sentence when you get caught. It was nice to be able continuously adapt to a situation and not have to worry as much about being caught. A new stealth mechanic is that Lara can now cover herself in mud and use this as camouflage, which is really satisfying to pull off and leave the enemy at a significant disadvantage.
If the combat breaks out, you’ll have your typical handguns, and a variety of other weapons to aid you. All the guns sound deadly and vary fun to shoot. What really adds to the gunplay is how the enemies react to you when shoot them and also, Lara is able to use a few neat new types of arrows. One is a type of arrow that allows you to pick up enemies off the ground hanging them, and you’ll get these “fear”-like arrows that will infect the person you hit and they will stumble around shooting anything in sight.
Almost everything you do gains you experience points and you can use those experience points to be able to purchase different skills to help you on the adventure. While playing, you will also be collecting many different types of materials and you can use that to craft better gear and upgrade your guns.
Combat is not as frequent in the first half of Shadow, but it does become more frequent in the second half. I really did like having the focus more on exploration at the beginning of the game rather than having Lara become a bloodthirsty Nathan Drake (Uncharted fame) killing hundreds of enemies. It was nice to see the developer flesh out more of the classical elements of Tomb Raider with more areas to explore and solve with the tombs and crypts.
Side missions are expanded upon in Shadow with more than ten available to complete within the adventure. What I liked about the side missions this time around were that they gave you more insight into the area Lara is exploring and the people she is interacting with. You learn about their culture, way of life, and some of the area’s politics. The side missions also have some great moments by humanizing Lara and her being a hero on a smaller scale.
My main gripes with Shadow of the Tomb Raider come from the main villain. He lacked any sort of intimidating presence or character that made him feel interesting. I felt that Rise had a better main villain and Shadow took a step back in this area. On the positive, I really liked how Shadow incorporated older costumes that can be worn from the 2013 version, or even some of the older Tomb Raider outfits from the PS1 era. Unfortunately, these costumes don’t give any extra buffs or advantages when worn which would have provided some replayability, but that is a small gripe.
It should be mentioned that while in my experience playing through Shadow, I experienced no bugs, glitching, or crashing of any kind. However, a friend of mine who is also reviewing the title did experience a game breaking bug that wouldn’t allow him to continue on with the story. I can only speak to my experience, but I hope a day one patch can sort this issue out for him.
Overall, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a great title, and while the core gameplay hasn’t changed much from the original reboot it has been expanded upon and honed to masterful degree. The additions have only improved upon the core experience and I really think the developers were making a huge effort to include the classic Tomb Raider feel with plenty of exploration and more clever puzzles to solve. The tombs and crypts were engaging and some of the the best parts of Shadow. Lara has been a character I’ve always admired and respected in the video game medium and with this rebooted trilogy now behind us, she has further cemented herself into the upper echelon of action heroes.