The reboot Tomb Raider series has been a hit. The series’ darker tone and mixture of combat, puzzle, and exploration has been a blast to play with the past two games. All good things must come to an end, though, and it’s good for a series to finish strong instead of constantly release and drag its name through the mud (I’m looking at you, Star Wars). This is where Shadow of the Tomb Raider comes in, finishing off the trilogy and Lara’s final experience before becoming the Tomb Raider. This is Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and it’s time to get a little muddy, and get a little bloody.
Lara’s voyage to stop Trinity from ruling the world using ancient artifacts lands her in Central and South America. To stop Trinity from uniting an ancient box and dagger together to rule the world, Lara takes the dagger from its resting spot. As a result, she starts a Mayan apocalypse, and it’s now a race between Lara and Trinity operative Pedro Dominguez to find the box.
While the reboot trilogy has been darker in tone in general, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the darkest one out of the three. This game doesn’t shy away from showing civilian (and even children) deaths and stars a Lara who is now a borderline sociopath. I do like the darker attitude to this game because I don’t think it would make sense to make a brighter atmosphere given the body count she has racked up. The Americas setting and Mayan culture complements this tone and game really well too, as for its setting is the most Indiana Jones out of the three games, while at the same time fitting the darker tone with ritualistic sacrifices and a Mayan apocalypse.
While the darker tone and setting are great and complement each other well, the story feels rather lackluster. The story plays out almost exactly like the other two games, which all play out almost exactly like the Indiana Jones film and Uncharted games. You have the protagonist with a few friends and one helluva brain being one step ahead of a large organization who can’t seem to afford smart people, only to be captured and fall behind the organization. Then, they play catch-up with the organization, but arrive just a little bit too late, as for the organization just did a thing in some hidden city that gives them whatever power the protagonist was trying to stop them from getting. Despite this, the antagonist (who is a part of this organization, but will likely drop loyalty in search of their own personal gain) doesn’t have as big of a brain as the protagonist, and doesn’t know how to properly use this power. So, the protagonist stops them, buries the power so that no one else can get it, and walks into the sunset (in some cases, replace ancient mythical power with wealth). This isn’t just a Tomb Raider issue, as for the Uncharted series is prone to this as well; but seeing how this is the most recent release out of the three franchises mentioned, I feel as though this plot should’ve been improved upon by now.
Outside of the plot following every other archaeology adventure plot, the one other story issue I had with this game has to do with the apocalypse. The apocalypse is supposed to be a large plot device for this game, but after the beginning, it goes away. There is a cool scene at the beginning where a tsunami sweeps through the town you are in, but the natural disasters that this apocalypse is supposed to bring goes away, and as a result I never felt an urgent need to stop the apocalypse I started. Overall, the story beats are very similar to the previous two games, but I don’t think the third time’s the charm.
The first reboot Tomb Raider nailed the gameplay by making a semi-open world filled with collectibles, challenges, and tombs. The tombs have been the highlight of the series for many since day one of this series, offering dungeons that test your puzzle and parkour skills. The first Tomb Raider also offered stealth-based combat, weapons to upgrades, skills to unlock, places to climb, and more. The second game and this game follow the same gameplay formula, deciding that what isn’t broken shouldn’t be fixed. Both have added new features and mechanics, but the differences between each of these games are small. Unlike the story, however, the gameplay staying the same is fine by me, as for the formula this series built is a blast to play.
Before I get into the gameplay, I cannot remember what was in the previous two games, so I may be wrong on the some of the new additions to this game.
This game is split up into three different components: exploration, combat, and puzzle. I know this to be true, because this game offers difficulty sliders for each of these different options, which I think is much better choice than one general difficulty option. These three core components have been changed and improved in this game, for better or for worse.
Out of the three components, the one I think took the most damage is combat. I wouldn’t say combat was amazing in the previous games, but they were still good enough to be enjoyable. Combat in this game, on the other hand, is too easy and feels poor. It’s a shame too, considering the fact that this game offers some cool new stealth mechanics.
In this game, you can cover yourself in mud, which makes Lara blend into the environment. Also, there are some cool new stealth kills from the branches of trees, and the ability to see if it’s safe to kill someone while in stealth. All of this feels worthless, though, as for pulling out an assault rifle and mowing down enemies is easier and faster. I eventually changed the combat difficulty to hard, but popping heads with the assault rifle still felt like a viable option. One reason for this is the fact that guns feel weightless in this game. There is no recoil or screen-shake when shooting a gun; it just felt like I was pointing a laser at an enemy and they were dying. There is less combat in this game compared to the previous two, but that’s fine by me considering the flaws.
I can’t tell you if the puzzles in this game are better than the other two games, but I can say that they are here and they are enjoyable. The puzzles in these games are large, environmental puzzles filled with danger and a new skill or item unlock at the end. The puzzles in this game are no different than the previous games, and they are all just difficult enough to get you thinking without being frustrating. One set of puzzles worth noting are the ones below the church that involve mummies, which I think are both cool to look at and a solid puzzle to solve.
The crown component in this game, though, is the exploration, as for it is the component with the most improvements and the one I interacted with the most. Just like before, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is filled with collectibles, challenges, animals to hunt, side missions, and more to occupy your time. This game expands the world and improves some of these mechanics to make exploration even more fun. Side missions are more personal, as for the tasks have more story to them and there are more character interactions. Some of the areas are the biggest out of the three games, offering a crazy amount of things to do. The final addition I noticed are swimming areas, which are free to jump in and out of compared to the scripted swimming moments of the previous game. There are some cool new swimming locations and mechanics around swimming like stealth from piranhas, but one thing that is missing from the swimming in this game is a breath meter. Exploration is at its best in this game compared to the other two.
While this game worked fine for the most part, one issue I did come across were various audio issues. Half of the cutscenes I watched would have lip sync issues or not work altogether, which shouldn’t be an issue considering I am playing this a year after release. Other than that, I had little issue running the game at max settings, which is nice considering this game has a photo mode (which you can find a gallery of screenshots here).
One last thing to talk about are the things you can do after the credits roll. This game removes a lot of extra modes the previous games had, which is fine by me because I felt there were too many weak and forgettable modes in the previous game. Instead, this game offers new game plus or to simply continue where you left off and try to 100% complete the world. New game plus puts you back to the start but with your current gear and skill unlocks as well as giving you an option to focus on combat, exploration, or stealth with new skills and gear. The other option is to simply stay and try to 100% all tombs, collectibles, challenges, and whatever else the game has to offer. What I am trying to say is Shadow of the Tomb Raider offers plenty more to do after the end.
In conclusion, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a solid goodbye to a great trilogy. The predictable story and poor combat weigh down on the experience a little, but the game ultimately keeps course and delivers a strong experience worth playing. I am one for finishing off a series strong, but it’s still a little sad to see this trilogy leave and see Lara become the Tomb Raider.