Hot on the trail of the enigmatic group Trinity, Lara Croft is back on her third adventure in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, since 2013’s Tomb Raider successful reboot of the franchise. Now with Eidos Montreal taking the helm in the development, does Shadow of The Tomb Raider live up to the hype and success of its predecessors?

Initial impressions

Right of the bat, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, as it is aptly named, puts great emphasis on the use of lighting and shadows, which is perfect for the tone of the game. We see Lara now a lot more mature, and stronger than ever before in her pursuit to finally putting a stop to Trinity once and for all. The game gives us a deeper look at Lara and her psyche, and isn’t afraid to show us her darker side, her flaws, and her motivations behind all this. We see a different kind of Lara this time, no longer the helpless girl in search of answers, but a woman driven, to a fault, by her quest.

Story

Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s story picks up where Rise of the Tomb Raider left off. Chasing after Trinity through clues left by her father, we join Lara and Jonah track down Pedro Dominguez in Cozumel, Mexico, who appears to be in search of an artifact hidden inside Mayan ruins near the town. However, as soon as Lara finds the artifact before Trinity, she unwittingly puts into motion cataclysmic events that will lead to the world’s eventual apocalypse, and loses the artifact to Domiguez in the process. This puts a great deal of pressure on her, and we get to see her borderline narcissistic / messianic behavior, thinking that she’s the only one who can put a stop to Trinity, and save the world. It is this obsession that makes Lara so hard to like this time around, and I really did find her annoying at first. Thankfully, she redeems herself midway through the game, and this is where you’ll get to see how badass she can really be.

We’re not going to talk about the story too much to keep this review spoiler free, but Shadow of the Tomb Raider explores great character development for Lara, Jonah, and interestingly, Dominguez who acts as the main antagonist.

Story wise, Shadow of the Tomb Raider gives a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, and that cameo in the end sort of ties in the game with the original Tomb Raider games full circle.

Gameplay

Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn’t depart too much from its predecessors in terms of gameplay. We see all the same familiar mechanics, albeit with only a few additions. These include applying mud for stealth sequences, wall stealth, and rope assassination. I liked in particular the mud mechanic, which makes Lara feel like Dutch in 1987’s Predator.

True to the title, the game puts heavy emphasis on stealth, but it can be too easy with survival instincts on, which highlights on enemies, with yellow marked enemies as “safe” to kill. You might end up relying on this too much. However, this is turned off in higher difficulty levels, so if you seek a more challenging playthrough, go for it.

Combat however is a bit of a miss in this game. Combat sequences are few and far in between, and when you do get to a section that requires you to take down enemies, you’ll be forced to take them down via stealth as Lara’s hand to hand combat feels clunky and weak. Though in sequences where you do have to pull out a gun, Lara indeed shows her lethality. And thanks to herbs, you can slow down time while aiming so you can nail headshot after headshot.

What the game really excels at is its impressive challenge tombs and story puzzles. They remain as the biggest strength of the series, as they are all well designed, purposeful and challenging.

Since we’re all raiding tombs anyway, there’s a lot of platforming involved, and this can sometimes feel jarring as some of Lara’s movements can feel clunky and awkward. This can really get in the way at times, and it’s a surprise that even after 5 years, this awkward movement hasn’t been fixed at all.

Supply management this time around is more of a chore and a nuisance. You have tons of supplies to manage now, but thankfully supplies are bountiful, and you’ll end up frantically looting all boxes. This could have been titled Forest Raider of Village Raider, with all the looting you’ll do. In my first playthrough, I was able to upgrade most of my equipment to max with just the supplies I found lying around, even without hunting for specific animal hides and skins, so hunting really felt unnecessary and unrewarding. Skill progression also doesn’t feel that much rewarding. You can do without most of the skills as most of the tools you’ll need to complete the game are already dished out for you. I also didn’t feel the need to use other vestments, since most of the combat sequences heavily relied on stealth, I stuck with what I have from the start to get through the game.

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, you’ll get to take a break from our main quest and take on side quests from villagers and other supporting characters. They honestly felt lackluster, without any real depth as they are mostly just fetch quests. You can skip most of them, without any real impact in your playthrough.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider, as with the previous games, introduces a new type of enemy that turns the game from adventure to survival horror real fast. I don’t want to spoil much, but coupled with tight, clautrophobic spaces, they’re creepy I tell you.

For gaming photographers out there, there’s a built in photography mode on the get go so you can take photos of you adventures. Lara’s expressions could do some work though.

Sense of Immersion

Shadow of the Tomb Raider features a lush exotic jungle setting, which serves as a fantastic showcase of its well built open world. While it’s not your traditional open world, you can freely travel from place to place through the magic of your bonfire, should you need to backtrack. And this time around, the game features hubs where you do most of your trading, and get your quests. The hubs are well designed and show a living and breathing populace.

Conversing with the locals though can sometimes break the immersion. While the default setting is that characters all speak in English,  there’s a toggle where you can have characters and villagers speak in their native tongue, unfortunately Lara still speaks in English, which can sound really awkward.

With exploration and puzzle solving as its greatest strength, there are tons of awesome and tense exploration sequences in the game. You’ll often find Lara in claustrophobia inducing scenes quite a lot as she explores ruins and caves. Underwater exploration is also a treat, with tight controls, and underwater stealth sequences.

As with the previous games, Shadow of the Tomb  Raider features fantastic set pieces, and doesn’t just serve as eye candy. The tsunami sequence near the beginning of the game is heartbreaking and deals a heavy sense of dread. It’s purposeful and draws you in emotionally.

Speaking of emotion, Camilla Luddington’s voice acting is top notch and provide a great deal of character for Lara.

Graphics

I initially played this on the base PS4 which I had at the time of the review, and I wasn’t impressed at first. The graphics felt noisy and washed out. But when I switched over to the PS4 Pro, the difference is staggering. Textures are better detailed, and certain details and effects are now more pronounced. It’s like an entirely new game.

Screenshot using PS4 Pro on High Resolution Mode

Plus, you also have the option to play in either high resolution mode, or in high framerate mode when playing on the PS4 Pro. You can also play this on HDR mode, but do note that this requires an HDR capable TV or monitor.

You’re in for a visual treat when playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider in 4K HDR mode. The game looks absolutely gorgeous in this mode. Colors are more vibrant in lighted scenes, and dimly lit sequences are a lot more detailed, instead of just being plain dark. However, if it’s a smoother gameplay you’re after, go for the high framerate mode.It feels a lot smoother and more lifelike.

Overall

While not being a major leap from Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow of the Tomb Raider holds on its own with stunning visuals, great character development, and story. However, what it lacks is depth in terms of gameplay. It’s pretty much the same tried and tested formula of the first two games, and I can’t help but feel like it’s more of a Rise of a Tomb Raider 2.0 rather than a true sequel. Lara’s obsessive and single-minded hunt for Trinity makes her an annoying protagonist this time around, and I find her really hard to like. But in the end, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a good game. Not great, but not that bad neither. It’s a nice conclusion to her origin trilogy, and we can’t wait for what they have in store for Lara next.

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