Shadow Of The Tomb Raider

It’s hard to believe that Lara Croft made her first appearance in a video game all the way back in 1996. Featuring cutting edge 3D polygon graphics and gameplay that would often be duplicated but never replicated, the game would go on to sell a whopping 7 million copies. Since that time there have been numerous sequels, culminating in a complete re-envisioning of the franchise in 2013. The new era of Lara Croft explores her origin story and how she ultimately became one of the toughest female characters to grace a PC or console screen.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the third installment in the reboot of the franchise. Lara is no longer a naïve, explorer in training, who struggles with the idea, much less the actual action, of killing a human being. The years have made her a more seasoned (and possibly more ruthless) tomb raider, and she has now blossomed into the badass character that she is known for. Her adventures will take her deep into Mexico and South America, where she is trying to stop the apocalypse that she had accidently set in motion when she acquired an ancient dagger. What follows is roughly a 12+ hour main story and several hours’ worth of side missions that help flesh out the story and the world around her. The best part is that the story has all the excitement and thrills you would get if you took an Indiana Jones movie and added some of the Mel Gibson drama Apocalypto, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider adds the social interaction that was largely missing in the previous installments. While there are still plenty of times when Lara will be out on her own, searching through ruins or trekking through the jungle, there are now several civilizations that Lara will be interacting with. Her adventures will take her to the ancient city of Paititi, where most of her interactions will be with the locals and the main antagonists to the trilogy, Trinity. It’s in the interactions where we really get to see Lara question not only her beliefs but also her actions when acquiring ancient artifacts. Many of the discussions revolve around what will happen if outsiders come and try to change their standard of living or force their own wills on the natives. These discussions cause Lara to reevaluate what she does for a living, and how her own actions have an impact far greater than she even realizes. The inclusion of so much interaction with other people brings a whole new dimension to the Tomb Raider world and it entrenches you in the story in a way that battling even the most dangerous tombs never could.

One of the most interesting levels in the game takes you back in time to when Lara was just a young girl. You get the opportunity to experience the world through the innocence of a child, and her own imagination as she explores her father’s mansion. It provides an interesting look into the events that would unfold during her impressionable years, and also helps to offer some additional insight into what drives her as an adult. It’s in this level, where you finally understand what fuels her desire and continues to push her forward.

Gameplay is largely the same as the previous titles, but they did add a few new interesting ways to traverse some of the more difficult terrain, such as the ability to rappel down cliffs or using a pick axe to traverse cave ceilings. Climbing, jumping and swinging are all handled very intuitively using the controller. Yes, there were times where I felt I was doing the right thing and fell to my death anyway, but at no time did I feel overly frustrated or blame the tight controls for my own missteps.

Swimming and diving play a far bigger role in Shadow than in the previous games. Long, deep caverns will require you to swim and find pockets of air to keep from drowning. There are even a few sequences where you will need to swim through plants to avoid the various eels and piranha that will kill you, and swimming through the plants is just as easy as it sounds. Thankfully I never felt these sequences played on for too long and they certainly added diversity to the levels. While generally swimming and diving in video games tend to be an exercise in frustration, I never felt that was the case here.

Stealth also plays a bigger role in this game and adds another key to your survival. The original 1996 game focused on your dual pistol wielding abilities to get you out of jams and in this game, you are rewarded with a subtler approach. Taking a nod from games such as Horizon Zero Dawn, you will now have plenty of opportunities for Lara to crouch in large grassy fields or cover herself in mud and hide amongst the vines and cliff walls to surprise and take down her enemies. You can now overcome many adversities utilizing only stealth, but don’t worry, if you prefer more upfront action, there are still the obligatory pistols, shotguns and machine guns you can use to dispatch foes. Stealth is just an added way to ensure that Lara saves her bullets for far bigger threats down the road.

Now for everyone’s favorite part…the tombs! What would Tomb Raider be without tombs and the challenges that come along with them? As you may have already guessed, all sorts of puzzles and booby traps await you on your journey. I found they kept a nice balance between challenging and entertaining and thankfully none of them were so obscure that you need to break out Google to overcome them. Another great addition to the game is that the player can now individually adjust the difficulty on puzzles and on combat. That means if you love combat but not the puzzles you can adjust them independently, which is something I wish far more games would take advantage of. Either way, there are plenty of challenging tombs where you can flex your tomb raiding muscles.

As your adventure progresses you will earn skill points that allow you to upgrade Lara with new abilities. There are three skill trees, each containing many different skills, where Lara can spend her points. The three trees are broken down into Seeker, Warrior and Scavenger and Lara can be upgraded when she arrives at a basecamp. A few of these upgraded skills are longer swim times, multiple stealth takedowns, and the ability to shoot two enemies simultaneously. It’s always exciting to upgrade your character and see how the gameplay changes with new your abilities. This game is no exception and the upgrades you choose can really enhance your experience.

Graphically, Lara has never looked better. I played the game on my Xbox One X in 4K and the environments were awe inspiring. The lush jungle almost jumps off the screen and the character models are some of the best I’ve seen in recent memory. Of course, all this beauty wouldn’t mean much if there were stutters and lags and thankfully I never noticed a single frame drop while playing the game in all its 4K glory. Shadow of the Tomb Raider feels like you are part of a high budget, summer blockbuster and at times it was difficult to determine the difference between a cutscene or live game play (in a “wow, this is incredible!” way). The acting was also top notch and Camilla Luddington once again does an outstanding job delivering her lines, even making some of the corniest statements endearing. Every aspect of this game is the best of the best and you will be hard pressed to find an area of the game that was lacking.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider in an amazing accomplishment and easily my favorite game of the series. I’d even go as far as saying that I enjoyed it more than Uncharted 2, which is a true testament to how much I loved this game. Not only does the story have a heart and completely engages the player but it’s thrilling and there is non-stop adventure until the very end. While this certainly could be the last game in the rebooted series, I truly hope it’s not as I already want to play another. I highly recommend picking this game up. As soon as you knock over your first pot, you will be happy that you did!

What I liked: Stunning graphics, Incredible voice acting, Blockbuster feel

What I liked less: Occasional areas where it was unclear where to go next

4.5 out of 5 stars