I really get this hunch that Lara Croft somewhat gets off to putting her life frequently in danger. What normal person would get her foot crushed in between rocks and then keep going for more? I know masochism is a thing but our enigmatic heroine has far crossed that threshold of safe practice. Suppose it does wonders for Lara since nothing she ever goes through makes her look any less gorgeous. Perhaps all that adrenaline keeps one young?
Playing through, Shadow of the Tomb Raider I was left relatively unimpressed. Some parts of the game were good, some parts of it were mediocre, and some parts were flat out boring. But none of it was ever bad. It just wasn’t really memorable.
The story is typical. It fails to be captivating or interesting. This time, Lara’s target of attention is Mayan culture. Unfortunately, the game’s presentation didn’t really keep me hooked on the tale. It’s your typical save the world plot from some bad guy who’s over-the-top evil with no redeeming qualities.
So the story starts out like this: Lara discovers an artifact in the middle of some ruins in Mexico and without thinking just grabs it…which incidentally causes a flood to hit the streets of Cozumel killing presumably thousands of innocent people. And by grabbing said artifact, inadvertently starts the end of the world as we know it.
It’s official, Lara is a worse tourist than Logan Paul.
The bad guys, Trinity, themselves aren’t any better. They come off as cartoony comical villains than anything resembling real people. They kill locals once they’ve outlived their usefulness, coerce an innocent village to offer human sacrifices, and overwork people for minimum wage. All this before Lara eventually chops them off one-by-one in brutal fashion for being the generic evil army. The grunts are really nothing more than just your cannon fodder that serves to only slow Lara down in her quest to correct her mistakes and save the world.
Unfortunately, none of the characters ever felt compelling or interesting. Lara Croft herself felt a little bit bland for the most part except the beginning. I could never truly empathize with her struggle and motivations. I felt far more connected to her in the 2013 reboot when she was just starting out as a woman trying to desperately survive the cruelty of the jungle. I could tell that they tried to flesh out her past but it just didn’t go anywhere.
The only character I ever felt attached to was Jonah; he’s goofy, lovable, and knows how to have fun but is never without a moral compass. The big guy is always the one to set Lara straight. Throughout Shadow of the Tomb Raider he’s the ever-so-faithful companion of Lara no matter how bad things get. And with Lara, you’ll never know just how bad things can get. It sort of felt like Jonah was the only person with an emotional connection to Lara. While the game attempts to have her bond with other named characters, the emotional impact often fell flat short and generic.
From a story wise standpoint, there’s not a whole lot of things going for Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Its script is easily forgettable at best. There’s never really that one moment that will stick with you in remembrance. It almost has no identity of its own. Ironically following its moniker, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is just a shadow of its past self.
Gameplay-wise, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a blend of three types of gameplay: platforming, a stealth shooter, and a puzzle game. And I think the gameplay is really what sells the game for most people.
Most of my time in Shadow of the Tomb Raider consisted of platforming from one area to the next. Trying to figure out if I could even grab onto that ledge is what contributed to about 90% of my deaths in this game. Imagine seeing a ledge that looked like it could be a way out only for Lara to slip past it and fall to her death.
That being said, dying doesn’t really matter that much when Lara slips other than being a mere annoyance. Shadow of the Tomb Raider has an excellent checkpoint system which respawns you not far off from where you died.
Navigating the jungles of Peru took up Lara’s entire arsenal: her hunting bow to create connections from one line to another or to break off objects in the distance, her climbing axe to traverse anywhere vertically as well as destroying obstacles, and a rope to throw at a distance to swing around.
Platforming was fun and felt like something a tomb raider would actually do frequently, but I felt like it took up most of the gameplay a bit too much. The majority of this game had me jumping from one crack in the wall to another hoping that Lara won’t die. Chalk it up to personal taste but I kind of wanted a little bit of action. I just didn’t feel like I was making my own path as Lara in an open and dangerous environment as much as I felt like I was just going where the developers wanted me to go to.
Puzzles were the best part for me. They weren’t too difficult that I got too frustrated, nor were they too easy that I barely even noticed them. It’s kind of funny that the Mayan’s thought the best way to keep intruders out of their property was through intricate and complex death puzzles.
The intricate and complex design of the puzzles felt interesting to me. They made me feel smart as I solved them. I was playing on Hard Difficulty so the Survival Instinct didn’t really highlight anything for me to interact, leaving me to myself to solve the Mayan death traps. But that’s what made it fun! I honestly wish there were more of these than just the platforming sections.
And finally, there’s combat. Tomb Raider just wouldn’t be complete without guns. I find it hard to imagine that they’ll attract any buyers without some bad guys to shoot at. Unfortunately, that’s kind of what they are: just bad guys to shoot at. The local cannon fodders serve no real purpose than to give Lara an antagonist to scratch her itchy trigger finger. Not to say that the game would be better off without them; it’s just that they lack anything compelling to make them memorable.
If you’ve played Rise of the Tomb Raider, then combat is pretty much just that but improved. Most of the combat really focuses on stealth despite your arsenal of firearms: pistol, rifle, and shotgun. As such, you’ll spend the majority of taking down enemies behind bushes, up in trees, or behind cover. Your bow is your only real reliable tool for quietly taking out enemies. Although for some strange reason, enemies don’t really hear gunshots even if logic dictates that they’re in hearing range.
Combat feels tighter in Shadow of the Tomb Raider for some reason, at least in comparison to Rise of the Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider (2013). Almost everything feels like a narrow hallway of trees and vegetation with a slight variation of paths to choose from. Even the more open-ended areas to play around in feels condensed.
Despite that logic, stealth combat never really felt difficult. I was playing on Hard Difficulty and even became careless a few times but I survived with relatively few deaths. The real challenge is near the end of the game where the game throws stealth out of the window in favor of a straight-out gunfight. The final moments of combat are generally unfair as the game feels as though throwing as many enemies at you without the option for stealth constitutes as “increased difficulty” when it really just serves to annoy us.
Speaking of combat, you can improve Lara’s skills and abilities in the campfire by earning ability points by leveling up. I didn’t even notice that Laura leveled up at my playthrough as each time I sat at the campfire I really just get a bunch of skill points I earned without noticing.
Unfortunately, most of the upgradable skill tree is kind of unattractive. Don’t get me wrong. They definitely made the game easier and more fun. It’s just some are more useful than most—the Path of the Warrior being the most useless out of all of them with most upgrades being somewhat stale. I finished the game having only unlocked one path from that branch and invested more in the Seeker and the Scavenger. I still even had skill points to spare by the end of the game and I didn’t bother to upgrade any further as all the upgrades left didn’t really feel compelling and I didn’t feel the game pushed me enough to utilize everything I had.
Nothing about Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s gameplay ever felt fresh. It felt like it was just taken out again from the previous games. Lara’s iconic dual pistols aren’t even shown here despite being the finality of the trilogy. The gameplay is good but it just wasn’t enough to keep me raising the score higher.
That being said, I just have to mention the final boss. I kept dying over and over again because of how unfair it was. The final boss has omniscience and knows where Lara is after you take him down three times. Before that, you can’t stealth kill him as he instantly grows eyes at the back of his head and he has bodyguards around him most of the time. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that you have to take him down no less than five times. He’s practically a bullet sponge god that takes up all of your ammunition as he picks you off with fast exploding arrows.
I much prefer the boss fight with the Jaguars. At least that was more interesting. It was one of my favorite parts of the game. In contrast, the final boss is really just an annoyance that could’ve been avoided with better design. Too bad there aren’t more boss fights with animals like that in this game.
There are side quests in this game if you bother with them. Most of them are fetch quest missions with some of the more interesting ones being to eliminate a group harassing and forcing innocent villagers to work. The rewards are nice but they’re easily ignorable if you don’t want to bother. I just stuck with the original weapons the game gave me and upgraded those. But I suggest doing them since Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an already short game as it is.
Hunting is also a thing here. I remember fighting two jaguars in the forest and that made for some compelling boss fight but unfortunately was a onetime thing. Taking down other animals are just boring and I didn’t bother too much with hunting. You can craft stronger armor with them but with the exception of the end of the game, it’s not challenging enough as it is to push me to do so.
There are collectibles if you’re into that. You can also sell gold ores that you collect to merchants and use the currency that you made to buy weapons, upgrades, and even new outfits. You can talk to people to learn new information about the map and go explore at your own pace away from the story. It’s not too big of an area, but it’s at least something to take your time away from the main quest. It’s not like the world is at stake or anything.
For the most part, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a linear game. And I think it suffers for that. While there is some potential for exploration, they are quite limited and can be easily missed. I think that of all the improvements they could’ve made to the final part of the trilogy, an open world was a huge missed opportunity.
They do add in challenge tombs which I thought was a nifty addition. But when I’m exploring certain areas, I prefer a bit of freedom on how to get there than just following which root the developers wanted me to take. I don’t think linear is a bad thing; I just don’t think Shadow of the Tomb Raider would’ve sucked any more if it wasn’t like the story and gameplay aspects can be unimpressive and suffer from the lack of innovation.
Overall I loved Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It’s a decent game. Perhaps one that I will not remember any time in the future, but it’s a decent game nonetheless. I just don’t think it’s a worthy ending to the trilogy.
Disclosure: This review is based on a review code provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment Asia. Read our review policy to know how we go with our game reviews.