It’s been a relatively short wait for the final part of the reboot trilogy and in the space of 5 years, the series has taken us on a new journey with Lara Croft as she becomes the Tomb Raider. As Shadow of the Tomb Raider is now available, I wanted to share my thoughts with you on the finale and reminisce about the series. The images used are taken by myself using photo mode.
Tomb Raider is well known for its dramatic openings and Shadow makes sure to enter with a bang. The cinematics introduce us to Lara’s new adventure as she tries to race Trinity to obtain powerful artifacts that could end the world as we know it…. you know, the usual stuff. Lara seems obsessed, dangerously so, as she throws herself and her faithful friend Jonah into the frey in an attempt to stop Trinity in their quest to ‘remake the world’.
Shadow continues to offer the dramatic story with a mixture of exploration, puzzles, stealth, fire fights with a dash of horror and adventure that make it exciting and engaging. I felt that Lara was bound to take a beating in this game which is felt right from the start as she finds herself trapped in a cavern having to try and free herself before squirming through the tight gap between rocks to reach the top. She feels wreckless and as though she has little regard for her own safety. I could feel Jonah’s frustration with Lara, as her behaviour is not considered unpredictable at this point, but she most certainly needs to be shaken out of her own obsession to be reminded that it isn’t all about her. Lara appears to have put the weight of the world upon her own shoulders, but at what cost? While I enjoyed aspects of the story, I did feel frustrated with Lara at times as it seemed to be all about her, but as the narrative went on, I started to warm to her again, especially when she would show us a glimpse of her caring side.
As Lara and Jonah traverse South America, there is plenty to explore. From the Peruvian jungle to small towns, caverns and hidden cities, there is plenty to do. Not only side quests but hunting, challenges, tombs and of course the concealed collectibles. These can provide opportunities for XP, resources and to learn new languages which may come in handy for more loot later. I will need to go back and spend a little more time exploring now that I have finished the story or maybe just even start afresh with New Game Plus in order to better enjoy the exploration areas that the developers have put a lot of time into. I have to admit that I only did a couple of side missions mainly because I didn’t feel much incentive to complete them which is a bit of a shame so I would also like to head back to try and do some more of these. The Challenge Tombs offer up some good puzzles but I also like that you can change the combat and puzzle difficulty independently of one another. I opted for normal on everything and felt like it was a well rounded experience. A couple of times I was close to giving up on a puzzle before the solution suddenly slotted into place. I would like to go back and maybe try them out at a higher difficulty to see how they differ. I felt the emphasis for this game was to return to the original iteration of Tomb Raider as Lara spends less time in firefights and more time exploring which I think is a good way for it to go as it is the final part of the reboot series. Although there is still the adventure and danger feel, there are many opportunities to climb, crawl and wander in and around the areas that may hold many secrets!
I have enjoyed the combat throughout the reboot series but I felt that as Lara has grown into this killing machine over the years, that her new stealth skills match her deadly, Predator style feeling. As she smothers herself in mud and blends in with the walls to take bad guys out one by one, she becomes one with her surroundings which is useful, especially when there’s men with night vision goggles who will give away your position if you’re not careful. At times my stealth abilities failed me but after running and rolling around a little, I managed to shake them and conceal myself in some more bushes or another wall ready to strike again. I felt the melee didn’t feel as powerful if you were caught short and had to take a swing at someone but I imagine that’s probably because I got so used to the stealth that I completely forgot how to use guns or the dodge mechanic effectively. If I do another playthrough, I will certainly be trying to mix up the combat a little except of course for those sections where Lara can’t seem to pick up any guns so just has to stab everyone.
Graphically, the game does look good. Occasionally when using photo mode I thought it looked a little grainy but it didn’t ruin the overall look and feel of the game. The cinematics were impressive and engaging which helped keep you immersed in the story with a couple that were especially good in setting the scene. The score is dramatic and emotive when it needs to be and suits the overall mood of the game well. I was mainly impressed with the details in the game as everything felt like it had been well thought out in relation to aspects such as the artwork on the walls, the efigies that hang in the tombs, the mummies and bodies on spikes… everything seemed to be in place. There were a couple of times when I felt the volume of bodies may be slightly over the top, however, as I have never visited an ancient tomb or burial sight, I can’t say either way whether it was ‘realistic’ or not. The addition of photo mode was a nice touch and while the controls are pretty basic, there is still the ability to capture some marvellous images. I started the game in the mood to take gap year style photos of Lara to make the most of her emotive facial expression options but after a little while, I tried to capture some of the moments of stealth instead. Again, if I manage to get the time to go back to Shadow in the near future, I’ll play around with the photo mode some more.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is Lara’s weapon options and outfits. I felt that I missed the focus on these aspects this time around. As previously mentioned, there seemed to be fewer fire fights and as a result, the emphasis on upgrading your weapons or crafting outfits was lost. I upgraded a few things but ended up not really using them as they didn’t feel like they benefited my play style. I didn’t even find the Reinforced Knife in order to access new areas so I have no idea where that is in the game and once I obtained the shotgun in the horror section of the game, I didn’t really feel like any other weapon could realistically compare to the power and damage output it provided. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the stealth aspect and the fights I did have but in the 2013 and 2015 games, I felt like it was important to upgrade everything before the end of the story in order to be able to survive the final fight. While the outfits offer different perks, I didn’t find myself changing outfit every mission to try and suit it better, if anything I changed two or three times throughout the entire game but didn’t feel that these perks benefited me that much. Maybe on another playthrough I’ll feel differently.
Of course you have Lara’s skill tree as well which looks impressive and offers a different take on how you ‘build’ your Croft. Challenge tombs auto unlock certain skills which saves you spending points on them and unlocks the ability to purchase other skills instead which is a nice touch. I haven’t fully unlocked the trees yet as I still have a fair amount of exploring to do but it would be good to start New Game Plus with the skills I have already unlocked in order to test out some of the skills I completely missed such as Lure arrows and traps as I didn’t really feel like I had a reason or opportunity to utilise them. I also would like to try eating more plants to make the most of the Focus and Endurance perks as these would have been handy in a pinch and I kept forgetting I had the ability to use these.
Lara’s new ability to climb overhangs and rappel made for a nice change and the underwater sections were also enjoyable if not a little tense at times as you try to hide from piranhas and eels that are intent on making you fish food as well as find the next section of trapped air to catch your breath before Lara runs out. The scripted action sequences were fun as you have to run for your life and leap at the right time to avoid Lara falling to her doom. These felt smooth and well thought out while offering the right amount of tension as you hope you timed that jump well enough to grab what you needed to and you hope Lara’s seemingly never ending supply of energy won’t fail you now. These were enjoyable and injected a little bit of adrenaline every now and again especially in the horror section when you thought the worst was over only to have to flee and hope you don’t die!
I did enjoy Shadow of the Tomb Raider overall and while there are a couple of little niggles, they aren’t big enough for me to find them a major issue. I’ve tried to be deliberately vague as I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone but I did think it was fun and left things in a good place even if Lara’ motives at times were frustrating. It’s at these moments that I was glad that Jonah was around to be the voice of reason, but also I was so glad for him to have some more screen time as he is a great character and friend. I didn’t feel that the story was as strong as the previous games but that’s not to say it wasn’t still a good game. I loved the level designs, the details and the puzzles throughout the 25 hour-ish story and it is a good action-adventure that does round off Lara’s journey in a nice way. I still have a lot to do finishing the game at around 70% completion so I’ll head back to Peru sometime soon to spend a little more time exploring and raiding tombs with Ms Croft while we wait and see if she will return once again.