Shadow of the Tomb Raider arrives today, meaning that hordes of Lara Croft fans will be exploring rainforests, tangling with wildlife, burrowing through tunnels and swinging on an ice pick.
I completed the game a few days ago, and spent some time this week critiquing the story. Like many other reviewers, I’m unimpressed with the way Lara Croft’s motives are portrayed in this final game of her modern trilogy.
It’s still a fun game, with lots to enjoy. It’s worth noting that the lackluster story, while disappointing, doesn’t spoil an otherwise entertaining action-adventure. So let’s take a look at some of the specific elements of Shadow of the Tomb Raider that feel really good.
If you enjoyed the previous two games in this series, you’ll likely have a great time with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. In terms of activities, it’s much the same game, with plenty of exploration, combat, puzzling and climbing.
The biggest addition is a greater emphasis on stealth combat. Lara can now cover herself in mud and attack enemies by sidling up to them along plant-covered walls. This is in addition to her making use of tree limbs and bushes.
Some of her enemies use night sights that will reveal her whereabouts, so there’s a strategic element to taking out nests of fighters. I enjoyed moving around camps and eliminating bad guys without anyone knowing I was there. It’s a lot more fun than just showing up with a big gun, and definitely preferable to the game’s melee combat limitations.
Lara can also craft special weapons that add to her skills as a stealth fighter, and to the options available to players.
In recent Tomb Raider games, there’s always that moment when Lara climbs up onto a ledge and is presented with an awe-inspiring view. Shadow of the Tomb Raider makes use of both outside views and grand indoor arenas to create a sense of wonder. It’s so satisfying to emerge from a long section of tunnel travel into a rewarding panorama.
I don’t enjoy killing animals, but I like to look at them. Shadow of the Tomb Raider mainly takes place in the Peruvian jungle, where a menagerie of creatures can be found. The world is filled with birds, insects, eels, llamas, piranhas, monkeys, jaguars, capybara and frogs, all of which are beautifully rendered.
Some of these creatures can be hunted and harvested for pelts, poisons and other useful items. On most occasions, I was able to avoid killing animals, as skins can be bought at trading spots. The game’s photo mode also allows you to snap those critters, rather than slay them.
Every now and again, things go badly wrong for Lara. She’s either escaping from a legion of enraged guards, or she’s tumbling down a rain-soaked ravine in the middle of a story. These set pieces are fun to master, because they manage to squeeze in a lot of extra narrative detail. This makes them tolerable, even on the 10th attempt.
It helps that save points are placed so carefully, as some of the jumps and turns demand exacting controls.
As I mentioned elsewhere, I didn’t think much of the characters who work with Lara in this adventure. But the people I do enjoy are the leaders antagonizing her.
I won’t say too much here, but they generally display a real conviction in their beliefs, a charisma that explains the loyalty of their followers, or looks that can kill. I liked them so much, I might have been happy fighting on their side.
Scaling tricky cliffs, walls and overhangs is always a fun part of Tomb Raider games. Now rappelling has been added, allowing Lara to drop down into caves and other open areas, and swing to her next location. It feels great, and it adds to the challenge of climbing.
The best part of this game is its genuinely impressive array of puzzles. They tend towards the gigantic, often relying on fiendish, ancient designs. Players are encouraged to view the puzzles from all possible angles to figure out their elusive solutions.
Challenge tombs add to the variety, wherein winches, weights, liquids, light and advanced physics all conspire to create quiet, thoughtful moments. If you enjoy playing combat on easy, but like a tough puzzle, you can tweak the settings accordingly. But a mistake to play this game with the puzzles turned into walkthroughs. Working out their logic is a lot more fun.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a solid action-adventure that will likely keep you entertained throughout its 25-hour (or so) story campaign, with more time to spend for those who want to complete the large numbers of side missions, or who want to collect and upgrade every last thing. Even with our frustrations, there’s a lot here to love.