September 10, 2018
You have to ask yourself, why does Lara Croft put herself through these things? If I'd suffered almost certain death once, and managed to escape by the skin of my teeth, then that would be the end of my adventuring days for good. I'd rather have a cup of tea and watch TV, but then Ms. Croft is indomitable, and in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, her obsession only grows. It's this unstoppable obsession that causes her to trigger the Mayan apocalypse and a chain of events that threatens to put the entire world in jeopardy.
As premises go, Shadow's is excellent. You can't really get more epic than the end of the flippin' world, and for the first four hours or so of Lara's latest adventure, there's a fantastic sense of momentum to the game's narrative. There's a succession of bad things that happen to Lara that lead to her being lost in the jungles of Peru, with only a knife and a bow for company. Luckily, she has a few new tricks up her sleeve, like caking herself in mud and blending in with vegetation, then popping out to murderise enemies unseen.
Lara's new-found predatory stealth makes for some fantastic combat encounters amid the jungle's dense foliage, and there are few things as satisfying as patiently waiting in the bough of a tree to string up an enemy with a rope arrow, leaving a corpse dangling as a macabre warning to others. It's saying something that these moments, stalking enemies through the leafy undergrowth, are some of the best in the game, and by the end, I was left wanting more of them. There's always New Game + for that.
Between all of the action-packed set pieces and wanton slaughter, Shadow of the Tomb Raider conjures some truly jaw-dropping sights, with mossy, vine-covered temples nestled in jungle clearings, mountains and canopies stretching far and wide. It's a stunningly detailed, gorgeous game; even its dark, subterranean corners are beautifully lit and atmospheric, lending crypts and tombs an air of oppression and claustrophobia. That many of them are accessed via narrow, tight, usually underwater passages only adds to the feeling of being trapped.
It's a trick that Crystal Dynamics and Eidos-Montreal employ again and again to great effect, pushing Lara through horrifically restricted crawl spaces lined with bones and the arms of grasping corpses, engendering a palpable sense of panic as she frantically claws her way towards an exit. This is all par for the course when it comes to Lara's escapades, of course, and once again, Shadow of the Tomb Raider puts her through all manner of trials and tribulations in her quest to locate the fabled Silver Box of Ix Chel that has the power to remake the world.
Should returning militarised sect Trinity seize the box before Lara, it could spell untold disaster, prompting another race against time to get to the pivotal trinket first. But by the time you reach the hidden city of Paititi, time seemingly slows down and Shadow loses a fair bit of the forward propulsion that it's built up within its stellar first few hours. The largest hub region in the series to date, Paititi is steeped in culture and ancient Mayan lore, and is a place brimming with secrets and ancient artefacts to uncover. As well as a litany of rather boring fetch quests, apart from solving a brutal murder, which is fairly cool.
Lara's sojourn in Paititi is part of a somewhat flabby mid-section in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. There's so much busywork and so many collectibles vying for your attention that you're almost better off pushing on with the story, as few of the side missions are particularly interesting or exciting. Optional Challenge Tombs and hidden crypts remain a highlight (and unlock new skills and outfits pieces), with various smartly orchestrated puzzles to solve, using pulleys, switches and so on. Like Rise of the Tomb Raider, you'll also find monoliths and murals that once read grant Lara increased understanding of ancient languages, unearthing further treasures found by solving riddles. And with the new ability to rappel, you can now go spelunking into deep, dark caverns.
Structurally, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is much like Rise, its connective tissue between open hub areas comprising a selection of set pieces, punctuated by those infinitely enjoyable and violent combat sequences. There's respite to be had at campfire sites, where you can also craft and upgrade Lara's bows, rifles, shotguns and pistols, or create new outfits (some of which have unique gameplay benefits) using pelts and other bits you've scavenged. Lara's skill tree is also now split into warrior, seeker, and scavenger categories, so you can focus upon the kind of skills you'd like to develop using your hard-earned skill points.
There are plenty of memorable events in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, as each sign of the Maya apocalypse manifests itself through devastating natural disasters, and at certain junctures Lara dodges more bullets than James Bond. Predictably, this all leads up to a rubbish final boss, and a damp squib of an ending that we're hoping sets up more compelling voyages for Ms. Croft in the future. Shadow has its moments, for sure, but the story is unevenly paced and the action is patchy.
While the minute-to-minute gameplay itself and smattering of engaging puzzles is uniformly excellent, Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn't quite make the most of its killer premise. While the central narrative is perfectly fine, many of the side-quests that surround it unfortunately fail to measure up. Challenge Tombs and crypts are great, while traversal and exploration of Shadow's lush environments is never anything less than a joy, and even the extended stretches in which you're swimming through networks of submerged catacombs can be tense as you evade piranhas and eels, desperately searching for the next pocket of air.
There's even ample replay value in seeking out areas you may not have visited during the story, as new tools become available upon completing certain side quests. And being able to individually tailor the difficulty of puzzles, combat and traversal (erasing the white paint that marks out the critical path on higher levels) is also a nice touch. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a fantastic follow-up to Rise, even if essentially, at its core, it's more of the same. Lara's continuing adventures look great and play wonderfully, so while the narrative might have a few shortcomings, you're certain to enjoy beating Challenge Tombs, discovering lost underground temples, and sinking your climbing axe into a bad guy's spine from the shadows.
Music is marvellous and vocal performances are superb, once again. The ambience of echoing caverns and the buzzing jungle lends a real sense of place. It's almost like actually being there. Almost.
Stunning. While Rise wasn't exactly a slouch in the visuals department, Shadow edges it with incredible jungle vistas, beautiful temples, incredible enclosed spaces and a plethora of prettiness across the board.
Much the same as Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow chucks in rappelling for exploring greater depths, and brutal, predatory combat and stealth to reach deep into the dark recesses of Lara's murderous side.
Expeditions mode has been nixed from this one, leaving a Challenge Tombs 'coming soon' message the only other option on the main menu. Still, Shadow's chunk of Peru is expansive, though inhabited by a few too many fetch quests from the chatty locals.
A fine list with excellent spread that rewards exploration and pursuit of some of the more involving side content. There are narrative milestones, 'do thing X number of times' tasks and more, but it's all good.
Few games manage to pipe so many jaw-dropping sights into your eyeballs and even fewer deliver such complex, enjoyable puzzles and traversal challenges. Shadow of the Tomb Raider does all of this and more, its exhilarating predatory combat the icing on the cake.