Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the Challenging, Puzzle-Packed Outing We've Been Waiting For

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the Challenging, Puzzle-Packed Outing We've Been Waiting For

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Richard Walker

Having been put through the wringer countless times already, you'd think that Lara Croft might be ready to hang up her hot pants and holsters for good, like any sane, normal person would. But then, Lara clearly isn't a normal person, which is why she's back for even more gruelling trials and tribulations in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Oh, and this time she's also inadvertently set the Mayan apocalypse in motion, spelling certain doom for the entire world unless she does something about it, so that's a thing.

Rise of the Tomb Raider's evil element Trinity is still very much at large too, stalking the Peruvian jungle in its unending quest to pillage and destroy while searching for valuable artefacts before Ms. Croft can get her mitts on them. Suffice it to say, Lara has her hands full again in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, in what might be the biggest and - whisper it – potentially best entry in the series since 2013's reboot. Yeah, we went there.

And while it might be a bold – brazen, stupid, some might say – claim to make after a four hour extended hands-on session, to go ahead and say that this could be the best in Square Enix's new rebooted trilogy, what we have played thus far has been the kind of quality tomb raiding that we've been hankering for since Tomb Raider Underworld. Seriously.

Eidos Montreal (now leading development alongside Crystal Dynamics) has listened to feedback from the die-hard fans demanding harder, more challenging tombs, and the puzzles and sequences during which Lara is all alone, isolated and up against seemingly insurmountable odds seem to be more commonplace in Shadow. Each of the game's three hub areas is also teeming with activity and side quests, as well as hidden challenge tombs tucked away, waiting to be discovered.

Not every tomb will be an optional thing that you can casually breeze past this time too. There are some exciting, taxing, seat-of-the-pants traversal challenges to overcome as part of the main narrative, as well as puzzles that make you feel smart, which is always a big plus. Again, this is all based on the first four hours or so, but this all bodes well for the rest of the game.

It's also worth mentioning that Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks superb, the jungle overflowing with life and lush foliage, the ancient temples nestled amid the canopies covered in vines and moss. And inside those temples, you'll find lost languages to decipher, dangerous traversal to overcome and tricky puzzles to wrap your head around. With some of these puzzles, death can also be a punishment for the wrong solution, so Lara (and you) will have to tread carefully. Trial and error will only work up to a point.

Shadow also has three different hub areas to explore (Paititi being the largest), where you can accept optional missions, usually discovered by chatting with the locals as we found in the hub region of Kuwaq Yaku. Here, an unscrupulous fella named Omar is making life awkward for the locals, and if you want, you can have Lara get to the bottom of the whole sordid affair.

Alternatively, you can simply stock up at the local merchants, sell off any odds and sods that might be weighing you down, and then move on. The urge to keep Lara's momentum going through the story is strong, though, despite the lure of challenge tombs and other distractions. Set pieces like a nasty jaguar attack - that seemingly takes its cue from that bear scene in The Revenant - and claustrophobic underwater gameplay, dodging eels and piranhas while gasping for pockets of air prove intense, while the predatory combat encounters are constantly compelling and unflinchingly violent.

Able to use the jungle to her advantage, Lara can cover herself in mud and hide amid vines and ferns, slowly stalking through the undergrowth unseen, able to strike when the time is right. The aristocratic explorer is still no stranger to uncompromising brutality in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, seemingly quite comfortable with shanking an enemy through the neck or slamming a climbing axe through a bad guy's ribcage.

Investing in Lara's skill tree not only enhances her attributes, but expands the number of abilities at your disposal, like being able to land quietly when leaping from height, or better harvest useful resources from jungle flora and fauna. Skills are divided into Seeker, Scavenger and Warrior categories, and you can spread your skill points in any way you see fit.

Crafting returns once again too, with Lara able to upgrade weapons at campfires and cobble together health restoring concoctions or perception-boosting mixtures on-the-fly, highlighting enemies and useful plants when consumed. As Lara is essentially at the height of her powers in this chapter, she's the most capable and resourceful she's ever been.

Towards the closing moments of our hands-on with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, taking on The Trial of the Eagle having navigated the Path of the Living and the Path of the Dead, scaling a vertiginous wooden tower powered by the wind - dotted with hazards that make the climb one fraught with danger - is vintage Tomb Raider and a perfect demonstration of Lara's burgeoning fearlessness.

That's why we're excited for Eidos Montreal's trilogy closer; there appears to be a good balance of well-orchestrated puzzles, challenging traversal and enjoyable combat encounters based on what we've played so far, and if that level of quality remains consistent throughout Shadow of the Tomb Raider's narrative, then we could be in for a real treat.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on 14th September.

Comments
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  • @Richard, with the jaguar scene, can't you climb up and perch on a tree (just as how we could in ROTTR zombies mode) and shoot the big cat from up there? That was frustrating to watch as it kinda gives you the feeling of vulnerability. I'm used to Lara being kick-ass, bad-ass biatch in my gameplay.
  • @1 - Climbable trees are marked with claw marks. I didn't see any, so instead, I ran around in a panic. Not the most badass display, I'll grant you, but I think you're supposed to use circle to dodge at the right moment, which I didn't.
  • Thanks for the clarification Richard... absolutely stunning game and I can't help but a feel envious that you got you hands first time with this beauty... Cheers for the reply mate...
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