Five years ago, developer Crystal Dynamics and publisher Square Enix released Tomb Raider, the first in a reboot trilogy of the long-running and iconic franchise. Acting as a new origin story for Lara Croft, it revitalized the series as a whole with its stellar story and character development, not to mention the insanely detailed graphics. We saw Lara go from one phase of her life to the next, undergoing a deep transformation from innocent expeditioner to grizzled survivalist. Taking elements from games such as the Uncharted series, Crystal Dynamics truly made the character their own. What they’ve done with the Tomb Raider franchise is extraordinary, and as someone who was never really a fan of it, I can say that they have made Lara’s journey unmissable.
After a follow-up in 2015, we have our hands on the final installment in the trilogy, in which Lara journeys to South America and must stop an apocalypse she has accidentally unleashed. The choice for Eidos Montreal to take over for the final game in the trilogy left me skeptical, and while still intrigued at what could happen with this adventure, not worried. After playing through the main story, I can say with certainty that there’s plenty of fun to be had with this latest iteration, but it certainly isn’t flawless.
One of the best parts of this game is the stealth, and thankfully there’s a lot of that. Covering Lara in mud and having her cling to walls while waiting for an unsuspecting adversary to appear is extremely satisfying and reinforces stealth as one of the game’s high points. Different weapons are pretty fun to use too, but they’re sadly stuck in a horrible combat system that is a slog to get through. Combat is extremely clunky and rough, and enemies are too fast for Lara at points, resulting in a group of them swarming all over her. This would normally be okay, but the clunky camera mechanics serve as nothing but trouble, putting you in an even worse position.
In addition to the poor combat, the skill system is also mediocre. It’s not really the skills that are bad, per-say, but the way the process works. I found quite often that I’d have to purchase skills that I didn’t really want in order to unlock ones that I did. This makes the entirety of the progression system a bit tiresome and, in all honesty, quite annoying.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider does have its strengths, however, despite its many weaknesses. Despite the crafting and upgrade system being a bit of a letdown, many of the wearable costumes are awesome to look at, especially some throwback ones that allow you to don PS1-era skins. These fit in well with the beautifully lush jungle environments, to which the game’s Photo Mode can be utilized brilliantly. This is evident during segments of the game where you are forced to swim through both small and large bodies of water, highlighting vast, rippling blue pools of ocean. Controls are very fluid-feeling here, and never once feel jumbled or messy.
As this is a South American jungle-set game, there are a lot of things that come into play but the most fun to work with is the animals, especially during some points near the beginning where you get to fight against multiple jaguars in an enclosed area. It gives a sort-of arena-like feel, such as when the ferocious cats circle you. Trees and lighting are simply incredible, the light shining through the vegetation so mesmerizingly. The picturesque landscapes are so visually pleasing that it’s actually hard to bear.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider nails everything that it must to be a visually compelling experience, but the story is a major detractor and is unfortunately rough and clunky in spots. Combat and camera mechanics are shoddy and rarely pleasing in what are supposed to be fast-paced gunfights, not at all helped by the enemy A.I. (which is extremely infuriating at times). Despite these shortcomings, though, Eidos Montreal does know how to deliver an aesthetically appealing adventure. Lara’s environments in this outing are absolutely outstanding in scope, and look tremendously realistic when taken into account all of the plant and animal life portrayed.
It’s certainly not the greatest video game of the year, but there’s no doubt that it’s a very fun time and delivers a somewhat satisfying conclusion to Lara Croft’s reimagined trilogy.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.