As she emerges from the water, brandishing her weapon, a murderous rage in her eyes, it’s difficult to think of Lara Croft as the frightened girl we guided through a horrific shipwreck just a few years ago. But now, here we are and as the marketing material has promised, at long last Lara Croft has finally become the ‘Tomb Raider’. What exactly does that mean? I don’t really know, and after a quick twenty hours in Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, I’m not really convinced Eidos Montreal knows either.
This is the first time since the original 2013 reboot that the series has not had Crystal Dynamics at the helm. Initially the change in lead development team left me feeling a sense of dread. Montreal’s highest high would likely be considered the Deus Ex revival: Human Revolution. But their more recent lineup also includes titles like the disappointing Mankind Evolved, and 2014’s Thief reboot. Not exactly a resume that inspires confidence…
That sense of dread lingered as I began the game, which opens with a fairly linear action set piece that the series hasn’t ever really had a history of pulling off well. Tomb Raider is at its best during its open world segments and Shadow is no exception. As soon as the game dropped me into its normal open world and stopped doing a discount Uncharted impression I found my spirits instantly raised. My good mood didn’t last forever though as Shadow is routinely marred by head scratching decisions, poor narrative choices, and an overall “low budget” feel that permeates everything.
As the game’s story opens Lara and her ever present soy boy pal Jonah are in search of a rare Mayan artifact that they hope to keep out of the hands of Trinity, the evil cult/para military group that has pursued her since the original game. To say that things don’t go well is an understatement. Not only does Lara wind up inadvertently handing the artifact directly to Trinity, but we also discover that her taking it has effectively triggered the apocalypse. Oopsie!
So off we go to Peru, to find more artifacts and maybe inadvertently destroy some other native villages in the process. The game’s plot is unremarkable at best and outright confusing at worst. That “low budget” feeling I was talking about earlier is pervasive throughout it, and after lots of melodramatics told through awkward voice acting and poor mo-cap, the whole thing arrives at a rather uninteresting and unsatisfying conclusion. Camilla Luddington returns to voice Lara and she’s definitely the stand-out voice actor in the set. Others range from satisfactory to outright cringe-inducing.
But hey it’s a Tomb Raider game. You’re not here for the plot, you’re here to explore the big old open world, to grab those sweet collectibles, and solve those always satisfying challenge tombs (which somehow still manage to be better than anything the game’s core storyline can offer up). All of that stuff is here, and its reasonably competent. Competence isn’t the issue though. Shadow Of The Tomb Raider‘s biggest problem is that among all its successes it almost never does anything better than the two games that preceded it.
Do you like water levels in games? How about forced stealth segments? I feel like these are two universally hated things and yet Eidos Montreal saw fit to combine both of them more than once in this title. Lara spends a significant amount of time underwater during her travels in Peru, and these swimming sections are even occasionally punctuated with Piranhas that you have to avoid by hiding in patches of seaweed. Yeah, you read that right. Numerous segments of underwater stealth. Jesus Christ my skin is crawling just typing it. There are some skills that Lara can acquire which will increase her swim speed and the amount of time she can hold her breath. I would advise you purchase both of those abilities very early on as they will more than earn their asking price.
Speaking of upgrades, now’s a good time to mention that the game really doesn’t introduce any other gadgets or skills of great note to Lara’s repertoire. Which is why it’s extra head scratching that the controls feel as imprecise and sloppy as they do. You would think by the third entry in the series with no crazy engine overhaul being done that climbing and jumping would be tighter than ever, but more than once I found myself shouting “what the fuck” as Lara completely sailed past a jump that I was super confident I nailed.
So what actually feels new in this new Tomb Raider game? The big addition are the game’s sprawling cities. These locales are filled with people to talk to, most of whom are just there for flavor, but every now and again you’ll speak to someone who will reveal a point of interest on your map or maybe even offer you a full-on side mission. There’s also a much heavier reliance on trading with vendors and merchants to expand Lara’s arsenal. All in all, the cities do a good job of feeling bustling and generally worth exploring even if at they’re core there’s not really a whole lot to them.
I know it probably sounds like I’m really down on Shadow Of The Tomb Raider but the truth is that the game is competent enough, it just doesn’t give the series a sense of forward momentum like it really needs. Eidos Montreal clearly wanted to illustrate that they were closing off a trilogy, but instead everything just feels like it’s spinning its wheels. There might be more on the horizon to keep you interested, the game features a New Game + mode upon completion, and the season pass promises to deliver more of the always enjoyable challenge tombs. Overall though, I’d say this is worth waiting for a “complete edition” or just a really deeply discounted copy.