Platforms: Xbox One, PC, PS4
Release Date: September 14th, 2018
Reviewed On: Xbox One X
Developer: Eidos Montreal, Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the conclusion to the reboot trilogy that began with 2013’s Tomb Raider. With this entry, Lara is off to Mexico and South America to stop an apocalyptic event (that she maybe-sorta-possibly triggered in the first place). Interestingly enough, this is also the first game in the Tomb Raider series primarily developed by Eidos Montreal, as Crystal Dynamics was the lead on the prior titles. Does this game reach new heights or sink to new lows? Let’s dive in.
Continuing the plot from Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara and Jonah are hunting down ancient artifacts while trying to remain ahead of Trinity. During an expedition to Mexico, when an artifact is removed, it accidently triggers an apocalyptic event that threatens to destroy huge portions of Mexico and South America. If I’m being perfectly honest, that’s the driving plotline for the majority of the game and it’s fairly solid adventure fare. Obviously there’s more to it: Jonah is trying to help Lara grow and Lara herself grapples with trying to help others and find her own motivations. At the end of the day though, it’s more of the same with few real revelations for either for them. I will say that the performance of the cast is great, with Camilla Luddington and Earl Babylon standing out as Lara Croft and Jonah respectively.
Towards the end, the overarching plot gets a lot more interesting. While a lot of the setup is predictable, the plot takes some unexpected twists. Without going into too much detail, quite a bit of the arc from this trilogy is concluded, albeit in a somewhat contrived fashion. Still, it leads up to a satisfying conclusion that both wraps up this trilogy and leaves the door open for future Tomb Raider games.
The first two games had stellar gameplay systems and Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn’t depart from them. All the satisfying gameplay is still here and improved upon, with Lara gaining the ability to climb overhead areas. Shooting has also been improved, with automatic weapons feeling extremely powerful. To compensate, ammunition is a lot rarer than in previous titles, so you’ll need to make every shot count.
It’s not just guns you can use though. Lara is a predator who quickly makes herself at home in the jungle. She now has the ability can cover herself in mud, making her harder to see. She can also climb up trees and shimmy along vegetation-thick walls. Combat is easily at its most satisfying here but it doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, combat encounters are much less frequent in this game and there’s a far greater emphasis on exploring the many crypts and tombs hidden away throughout the world. A good number of the puzzles will be challenging even for series veterans and I’d say this game contains some of the best tombs in the reboot trilogy. As always, there’s also level design that requires you to come back at a later date with new gear, although it’s more linear than Rise of the Tomb Raider was. It’s also worth mentioning that the controls for underwater sections have been tightened up; I’d actually argue it’s pleasant to swim underwater, which is a rare thing to see in games.
Another extremely welcome new feature is the ability to customize the difficulty settings. If you’d like combat to be extremely challenging but don’t appreciate the hassle of difficult puzzles, you can set things that way. Combat, exploration and puzzle difficulty can all be adjusted indepentedly. Set exploration to difficult and there won’t even be any white paint (an adventure game/open-world staple) telling you where to go. For a breakdown of these difficulty options, check here.
Rise of the Tomb Raider was already a looker but Shadow of the Tomb Raider is simply, utterly gorgeous. Screenshots really don’t convey how good it looks, especially in motion. The lighting and vivid detail of the dense foliage provides some of the best-looking environments I’ve seen in a game. Mud sticks to characters’ skin realistically, sweat runs down Lara’s arms as she climbs, rivers ripple believably, it’s just a beautiful game all-around.
If you’re playing on Xbox One X or PS4 Pro, you’ll have two modes to pick from, with one favoring resolution and the other favoring frame rate performance. Performance mode is extremely useful as it unlocks the 30fps cap and while it isn’t quite a locked 60fps, it was consistent enough to be my preferred mode during my playthrough.
This game utilizes fantastic audio design. Throughout a good portion of the game you’ll be exploring the jungle, which is filled with creepy, disturbing sounds and each is used to the utmost possible unnerving effect. The soundtrack is also a lot less orchestral than in prior games, relying on creepier tribal chants and discordant noise that results in an disturbing soundtrack. You can also customize language settings, so different characters will speak in their native tongue.
It also supports Dolby Atmos, so if you’ll be playing it on Xbox, then I highly recommend playing with a headset. Underwater sections sound like you are submerged, heightening the tension if you’re being pursued by piranha or eels.
All things said, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a satisfying, jungle-stalking, treasure-seaking romp. You’re in for a fun-filled adventure that wraps up the story arcs of the past two games, even if it it’s fairly straightforward. Parts of it are clunky, even contrived but this is a beautiful game that offers a ton of enjoyment and phenomenal action-adventure gameplay. If you were a fan of the first two games, you’ll have a blast. If you were put off by the amount of combat in the prior entries, you might find the pacing here more to your liking. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an expedition I loved and I’m looking forward to what the future holds for Lara Croft.