Movie trilogies typically get a much lower rating for their second movie as it’s a middle-child about simply continuing the story from the first one and setting up the stakes for the finale. In games, though this isn’t always quite the case, especially as they aren’t necessarily planned to be trilogies in the first place. Usually everybody designs first release games as stand-alone packages that wrap up entirely on their own. While it’s true that new features and improvements in tech can definitely follow in sequels, writers don’t get the same luxury as they give away their big payoffs at the end of the title they believed may not come back for a second or even third run. This kind of problem painfully rears its head in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
This final installment for Square-Enix’s Tomb Raider trilogy ideally would show us how Lara Croft became the legendary Tomb Raider we came to know during the PS1 era. The problem being that the first one already did that, so how did they fix that and how well did they do it? Will an Indiana Jones -style adventure fix the issue? Let’s find out.
Production (4.4 / 5)
Shadow of the Tomb Raider on the PlayStation 4, in general, looks great. The maps and backgrounds really put you into the setting of every major area. Perhaps one of the negative is how easy it is to get lost in these rather large areas to explore. Which is a surprise when there’s not much But it’s rarely boring to explore anything. While I prefer the model in the first game, the new Lara Croft is still good to look at and carries the animations the character has to do very well. It’s a bit of a shame that the expressions don’t seem to vary much, it’s not carried in her animations and while her face looks great, doesn’t exaggerate enough to portray the emotions she goes through in the course of the story. It’s not really helped by how she talks about everything in generally the same tone; this generally worried and slightly hurried voice makes me think that everything isn’t really all that bad despite the fate of the known world being at stake.
The issue of voice acting continues to sting a little as the accents of both Lara and some other characters would sometimes suddenly break and it ruins your suspension of disbelief. The other side of the sound, the music, helps the game look better. It’s not too pervasive and generally matches the environment, wherever it may be. It’s a lot like the music you might hear in Metal Gear Solid 3, so it makes sneaking and exploring quite engaging.
Visual cues and most of the UI in the game is very easy to understand, and helps on making the constant switch between exploration, sneaking, platforming, and combat easy. Though it does come off as a little too much hand-holding sometimes, but it didn’t really bother me too much, personally.
Mechanics (3.8 / 5)
This title stays true to how older Tomb Raider games are with regards to combat. It’s awful. It would have been cool if by now Lara would have discarded the bow and put an end to this trend about it, but she hasn’t and it’s probably one of your most used weapons in the game. You also get eventual access to a knife, a rifle, a shotgun and a handgun. By the way, melee is basically useless, it might as well not exist.
Combat only starts becoming palatable if you dope up with either extra reflexes or defense, something you don’t naturally want to rely on. And doing them in combination makes most combat situations a breeze, so it’s either too hard or too easy depending on what you do.
Stealth appears to be a far more reliable and engaging option, but limited capabilities to survey an area makes it difficult to plan around taking out a search party and simply slipping past them isn’t always an option. Fortunately this blends well with the platforming abilities Shadow of the Tomb Raider features. Prowling around grass, hiding in areas unseen, gives the effect that you’re playing the role of a hunter taking them down one by one.
Honestly, platforming is where this game shows off as it presents several ways of traversing areas in creative and exciting ways. Jumping onto platforms, sliding up and down ropeways, clinging onto walls and even overhangs are pretty fun especially when mixed up with puzzles or action sequences. Being put to the test during chase scenes are probably one of the better highlights of the entire play session.
Other ways of augmenting Lara will come with wearing particular armor or costumes that can provide handy buffs. You can also upgrade your weapons by scavenging resources in a way that’s quite similar to The Last of Us. And they’ve also adapted a skill-system that splits into 3 disciplines, some required to be unlocked by challenge dungeons and others only need enough skill points, it’s really a lot like Assassin’s Creed: Origins. You’ll need a bunch of them to make combat somewhat passable since a lot of what Lara can do by default is really below par.
With exception of combat being something I’d rather avoid, they’ve managed to merge an RPG-esque experience into Tomb Raider in a more or less natural way, so I’d say that’s a net positive.
Content (4.0 / 5)
Let’s get this out of the way, Shadow of the Tomb Raider fails in making a good story. It has potentially good characters and makes a few situations that make great opportunities for the story and character progression. They then decide to toss that to the side to make Lara Croft as bad-ass as possible, and at the same time, show moments of vulnerability where she generally recovers on her own without really having to change anything about herself. Jonah might as well not exist, his role was done after the first chapter. It’s pretty vexing.
The problem really is that Lara had already gone through her transformation during the first game, so changing her any further would actually drive her away from strong character she had already become. They could have placed the story’s focus on somebody else, let somebody else go through huge changes, but they decided to stick with Lara. But without her going through anything that makes her change her perspective on things or her attitude, beliefs, or whatnot, she just becomes a static character. She might as well be an NPC. She does go through pitfalls and even wants to stop people from dying in this strong emotional moment, where she resumes killing the baddies like 5 minutes later. Really? Okay, I’m done complaining about that.
Challenge Tombs feel like they have more substance than the adventure-on-rails of the main story. Having some interesting puzzles and even giving you handy power-ups in the end, you may make a point of finding and clearing them. It’s a little annoying though, that some of them are blocked off by requiring having certain tools which you get soon enough. The problem is that you don’t really revisit any locations in the game if you follow the story, so you may completely forget about them later or simply not bother because of how out-of-the-way they are. Even though fast-travel is available, the loading time between stages doesn’t really make it convenient.
Then there are side-quests that are mostly quest chains, people basically telling you to do errands as most of these things are. You’d want to do them for the free skill points, really, the running around isn’t really that great since you’re more or less just looking for the next person to talk to for some of these sections, but I suppose it does the job despite that.
Features (3.7 / 5)
Shadow of the Tomb Raider features a photo mode if you’re into that kind of thing. I’m not. I do appreciate the NG+ option in case you want to go through the game without skipping any of those incidental tombs. There also appears to be a rush mode for the challenge tombs.
Generally they’re fluff, but hey NG+ is probably a good deal.
So, in case you haven’t heard, there are claims that this game is basically an alternate version of the Uncharted franchise, I’m inclined to agree. With more RPG elements mixed in, there’s a pretty heavy dependence on Naughty Dog’s playbook when coming up with cinematic games, and trust me there’s a lot of these action set pieces in there. Is that a bad thing though? Aside from me complaining about the story, the game is pretty serviceable.
Story wasn’t necessarily the strong point of games back then, this trilogy demonstrates how overstretching a character’s story can do harm to what it was supposed to present in the first place. The new stuff can be fun enough, but it didn’t have to be Lara doing all of it.
If you want an adventure and don’t think the story is going to throw you off, this is probably a good fit. It’s not a bad game, really, I just thought it would be better.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider on the PS4 barely climbs it’s high expectations with a 4.0 / 5.
Available on PS4, X1, and PC.