Shadow of the Tomb Raider explores the darker side of Lara Croft
Marking the end of Lara Croft’s origins trilogy, Shadow of the Tomb Raider continues the iconic treasure hunter’s evolution from an innocent explorer to an indomitable badass. Set two months after the events of 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, its story follows a more intense and impetuous version of Lara than we’ve ever seen before. However, her recklessness gets the best of her in the opening moments of the game. After she plunders a dagger from a tomb deep beneath a Mexican village, she sets in motion an ancient Mayan doomsday prophecy that will take her on an adventure to the heart of an ancient Peruvian civilization as she battles crazed cultists, Trinity troops, and even the elements on a mission to save the world from destruction.
Of course, this darker tone isn’t the only thing Lara’s latest outing brings to the table. Developer Eidos Montréal has pulled out all the stops to deliver her most ambitious adventure yet. With striking set piece moments, a massive world to explore, more challenging tombs to seek out and conquer, and a number of clever enhancements to the franchise’s combat system, Shadow of the Tomb Raider delivers the best Indiana Jones-inspired romp you can find this side of a Naughty Dog production.
Welcome to the Jungle
Shadow of the Tomb Raider‘s setting of Peru is a massive sandbox that’s just begging to be explored. The sprawling hidden city of Paititi serves as the central hub. It’s in this bustling metropolis that you’ll find dozens of citizens to interact with, side quests to undertake, and traders who can give you access to special items that offer new ways to traverse the crumbling crypts and heavily-fortified Trinity outposts you’ll encounter. You never have to wander far before coming across the next needy native to assist or tucked-away tomb to explore.
But these are more than just shiny distractions to keep you going. The side quests are multi-part adventures that are surprisingly fleshed out. And you’ll want to experience them, as they’re all well-written and do a wonderful job of providing insight into the Paititian culture. Likewise, the tombs, the game’s eponymous stars of the show, are some of the most impressive the series has seen to date. They run the gamut from flaming, subterranean hellscapes to massive pirate galleons forgotten by time. Each one offers plenty of puzzles to test both your reflexes and gray matter and completing them rewards Lara with new abilities to help her on her journey.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the third entry in Lara’s origins story. That being said, she’s done more than her fair share of killing to make it this far. And with Trinity’s paramilitary forces everywhere, you’ll have plenty of chances to get your hands dirty all over again.
Thankfully, developer Eidos Montréal has added a few new surprises to Lara’s bag of tricks to keep things interesting. For starters, the game’s stealth system is greatly overhauled, offering many more ways to get the drop on your enemies. Hiding in vine-covered walls and slitting the throat of a patrolling guard feels great. Likewise, slathering yourself in mud to camouflage yourself as you pick off a platoon of grunts one by one is a thrill. It really makes you feel like the jungle’s apex predator.
The game also introduces an expanded skill tree. As you gain experience, you’ll upgrade Lara’s Seeker, Warrior, and Scavenger abilities. Seeker skills boost Lara’s awareness and resource gathering abilities and are ideal for finding traps, locating rare animals and more supplies, and even highlighting the heart of your enemies for single-shot bow kills. Unsurprisingly, Warrior skills augment Lara’s combat abilities. This nets you easier headshots, the ability to draw your bow faster, nasty melee counterattacks and more. Lastly, Scavenger skills make Lara the master of her environment. This is great when you want to bolster your stealth abilities, use local flora and fauna to concoct venomous arrows, and regenerate your health faster.
With 60 skills to master, you’ll be hard-pressed to unlock them all in a single playthrough. Luckily, you completionists can take comfort knowing there’s a New Game Plus mode waiting so that you can tie up any loose ends after the credits roll.
Out of the Shadows
When it comes to presentation, Shadow of the Tomb Raider absolutely shines. From its lifelike character models to its lifelike jungle vistas, the game delivers some of the best visuals seen this console generation. We reviewed the Xbox One version of the game on an Xbox One X, and were thoroughly impressed with both the game’s 4K and HDR performance on Microsoft’s premium console when playing the game on High-Resolution Mode. From the gorgeous high-res textures to the breathtaking and atmospheric lighting, this is a game that’s as easy on the eyes as Lara Croft herself. These stunning visuals do come at a cost though. High-Resolution Mode is locked at 30 FPS – a figure sure to frustrate framerate snobs.
The game’s High-Framerate Mode remedies this by scaling the visuals down to 1080p, delivering a rock-solid 60 FPS experience. Personally, I found myself playing the game in High-Resolution Mode when exploring the game to get the most immersive experience. However, I found the combat was more comfortable when playing with High-Framerate Mode enabled. Though I suspect this preference will vary from person to person.
Whichever way you slice it, Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks amazing. However, it’s not just its visuals that deserve praise. Composer Brian D’Oliveira’s score does an awesome job of pulling you into the jungle atmosphere. Many of the compositions feature pre-Colombia and South American instrumentation that fits the setting like a well-worn glove. Likewise, Camilla Luddington and Earl Baylon reprise their roles as Lara and her loyal companion Jonah, each delivering standout performances.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is certainly a treasure. But much like the ancient crypts she explores, there are a few pesky pitfalls that get in the way. When it comes to the game’s platforming sections, occasionally Lara gets a bit suicidal. I died more than a handful of times as I watched her lean towards a nearby ledge, indicating I was tilting my stick towards the next jump, only to have her to fly in the opposite direction and meet her bloody end in a pit of spikes or rushing river.
Another nagging feature is the muddy filter that covers the screen when Lara is wounded. Sure, it looks rough. But it also spotting whatever is attacking you a real headache in certain environments. Thankfully, this doesn’t rear its head too often, but it’s a real pain when it does.
While these issues are annoying, my biggest gripe is the story’s pacing. Shadow of the Tomb Raider tells a great tale, but the finale seems to come just as things start to get really interesting, making for a story that feels almost arbitrarily short. Still, it’s a hell of a ride while it lasts.
One for the History Books
Over the course of its 12-hour story, Shadow of the Tomb Raider tells a compelling tale of growth through sacrifice. Fortunately, Eidos Montréal has done a masterful job of evolving the classic Tomb Raider formula while sacrificing little in terms of quality. The game’s massive, living Peruvian landscape and bustling city of Paititi are unforgettable and provide the perfect playground for Lara to test her new stealth and traversal mechanics. With a greatly expanded sense of scale and gripping, personal narrative, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is Lara Croft at her very best.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC ; Publisher: Square Enix ; Developer: Eidos Montréal, Crystal Dynamics ; Players: 1 ; Released: September 14, 2018; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on review code given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.