- “Shadow of the Tomb Raider” is one the prettiest games ever made, offering enhanced graphics on the Xbox One X, PlayStation 4 Pro, and PC.
- “Shadow” is the final game in a trilogy that began with the 2013 reboot of “Tomb Raider.”
- This is “Tomb Raider” at its peak – in the new game, Lara Croft explores the jungles of Peru in a massive open world that’s filled with hidden crypts, wildlife and treasure.
- Developer Eidos Montreal hired cultural advisors to help ensure that its depiction of the indigenous people and locales in “Shadow of the Tomb Raider” was both accurate and respectful.
As the final game in a trilogy, “Shadow of the Tomb Raider” ought to feel like the culmination of the series.
Instead, the latest Lara Croft game feels like more of the same. But that’s not a bad thing.
“Shadow,” which was relased on September 14 for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC, is the last in a series that began with a reboot in 2013. The game is meant to be the payoff for fans who have followed the series. It closes out some overarching plotlines from the two previous games. It also focuses on a young Lara Croft that is reminiscent of the original version of the character that debuted with the first “Tomb Raider” game in 1996.
Here’s a look at “Shadow of the Tomb Raider:”
In “Shadow of the Tomb Raider,” Lara Croft is back in her natural habitat, taking artifacts that don’t belong to her.
The base concept of the “Tomb Raider” series has always been easily understood; Lara Croft is an archaeologist/treasure hunter/acrobat/trained killer searching for ancient artifacts in exotic locales. Inevitably her adventures lead her into conflict with an evil company or cabal trying to use those artifacts to take over the world, and she has to stop them.
“Shadow” is no different. Lara starts the game in pursuit of Trinity, the same organisation she fought against in 2015’s “Rise of the Tomb Raider.” When she steals the artifact that Trinity is looking for, she unwittingly triggers a series of cataclysmic events that threaten to end the world – unless she beats Trinity to another artifact located in Peru.
Soon she finds herself stranded in the jungle, where she encounters a hidden city, a vengeful cult, and all the trappings of a B-action movie.
Things tend to escalate quickly when Lara Croft is involved.
Surprisingly, the story is easily the least interesting part of “Shadow,” even for someone who has played the previous games in the series. The game does touch on some dark themes, but generally chooses to play it safe.
Lara’s careless role in the cataclysms and her presence as an outsider intruding in a foreign culture and hidden city play a part in the story. But they aren’t really confronted by the characters themselves, and the game doesn’t dwell on many nuances. Instead, “Shadow” draws a clear line between the good characters and the bad ones.
That decision leads to some strange situations. It’s a bit odd, for example, to see Lara playing dress up while in Peru and getting along with just about everyone there, even though she’s an outside invader.
Is Lara dressed appropriately — or just engaged in cultural appropriation?
Still, “Shadow” is one of the most visually impressive games made to date. It offers enhanced graphics options for 4K resolution and HDR mode on the PlayStation Pro, Xbox One X, and PC.
Players can choose high-resolution mode if they want the best visual experience. Alternatively, they can select high-frame-rate mode for smoother gameplay.
Regardless of the choice, the dynamic environments of “Shadow of the Tomb Raider” are simply awe-inspiring, and the visual experience alone kept me excited for each new trip into the wild.
“Shadow of the Tomb Raider” certainly takes Lara to new heights.
The gameplay in “Shadow” feels like a natural evolution from “Rise of the Tomb Raider.” Early on, “Shadow” brings back all of Lara’s usual tools and then builds from there.
You’ll be able to use her familiar climbing axe and grappling hook to navigate most of the game’s terrain. Later on in “Shadow,” you can upgrade them with climbing boots and a rope ascender.
The climbing mechanics are easy to pick up and the controls feel great as you jump and swing between rock walls, ledges, and trees. Understanding how to climb properly is essential, as a slipup means instant death for Lara. Thankfully, the game has frequent checkpoints, so missing a jump will usually just put you right back where you attempted it.
Combat is a standard part of the game, but Lara can almost always use stealth tactics instead to dispose of her foes. When hidden, Lara can easily kill enemies with a single button press, preempting a fight. Hiding from armed mercenaries in mud and overgrown vegetation is key to the game, because Lara rarely has the firepower to take down multiple enemies at once.
Lara can use mud and dense vines to hide from enemies.
As Lara, you can choose among four basic weapons: bows, pistols, shotguns, and rifles. As in many survival games, a bow is often the best option, because gunfire attracts enemies.
As easy as climbing is in the game, gunplay often feels stiff, and most shootouts feel like a losing battle. If enemies discover you while you’re trying to sneak past them, you’re usually forced to scramble for a new hiding place or die in the immediate hail of bullets.
Puzzles are a staple in the Tomb Raider series, and those interested in flexing their brain muscles will not be disappointed. The puzzles scattered through the game’s tombs are not as open-ended as those in games such as “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.” But they are intricately designed and make good use of Lara’s full tool set.
They also leave it up to you to make the right choices with their own perception. Making the wrong choice usually means triggering a trap that leads to a gruesome death.
Puzzles in large rooms take multiple steps to solve.
As in previous games, Lara has special abilities called survival instincts that help with both combat and exploration. You can activate it by pressing on the right analogue stick.
When exploring, activating survival instincts will highlight helpful items and clues you can use to solve puzzles. In combat, survival instincts can detect enemies and traps that help give you an edge.
A crafting system allows Lara to upgrade her weapons and equipment using equipment found in the jungle, and Lara can build different outfits that provide bonus abilities. Lara has the ability to craft special ammo for her bow and guns too, such as fire ammo, which can cause explosions, and poison arrows, which can trick enemies into attacking their comrades.
This odd outfit actually helps Lara regain health.
Like prior “Tomb Raider” games and most triple-A action games, “Shadow of the Tomb Raider” features a skill tree that helps Lara improve her abilities as the game progresses.
Some skills improve Lara’s combat or exploration abilities. Other skills just make the game easier, such as by reducing the chances that Lara will slip while grabbing a ledge.
Pretty much everything Lara does – whether it’s completing parts of the story, discovering artifacts, or just collecting items for side missions – leads to new skill points, so exploring never feels like a waste of time.
Lots of tight spaces make for easy jump scares.
In “Shadow,” players can set the difficulty levels for its various gameplay components, including for combat, puzzles and climbing. When you set those to lower levels, the game offers helpful prompts. It will let you know what climbing tools you need to advance, for example, and certain areas will be clearly marked to guide the way.
When those levels are set higher, Lara’s survival instincts are less effective at the start of the game and need to be enhanced using the skill tree. Enemies are also more likely to detect Lara while she’s hiding and are harder to take down.
The game is at its best when you’re left to explore the massive open world on your own. It’s a lot more rewarding to be discovering hidden crypts and tombs and solving puzzles than being strung along by the rather mundane story. Too often, when you follow the story mode, Lara is forced into combat that feels less than satisfying.
Luckily, there’s plenty of time to spend getting lost in the jungle. Even after I spent 12 hours completing the game’s main story line, I had only finished about 60% of what “Shadow” had to offer.
Even the most mundane areas have a startling level of detail.
Even if the story comes up short in delivery, the rebooted Lara Croft is a more well-rounded character than the sex symbol that graced the covers of the early “Tomb Raider” games. “Shadow” continues to raise the bar for triple-A action titles with its top notch graphics and responsive gameplay.
Those willing to take the dive into the jungle will certainly not be disappointed.
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