I’ll come right out and say it. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is now my favorite title in the rebooted series. That’s not an easy feat as I was in love with the previous entry for the longest time. I’ve played through the game multiple times and was driven mad to finish every challenge tomb. Yet, Shadow of the Tomb Raider has managed to surpass even Rise of the Tomb Raider. Packing as much as twice the content as, adding a story that is a bit more compelling and providing a gaming experience that needs to be, well… experienced.
Game Name: Shadow of the Tomb Raider Platform(s): Xbox One (reviewed), PS4 and PC. Publisher(s): Square Enix Developer(s): Eidos Montréal Release Date: September 14, 2018 Price: $59.99 Standart / $79.99 Lara Croft Edition
When we first heard about Shadow of the Tomb Raider, nearly two years ago, I wasn’t sure what to think. Was this real? Was it just some hoax that something was trying to get gaming outlets to talk about? Fast forward to now and not only do we have the 3rd and final game in the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy. But perhaps the best game out of them all. It’s a massive title, that takes everything from the previous two games and amps it up.
If you’ve played the previous Tomb Raider reboots, then you’ve seen the evolution of Lara. When we first saw her, she was clumsy, frightened and reluctant to kill. Then in The Rise of the Tomb Raider, she appeared to get used to it all. You could tell she was getting the hang of it all, yet still not fully confident. Now in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, that Lara we knew before is completely gone. She’s transformed into a killing machine and has gone from being afraid of everything in the jungle to being the dominant creature. It doesn’t matter what she’s up against: animals, people with all sorts of weapons or even the supernatural. Our little Lara has all grown up.
The storytelling is one of those things that got re-worked and while it does to get over the top at times, it has a nice pacing and when it starts to wind down, the game throws out side quests that you can embark on. You don’t have to do them, however, you’re rewarded if you take them on. They’re also a nice way to see more of the location you’re in, as well as the NPCs you frequent with.
It’s more gripping and gives way to Lara’s fragile nature. Sure, she’s all grown up. But emotionally, she’s still not sure as to what she needs to do. This gets shown as the story progresses to its climax. We’re even given a rare look at Lara at what could be seen as her lowest point throughout this series. It plays out so well that you can’t feel but to be sorry for her. Those who were frustrated with the storytelling in TR 2013 and Rise, should be happy with the writing this time around.
A woman on a mission
The first time we see Lara kill in the game, you can see her face and there’s no regret whatsoever. In fact, I’d say after playing through the game that she rather enjoys the killing now. From the new stealth kills, which are pretty damned amazing, to her ability to blend in with her environments now. Mud, grass, trees, it doesn’t matter. If she can use it, she will, and with those added skills you easily get the jump on her enemies. It’s not that she doesn’t have any remorse, because you can see that she does. She cares about the people around her, as well as the world that she may or may not have inadvertently doomed. You can see it when she interacts with the people in the game.
Especially during a part of the game where she’s trying to escape a city that has been decimated, she watches a small child hang on to a ledge before falling to his death. She doesn’t just look and go “Oh well” and moves on. Instead, she pauses and cries out because not only did that child just die, but it could possibly be her fault. There’s an inner turmoil with her that twists away at her and drives her toward to see what she started through. I’d love to go more into, however, that would lead into spoiler territory. She’s no longer the one-dimensional character that people claimed she was.
Now I know people have had a complained that the series was leaning more into action than exploration. I’ll have to admit that I felt that way as well. Thankfully, that’s been addressed here. There’s plenty of exploration and tomb raiding to be had during the storyline. Lots of climbing, as well as new techniques such as grappling and swinging, to get through these harrowing caverns of death. As well as lots of optional locations you can visit during side quests or just to do something outside of the normal venturing. The game is massively larger than the previous games and that’s not an exaggeration. There’s just so much area this time that I had fun just getting lost and taking it all in. The puzzles are also in full force here and they’re just enough to give you a challenge. I actually was stuck at several points as I had gotten royally confused.
The opposite of the exploration is combat, and here’s where Lara has taken a shine to ruin people’s lives. She’s deadly, with a capital “D”. She’s learned the art of war and she pretty much nails it. Now she’s able to fade into the backgrounds like a shadow, covering herself with mud to hide and she’s packing quite a few new stealth killing abilities. The gunplay has been tweaked as well. So much that while I originally enjoyed using her tried and true bow and arrow, I’ve moved on to the pistol and rifles she finds. That’s not to say any armament she stubbles on isn’t enjoyable either. Combat flows well and Lara is never without an option to defend herself. There is actually less fighting this time around, so you can stop worrying about that. But when it does get down to the action, it’s so enjoyable.
Of course, you don’t have to go in with bow or guns blazing, if you don’t want to. You’re free to do what you want. Kick in the front gate and take everyone down on sight, if that’s your thing. Or you can hang back, wait for an opening and silently take the bad guys apart. You have it your way, there’s no predefined method for dispatching them. Well, except for a handful of exceptions which are scripted. Baring those, you’re free to play as you want.
There are several hubs that you’ll frequent during the game, in the form of cities. In these hubs, you’ll interact with the local’s, get access to side quests and other interesting tidbits before you embark on your main mission. These also serve as areas to pick up some gear that you’ll be able to barter with the stores in those areas. They’re also nice areas to do a bit of exploration in, or you can just enjoy some of the lovely visuals and atmosphere. You’ll also find that the interaction with the supporting cast much more interesting this time around. They’re not just there to point you on your want and you never hear from them again. In fact, several of them will hang around and help you on your quest.
The skill tree makes a return and it’s here that Lara will gain various abilities. There are three different branches of skills, all of which give you a distinct advantage. Some work while in combat, some help your gathering and ability to solve issues. You’ll unlock these by completing objectives, gaining a certain amount of points (combat or gathering) or via the story progression. However, you can just pick and choose as the system requires you to unlock an adjacent title before you can get to other ones. So you’re forced to pick up a skill that you may not think is worth it, just to gain access to the one you really want. It feels like hand holding or a gated mechanic.
The QTE, or quick time events, also make a return. Love them or hate them, they’re here and you’ll encounter quite a few of them in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Not just a pretty face
When we last saw Shadow of the Tomb Raider at E3 2018, it already looked good. It’s hard to believe that in a few short months, Eidos was able to increase the graphical fidelity of the game. And yes, this includes the facial structures of the characters, including Lara. Gone is the somewhat *unnatural* facial model from Rise of the Tomb Raider and I feel that they nailed it this time around.
Visually, this game shines on the Xbox One X. From the detailed character models, the weapon models and the environments that you’ll play in. There’s plenty of DOF going on as well, as objects that just beyond Lara’s focus are blurred, to provide the sense of depth. The textures are all 4K as well. Meaning that everything looks crisp, including the cities which are vivid, with lots of NPCs that you can interact with. The jungles are teeming with small and medium animals that run around and into you, while waterfalls are flowing downward in the background. There’s just so much stuff going on that still shots don’t do the game just. The game also supports HDR, which looked fantastic on my TV.
There’s also a toggle to switch between a resolution mode (4K 30FPS) and a high-framerate mode (1080p 60FPS). Both look stunning, however, I noticed a slight input delay when playing at 4K. The game switches between rendered footage and the actual game during multiple segments and it threw me off. At times I sat there as I was unsure if it was time for me to grab the controller or not. Which may or may not have caused me to be killed off. There’s also quite a bit of motion blur that I wasn’t of, and there’s no way to turn it off either. Even still, you simply have to see it in action to appreciate what Eidos was able to pull off. For those that don’t own an X, not to worry. Doing a side by side comparison with the Xbox One S, the game still looks good and runs at or very close to 60FPS. I want to say it was 1080p as well, but I can’t say for sure.
One of the cooler things in the entire game is the photo mode. At any time during the game, you can pause and open up the photo mode and get a 3D model of Lara, regardless of what she’s doing and at any time. Running for her life, drowning, engaged in a firefight. It doesn’t matter. Then you can create works of art by playing with the field of view, depth of field, color filters, camera angle and more. There’s nothing better than getting that perfect shot of Lara, about to murder someone and changing that serious face to a smiling one. The only problem is that you aren’t able to save it. Or at least I wasn’t able to with my review code.
There’s just so much more going on here than any previous Tomb Raider game that the amount of detail is ridiculous. My main concern surrounding the game’s graphics is two-fold. Screenshots of the game don’t do it justice, and you have to see it in action to appreciate it. Secondly, the game is still very dark. There various places where the game could have used more lighting and it makes it hard to see what you’re doing. Lara carries a flashlight everywhere she goes, but she doesn’t always use it. That is just a bit odd if you ask me.
Of course, we can’t talk about the visuals without talking about the sound production and it’s just as good. The score for this game is an amazing roller coaster of ambiance, suspenseful and “Oh crap, this is really happening” music that is mighty powerful. The voice acting is delivered well, especially the emotional tones that Lara and Jonah share with each other. It’s just them that delivers a powerful performance, it’s just that we hear them more than anyone else in the game. Sound effects are always well done. From the gunfire, the environmental sounds such as waterfalls, the wilderness of the jungle, or when Lara is fighting for her life. It’s amazingly well done and really helps push the atmosphere of the game. Those who have invested in an Atmos receiver/ surround sound setup or headphones will reap the full benefits of it all.
There’s definitely a lot more to do and see in this follow-up and that excites me as a fan of Tomb Raider. Eidos has, in my eyes, provided us with the best game in the rebooted trilogy. The game really flows well, there’s more than enough content run through and the combat is really enjoyable. It took me about 19 hours to finish the game, with only a handful of challenge tombs completed. I fully intend on diving back into the game to finish up the rest and then on to the DLC whenever that gets released.
I recommend that if you’re a fan of Tomb Raider that you drop what you’re doing and give this game a play. Lara is back and she’s kicking ass and taking names.
Review Disclosure Statement: Shadow of the Tomb Raider was provided to us by Square Enix for review purposes. This review as conducted on the retail version of the game. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
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With Crystal Dynamics taking a backseat for the 3rd outing of the rebooted Tomb Raider, Eidos Montréal has stepped in. No stranger to the Tomb Raider world, they have managed to take everything that worked so well for the rebooted series and has perfected it. Perhaps the best title in the series, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a shining example of taking the best of the rebooted series, improving on it and letting it speak for itself. Talk about going out with a bang.
Looks amazing in action
The locations in the game are detailed and look amazing
The improved combat
Lots of exploration and things to do outside of the main mission
Amazing musical score
Occasional collusion issues
Needs more challenge tombs
The villain isn’t actually a bad guy, what a twist