Shadow of the Tomb Raider marks the return of Lara Croft in what is supposed to be the last part of a trilogy of games. Out on Xbox One, PS4 and PC, we tested the Xbox version.
The current trilogy (that started with 2013’s Tomb Raider) describes how Lara Croft turns from a young Croft heir into an acclaimed and mature tomb raider – complete with all the skills she develops during her journey. It’s a bit like the recent Alicia Vicander movie, only it doesn’t wrap up in two hours but rather spans an eight year period with three videogames.
Being inexperienced, the first two games saw a lot of Lara just trying to survive – crafting and mostly sticking to the shadows when confronted with danger. She eventually rises to the occasion and dealt Trinity a crushing blow, but in Shadow of the Tomb Raider we quickly learn that Trinity is far from vanquished. Lara and her pal Jonah travel to South America where she steals a supernatural Mayan dagger before Trinity can grab it – only to find that her actions have disastrous consequences.
This of course instantly connects to Lara’s journey towards maturity and responsibility, which also translates to the gameplay. If you’re thinking about jumping into the trilogy at this point, then it would be wise to play the first two games before you do so – many of Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s challenge tombs are more difficult than they were in previous games. This is when comparing them at a normal difficulty level, but you have the option to scale down the difficulty level for puzzles and/or combat (individually).
Lara’s ascent towards maturity also means she is no longer mostly the hunted, but is transforming into the hunter. She stalks her prey and the gameplay makes it easier than before to jump in and out of stealth mode, even mid-combat (if you manage to get away quick enough for your enemies to lose track of you). All of this doesn’t mean that you no longer level up throughout the game – Shadow of the Tomb Raider still has a skill tree for you to unlock, and Lara’s survival instinct (which highlights elements of the environment) is also back.
The fact that Lara’s more comfortable in combat now leads to a bigger emphasis on all-out combat as well, with shootout sequences that evoke memories of Uncharted at times. You’ll see more of these later on in the game when your skills and weapon loadout are more developed, and you need to rely less on stealth.
As with the previous two games, a lot of the Shadow of the Tomb Raider content is optional in nature. You can stick to the main story quests and go through the game that way, but the optional challenge tombs are some of the best non-scripted parts of the entire game – so I wouldn’t recommend it. Obviously the story missions have a ton of cinematic flair to them, as do the cutscenes that link them together, but if you enjoy the classic kind of exploring and treasure hunting then you’ll want to do as many of the tombs as possible. You’ll be rewarded for them too, with treasure and upgrades you can use in the main campaign.
Another reason to play the optional side quests is that, in terms of gameplay, Shadow of the Tomb Raider plays it safe – it’s may be slightly different from the last two in that Lara is more mature, but it’s stiff very much “by the book” and a lot of the creativity lies in the way the challenge tombs are designed and structured. There will be more content later as well, but that’ll be in the shape of DLC.
Audiovisually, this is stunning game – though the step up from the previous game isn’t as big. I believe that Rise of the Tomb Raider was one of the first games to use the extra power that the Playstation 4 Pro and Xbox One X used, and Shadow continues that push by giving console gamers the option of boosting the level of quality or framerate. Even without the extra power, Shadow of the Tomb Raider certainly looks the part – and sounds it too. Both the voice acting and musical score are excellent, and the design of certain sequences is incredibly cinematic as a result. This makes the game a must-have for fans of the last one, and a worthy end to the trilogy.