Third Times a Charm - Shadow of the Tomb Raider (REVIEW)
written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
This is the third outing for our new “survivor” Lara; her first outing had her survive a harrowing adventure on a lost island... not quite yet becoming the Tomb Raider she is meant to become, in Rise of the Tomb Raider we saw Lara begin to grow to the hero she's destined to be, does Shadow of the Tomb Raider bring her to the pinnacle of what Lara is to become? Almost baby... almost...
Set shortly after the events of the last game, we follow Lara Croft as she explores parts of Central and South America as well as the ancient city of Paititi, a city lost in time. Lara is tasked once again to fight against the para-military organization Trinity while racing to halt an ancient Mayan apocalypse she believes she was the cause of.
With this review I feel like touching on the story first, to be honest that has to be the weakest part of this outing. Feeling more akin to the lackluster Tomb Raider film that recently came out and less like her last outing in Rise of the Tomb Raider, the quest to halt a Mayan apocalypse felt so far removed from the rest of the series that tried to craft a narrative that blended the fantastical into a grounded story. While there were no Velociraptors or T-Rexes running around, there might as well should have been given the direction the story took.
I found myself lost more often than I wanted, clinging solely to the gameplay and the hope that the story would get better. I have loved this series since the reboot five years ago, I have looked forward to every title in the series... including this one, this is the one that disappointed me. It's a shame because I really wanted to love the narrative, the story felt like a dull hacked together amalgamation of something from Uncharted mixed in with a lost Indiana Jones story. Moments that were meant to stir emotion in the player fell flat, apart from one scene where Lara goes all out ballistic when she believes her enemy killed a trusted friend, everything felt paint-by-the-numbers... even when important characters die. It's a shame because I remember playing through the first game and how each death felt impactful to both Lara and the player, an impact that was rarely felt here.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider's narrative gave us a lot, the story itself was more grandiose than both of the preceding titles, but despite this it felt emptier... slightly vapid. Much like how in Uncharted 3 they amped up everything across the entire experience, but it still fell slightly short of the previous title. The brightest part is in how fleshed-out Jonah was in this one, being the sole member from her expedition in the first game to continue on with her, Jonah grew to be a strong partner for Lara in the last game... culminating to his role as a major part of her adventure here. Honestly, I would love to play a DLC side story as Jonah in a similar vein as the recent Uncharted: Lost Legacy.
Where the narrative failed me, the gameplay saved me. Her snappy controls return from previous titles with much of it being more same-hat than innovative. Gunplay is still incredibly tight whether you wanna go in guns-a-blazing or take a more silent approach with your bow. Stealth is incredibly fine-tuned. Where the last game improved on stealth, Shadow managed to take it one step further. Now you can cover yourself with mud to further camouflage yourself, hide among the shubbery and you'll be damn near invisible. While the game does give you the option in how you tackle each objective point, it's so damn fun to go in silently and pick enemies off one-by-one I found myself doing that more often than not. New enemy types armed with thermal goggles make it a requirement to pack some mud on you whenever you want to stay stealthy.
Innovations to the stealth gameplay was very welcome, but the standard gunplay was more or less the same from previous titles. What I wished they did was expand on the melee combat. Lara is scrappy and while I get it that they wanted you to focus mostly on gunplay and her bow, she needed more options for hand to hand combat. Also, once again I was disappointed to see that they still haven't given Lara the ability to dual-wield pistols. I know this is a different timeline, a different Lara... but would it kill you to let me dual-wield pistols in a Tomb Raider game? Perhaps for the next one maybe?
The game's progression system is still only accessible from camps, something I used to criticize but honestly got used to from the last two games in the series. Plugging abilities into skills that fall across three different schools of progression. Seeker skills help augment your stealthiness, Scavenger allows you to gain more resources plus the ability to craft new items, Warrior is basically how deadly you are.
Thanks to the open-world-ish approach, the not quite open-world but still large scale of the locales encourage exploration while not serving as a major distraction from advancing the core narrative. It wouldn't be a Tomb Raider game without the staple of the series... tombs. Challenge Tombs return from the previous games with a wider variation in how to solve them and of course granting Lara locks skills she wouldn't have been able to obtain otherwise. These served as my favorite distraction, more so I found myself thoroughly stumped by many of these optional tombs. While the story did throw some puzzles your way as part of the core narrative, it was in these Challenge Tombs I found my chance to prove myself. I'm still hunting them down and despite my criticism of the overall narrative, these challenges made for a welcome addition.
While Shadow of the Tomb Raider stands tall as a gorgeous looking game with excellent controls, the lack of innovation in the gameplay and a weak narrative prevent me from giving this one a score in-line with previous titles in the series. I enjoyed my time with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, but that enjoyment was mostly in the gameplay and pretty locales... it needed more. In fact, I would have judged it more favorably if they at least gave me the ability to dual-wield pistols. Not a bad game, but a far cry from the previous two titles.
3 out of 5
A lackluster narrative even gameplay couldn’t save