Not many game titles are as famous as Tomb Raider, the game that redefined video games forever.
Released in 1996 for Sony PlayStation, SEGA Genesis and PC by Eidos Interactive, Tomb Raider has become famous the world over with several sequels, spin-off titles and movies, and was noted, not least for its inclusion of a lead female protagonist Lara Croft, who has become a cultural icon and pop phenomenon.
However, it was in 2013 that Tomb Raider made a staggering return.
Picked up by Square-Enix, a new Tomb Raider game was developed as an origin story; the origin of Lara Croft, from a mild-mannered and orphaned, amateur explorer into a battle-hardened treasure hunter, something which the latest title in the Square-Enix series, Shadow of the Tomb Raider emphasizes more than ever.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider has had very mixed reviews from top gaming review outlets such as IGN and Gamespot ranging from poor to excellent, with some highlighting that although the game is a great sequel in a great series, it has been let down by inconsistent gameplay and a contradictory characterization of Lara’s development.
Gameplay of Shadow of The Tomb Raider begins in a very familiar way that you will have come to expect from a Square-Enix Tomb Raider title; Lara is stuck in an impossible situation, literally between a rock and hard place.
She is visibly hurt, covered in dirt and in a state of despair with only you as her way out of a dire situation.
Lara needs to free her leg which is trapped under a rock. In a vertical cavern. In the dark!
Being prompted by the game you will have to rapidly tap a button to begin the action sequence to free her pinned leg and ultimately her ascension toward a dim light, as Lara, once freed from the rock, starts to climb using her trusty pick axes and you as guidance, in a thrillingly, yet tensely claustrophobic, interactive set-piece as Lara struggles for freedom.
This short, yet brilliantly designed bit of gameplay is reminiscent of the amazing pathos-building scenes from the first Tomb Raider installment of the new franchise and reminds you of the Lara you have come to love and respect as the developers intended, with us along for the ride of Lara’s development. But sadly, that’s where it ends.
Once freed of her Cyclopean prison, Lara emerges and completely changes demeanor, from a slightly worried and scared-for-her-life individual to a cold and calculating character.
As the game moves on, no longer is the narrative-driven by a remorseful Lara, tortured by every act of violence she commits, right or wrong. She has clearly grown accustomed to killing and is just as efficient a killer as Hitman’s Agent 47.
Whether this shift in Lara’s psychological attitude is true to the character or not is up to you to decide, since the origin story is now over, and Lara really is The Tomb Raider.
However, it feels a little to soon and for me at least has served to unbalance the incredible work that the developers have thus far done in creating a character with whom you could empathize.
Being The Tomb Raider though, the skill set of Lara, at least in terms of running, jumping and climbing, has noticeably improved.
Right from the off Lara can scale stony caverns with ease, pull-jumping herself like a seasoned professional in animations worthy of a Hollywood action movie.
Upon reaching the end of a rock face, Lara can continue the physical challenge by launching herself into an overhanging climb, where she will literally hang from a horizontal rock face and continue to use the trusty pickaxes to traverse the stony ceilings, all the while you get a real sense of gravity and situation working against Lara all of the time, and the incredibly tense ethnic style music along with thrilling camera angles only concentrates the action in your favor.
The work which has gone into making the character look and feel realistic, with a combination of animations (facial and bodily) and physical mechanics is truly incredible, which only gets better to view and control as you discover new areas to play around in.
New areas to discover are separate from the main story and could be a whole new game in and of themselves. In this chapter of the series, Lara actually goes tomb raiding; and it is great fun!
These areas are impressively designed and hearken back to the classic puzzle-based gameplay with references to both older Tomb Raider titles and movies of a similar nature such as Indiana Jones, which, let’s face it, set the rules for treasure hunting action sequences; don’t remove that shiny object from its pedestal or something bad will happen!
These great side-missions can be a welcome distraction from the seriousness of the main story however they can feel a little forced upon you at some points where you may just want to continue on with the plot.
This time around, the central plot revolves around Lara racing to put an end to an already begun Mayan apocalypse which Lara herself inadvertently caused by removing an ancient dagger artifact from a Mayan chamber.
However the game’s antagonist and leader of a paramilitary organization known as Trinity, Pedro Dominguez, takes the dagger for himself; as the legend states that whoever possesses the dagger, shall make the world in his own image.
Needless to say, Lara and her side-kick Jonah are in hot pursuit of Dominguez in order to retrieve the dagger.
The story of Shadow of the Tomb Raider is complex with many layers of history, myth and legend all pertaining to the ancient Maya and Mayan God, Kukulkan. If South American history is your thing, then you will be amazed by some of the great detail that the game’s story goes into in this installment as well as the visual details of local areas with interactable characters.
The way the story plays out has been expertly crafted to lend itself to new game mechanics not previously available in the previous two titles.
One of the series’ new gameplay mechanics is the inclusion of stealth, and my, oh my, how they have messed it up!
Perhaps because stealth isn’t, and has never been a core concept of a Tomb Raider title, or perhaps because I believe that only Metal Gear games are the only stealth games worth playing (Splinter Cell fans – don’t start sending me hate mail), I couldn’t help but feel that the stealth mechanic in Shadow of The Tomb Raider just didn’t belong, and I did not enjoy it one bit.
In some sections of the game, stealth gameplay is forced upon you, something that I personally hate in games, and in other parts of the game, you can use stealth whenever you like, to the point that it is silly because of the extremely poor stealth detection by the enemy AI.
You can cover Lara in mud, John Rambo style, and then literally run past an enemy patrol. At first, it’s pretty cool but then it just becomes laughable, and it’s also too conveniently placed and easy to find, much like the game’s crafting resources.
Most resources for crafting new weapons and items need to be gathered from tomb raiding side-quests, which are generally great fun but can serve as unnecessarily intentional interruptions in the story, which is for the most part so good you will not want it to be interrupted.
The side-quests themselves can also last a while and be quite tedious, ultimately removing the momentum from the storyline and causing recent memory redundancy as you are forced to listen to unrelated drivel from unrelated characters in order to receive a side-quest objective.
It’s not all bad though, as some of the new and/or improved game mechanics are implemented well in these side missions.
Features such as swimming, rappelling and wall running are all provided in equal measure and are satisfyingly implemented in a variety of situations which are evenly paced so as not to convolute the gameplay, and because of the faultless game design here, Tomb Raiding has never been so much fun.
Shadow of The Tomb Raider also presents a lot of underwater exploration segments in greater detail than ever before, both as part of the story whereupon it is necessary, and as a free-roaming mechanic when exploring on your own; which is where it is best used. Let’s just say that it is in your best interest to take a dip now and then, as you never know what you will find…
… and It’s not just side missions that serve to implement some of the game’s best features. There are also lots of different challenge maps to defeat which feature some of the more puzzling aspects of the game, however, you will be rewarded for your time as there are many items to unlock in this installment, such as challenges, gear and outfits.
As with most games of Tomb Raider’s caliber these days, there are a multitude of unlockable items for the seasoned adventurer who loves a challenge.
Some of these unlockables include weapons, such as a reinforced knife, items to aid you like the rope ascender and outfits which even include alternative explorer outfits, local clothing and classic previous generation Laras!
Prima Games has an excellent guide to unlocking outfits here. WARNING: May contain spoilers.
Skills and gear can be unlocked when completing these extra tombs. The design of the puzzles in these areas is impressive, to say the least and will leave you with a great sense of achievement when you figure out how to advance the problem, which for the most part requires equal parts logical thinking and good gaming skills, as the tombs don’t also provide some of the best-designed puzzle pieces, but also some of the game’s more memorable gameplay implementation.
Most of the tombs will require you to use all of Lara’s skills effectively, as well as your own, in order to reach certain areas that contain an objective.
Figuring out the path you will need to take is one thing, but maneuvering Lara about from ledge to ledge, rope to rope and gap to gap is quite another, and although these are implemented excellently, there are the inevitable areas of frustration like dead-falls, fire hazards and drowning, all of which can be caused by either your own mistakes or some shaky gameplay.
In fact, these areas are so good, I couldn’t help but wonder why the developers didn’t just ditch the poorly implemented stealth altogether and concentrate more on the excellent objective-based puzzles and game design that a Tomb Raider title deserves, and possibly release these tombs as a DLC pack.
Adding to that statement, Square-Enix has confirmed that a Shadow of The Tomb Raider Season Pass will be available  which will provide;
- New missions
The DLC packs are to commence release in October 2018 and continue monthly until April 2019.
A Great Game, but Not the Lara We Love
From the beginning gameplay scene where we get to help Lara escape peril and impending doom, I thought I was in for more of the same character-driven narrative offered by the first two titles and I was loving it, only to be disappointed; not by the game itself, but by the stone-cold and fool-hardy attitude of a clearly different Lara Croft.
I understand that Lara has come a long way and that the amateur adventurer needs to become the tough heroine, but at what cost?
Lara Croft aside, although it’s not the best title in the current series, Square-Enix has delivered a great game here, and one that is still worthy of the Lara Croft name and indeed more deserving to be called Tomb Raider than the previous two titles.
The main story is Hollywood worthy and acted out, scripted and delivered in the same action-packed way that we expect.
Although this is an experienced Lara, new skills are still available to unlock and are balanced in such a way as not to make the game feel old. They’re the same skill sets, just implemented better.
Adding a new stealth mechanic was a risky move to include in this installment, and risky moves sometimes work extremely well, and sometimes they don’t. In this case, it didn’t work well. Not to say that the inclusion of stealth wasn’t welcome, it just could have been implemented a lot better had more time been spent thinking about when and where to include it and how the dynamic would play out between player and AI and I commend development for trying.
Although the main story of Shadow of The Tomb Raider is great in and of itself, I feel that this game was rescued by the inclusion of tomb raiding puzzles, which have always been the main core of Tomb Raider right back since 1996, and they are implemented extremely well. Well enough in fact to remind you who Lara Croft is and what she does best.
Shadow of The Tomb Raider offers actual Tomb Raiding in vast quantities, more than enough to keep you exploring long after you finish the main story, which is pleasingly lengthy, action-packed, humorous and saddening.
However, the events of the story and the attitude of Lara across it, made me lose interest in the character and just didn’t hold up to my expectations of what a 2018 AAA title character should be like in a game of this importance.
I not only missed the old and empathetic Lara of Tomb Raider and Rise of The Tomb Raider, I actually didn’t like this new Lara.
This is just my opinion but I would love to hear what you guys think down below in the comments section as I’m sure this will be a controversial game.
Shadow of The Tomb Raider is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC.
- “Tomb Raider#Cultural Impact“. Wikipedia. Retrieved 21/09/2018.
- “Shadow of The Tomb Raider DLC Detailed, Here’s What You Will Get“. Segment Next. Retrieved 21/09/2018.
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Many thought that his youth (and adulthood) playing video games was a waste of time but here he is writing about them for a living.
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