Shadow of the Tomb Raider review – Everything but Lara Croft herself is expertly crafted | Gaming | Entertainment
Since Crystal Dynamics took the somewhat uncertain Tomb Raider series and refined it with a gritty reboot it has been hard not to compare it with Sony’s highly-praised Uncharted franchise.
That’s because dramatic blockbuster-like visuals and set-pieces are present in both and similar gameplay traits can be found.
The new series of titles explores the growth of Lara Croft from an uneasy explorer into a more confident and capable woman.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider, now developed by Eidos Montréal, thrusts Lara into the tropical jungles of South America where she is put on a quest to discover a hidden city known as Paititi.
Along the journey Croft also has various encounters with a group called Trinity that she believes were responsible for killing her father.
While the story of the game is not its standout by any means, it does serve as the backbone to transport Lara to a variety of expertly crafted environments.
There are a series of hub worlds in Shadow of the Tomb Raider that do a masterful job of delivering atmosphere and making them feel as real as possible.
NPC’s go about their daily business; singing, dancing and interacting with one another and all of that, combined with the game’s gorgeous visual pallet, make the series finale a real treat to look at.
Players even have the option to enable native languages in the settings, adding to the laudable levels of immersion.
However, Lara herself always seems to stand out like a saw thumb; she seems consistently awkward and lacks a compelling personality to get the player invested in her story.
To its credit, Shadow of the Tomb Raider does try to hone in on Lara’s character more than any other title in the reboot series, but ultimately it fails to provide any substantial reasons to care about her.
Lara’s friend Jonah, who accompanies her throughout the adventure, touts a more light-hearted persona that provides a significant juxtaposition and highlights the stiffness in the character of Croft.
Express.co.uk played Shadow of the Tomb Raider on an original PlayStation 4 console
Other characters in the game are disappointingly forgettable with the lead villain, Dominguez, offering a great performance but ultimately he turns up too few and far between to matter significantly.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks incredible and is a testament to what the current generation of PlayStation and Xbox are capable of.
Express.co.uk played Shadow of the Tomb Raider on an original PlayStation 4 console, not a Pro, and it really feels like the console is being pushed to its limits.
The jungles of Peru are lush, water looks incredibly photogenic and environments are widely detailed.
And Eidos Montréal clearly knows this and has added in a photo mode so players can capture their favourite moments with the press of a button.
The game offers a wide-ranging and vibrant colour pallet that is an appreciated change from some of the much darker tones present in the other two Tomb Raider titles.
Hub worlds in Shadow of the Tomb Raider do a masterful job of delivering atmosphere
But it is how the beautiful art direction combines with the intricate environments that provide the player with a world that feels lived in.
Gameplay is king in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and is the title’s most noteworthy feature and rightfully so.
In fact, Shadow of the Tomb Raider one ups the franchise most people will compare it to, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted, in making you feel like a real adventurer.
Huge open areas to provided to explore that not only allow you to diverge from the beaten path, but actively encourages such behaviour.
Tombs and crypts are littered across the diverse map that all strike a great balance between being challenging, entertaining and rewarding.
The former are more substantial than the latter but both present an addictive gameplay loop of solving puzzles and navigating through nuanced platforming sequences.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider thrusts Lara into the tropical jungles of South America
Climbing in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is refined and feels incredibly satisfying.
Part of the reason for that is because Lara has such a wide range of moves at her disposal.
Walls can be scaled, cliffs can be abseiled down and last minute ropes can be hurled to conquer otherwise unachievable jumps.
But it is the way Lara’s vast tool set is weaved together that makes for a very satisfying experience.
Players might have to climb a wall, abseil down and use momentum on the rope to make a huge leap for instance.
And puzzles in Shadow of the Tomb Raider leave players feeling accomplished without making them frustrated.
That is because they get the player to actively think about what needs to be done without presenting too high of a difficulty barrier.
It is unfortunate that such gameplay sections are not always harnessed in the side missions that are available to Lara throughout the course of the title.
In each hub world several characters have tasks for Croft, however some of them feel like very missed opportunities.
While some point you in new and exciting directions, others are simply a case of talking to other NPCs.
Crafting plays a big role in Shadow of the Tomb Raider with Lara being able to meld vast materials that can be used for a variety of functions ranging from weapon upgrades to injections of health.
And points can be acquired for Lara that can be dished out in a skill tree.
Generic combat sequences and Lara’s lacklustre personality ultimately hold the game back
However, a number of perks up for purchase were not as compelling as they could be.
New pieces of equipment and weapons are bestowed to Lara throughout the course of the game and the title takes full advantage of Metroidvania gameplay elements to provide fulfilling exploration.
Areas that were previously unaccessible can be unlocked with later gear, giving players an excuse to backtrack and examine every crevice of Eidos Montréal’s gorgeous world.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s lowest point is its combat but thankfully players are not forced to partake in it that often.
Lara has two options when it comes to confronting enemies; stealth or guns blazing.
The former presents some interesting ideas with Croft able to cover herself in mud so she is less noticeable by enemies.
Climbing in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is refined and feels incredibly satisfying
She can also perform Batman Arkham-esque takedowns from trees that see her fire a rope arrow and string guards high in a jungle canopy.
Picking off enemies one by one is satisfying and such sections are usually dished out few and far between, meaning they feel fresh when they do arise.
But there are times when Lara is forced to pull out her machine gun and start firing, and it’s here the title is really out-shined by its competition.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider does not excel as a third person shooter and it almost feels like Eidos Montréal knows this.
If Lara’s stealth is compromised and she has to take on enemies directly she is usually overwhelmed easily with only a few shots required to down her for good.
The game forgoes a button dedicated to launching Croft into cover in favour of doing it automatically.
While this sounds convenient in practice the mechanic is ultimately too unreliable to trust.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider offers precise levels of customisability thanks to its highly-adjustable difficulty settings.
Levels of challenge in combat, platforming and puzzles can all be tweaked individually so all players can find the perfect balance that suits them.
Such a move is an intelligent one from Eidos Montréal and should be replicated in other games across the board.
Gameplay is king in Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an absolute joy to play when you are roaming through the jungles of South America.
Platforming is satisfying, exploration is rewarding and the atmosphere delivered throughout is unparalleled.
But generic combat sequences and Lara’s lacklustre personality ultimately hold the game back from reaching its full potential.
With that said the expertly refined gameplay is reason enough to pick up the title and witness the conclusion to this gritty trilogy.