My journey into Shadow of the Tomb Raider with Lara begun on a very dubious note. 1996 was a year that would gift me one of the most valuable and precious idols I could ever ask for. Lara Croft, guns blazing without an ounce of fear in her step would knock down the door of stereotypes and give my little girl self someone positive to look up to. The avid respect and awe of Lara Croft would carry on for years to come; she’s always been the center of my fan-based universe. From collectibles to even tattoos, I’ve tried in every way to pay tribute to a lady that has given so much to me.
Being what the community calls a ‘classic Lara’ (1996 up to the 2013 reboot) fan, I ate up every bit of adventure I could find. Anniversary was like a tip of the hat to those who truly love the series, and it only felt like it could get better from there. As 2013 rolled around, the buzz in the air was electric–a new Tomb Raider game left us excited, hair standing on end in anticipation to join our beloved archaeologist and explorer once more in an epic tale.
As I worked through the game, a new engine, surroundings and character model would slowly wear me down. Where was my Lara Croft? Swapping her trademark dual pistols for a bow, confidence for faltering and tomb raiding for open arena combat–I was frustrated. Something didn’t feel right about my fearless leader, and it stung. So much in fact, that after completing the 2013 reboot, I did not touch the sequel next in line: Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Watch the Shadow of the Tomb Raider launch trailer below:
Why does this matter? It’s important to remember that I belong to a large number of people that rejected the reboot doubles. We felt betrayed: Lara was weak, naive and anything but the Himalayan-plane-crash-survivor that we so deeply drilled into our heads. The lore was rewritten. And it hurt.
As I sat down to play Shadow of the Tomb Raider as a job, my mind was open but my heart was not. Still, being in the Tomb Raider community online it was hard not to feel the raw energy. My excitement was due to the fact everyone else was over the moon about this game. Eidos Montréal stressed in press releases that this was going to be a turning point for Lara in the way of progression; that things were going to be deadlier, meaner, grittier. The best part of the promise: tombs to explore. For me, reboot felt reliant on gun combat between human enemies. Less time was spent on deciphering puzzles and more on explosions and gun shots. Where were my caves? Where was my jungle?
What I can tell you now is how very wrong I was. Shadow of the Tomb Raider swept me away in an adventure that blind sided every sense. Raiders, we got what we were promised–and then some. A magnificent and immersive experience that is so lovingly crafted that my faith in the reboot generation of Lara Croft and Tomb Raider is now fully restored.
Combat in Shadow of the Tomb Raider was a prickly subject to wrap my mind around at first. Taking from what I mentioned about, I felt the series thus far was completely reliant on fighting human enemies, and often it resulted in clunky, panic inducing experiences for me. It wasn’t impossible, but it simply wasn’t fun. It only felt like a stepping stone to what I really was after but never was given. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the evolution of Lara’s tactics continue to press on: there’s more in the way of stealth with a heavy stress on slinking back into the shadows. She’s a hunter now–a predator that feels coiled and ready to pounce. Being able to fade back into obscurity after being spotted is seamless and enhances how the combat sequences are done. One misstep and it’s not the end of our heroine, but only the beginning of the end for any unfortunate patrolling enemies. Takedown animations are brutal as well–we’re well past the point of any killer’s remorse and you can genuinely feel that in the way she handles herself.
The tombs themselves are a fine thing of beauty. Vast and unnerving, you’ll find yourself walking through as a means of story progression, but with the encouragement of exploration. Veer off the beaten path and find all sorts to occupy, from unforgiving challenge tombs to pickups, collectibles and other percentage raising goodies. With the illusion of an open world looming, areas feel massive and full of nooks and crannies. The detail in making things not repetitive also doesn’t go unnoticed–find your way into a challenge tomb and the path out of any said tomb might equally take a bite out of the clever side of your brain. It’s no walk in the park, and you’ll die plenty if you’re anything like me, but the inner reward of simply making it through is astronomical.
Puzzles pose for an interesting bit of thinking. The solution tends to glare you, but the journey of sorting out the steps can take an extra minute or two. Just like with the challenge tombs, solving a puzzle feels so very rewarding, and if the solution yields a door or mechanism, usually the results are breathtaking. Often I found myself progressing from one bonfire to the next saying ‘I’ll stop playing after the next one’, then the next and so on. Because the puzzles and tombs are so much fun, it was hard to set the controller down at times.
View some screenshots from Shadow of the Tomb Raider in our gallery:
I can’t speak too much on the story as this is a spoiler-free review, but I can tell you that down to my bones it feels like classic tomb raiding. From the locations, to how Lara interacts with her environment, it’s so very compelling and well done. The facial animations are simply stunning–we are now in the age of not just delivering a line, but really saying it with feeling. Getting attached is something that happens quickly and without warning. The way you can see how Lara feels in her expressions is utterly mindblowing, which brings me to my biggest and only real complaint: the hair. I’m not speaking to just Lara’s hair. All the hair. It’s distracting at best and looks wiry and unnatural at worst.
If you are anything like me in what you read above, the classic Lara Croft fan that was resistant to the reboots, I can honestly tell you that this is a game worth trying and starting over with. Lara has changed, and will do whatever it takes to reach her goals–vicious or not. It’s an absolute treat to be back in the old boots of a lady whose confidence is bold and unwavering. Here in this review I stand corrected about any previous assumptions I had. Time to emerge from the shadows and get your hands dirty.
A very special thank you to Stellalune of http://tombraiders.net!
Shadow of the Tomb Raider was reviewed using a digital code supplied by the publisher.
Publisher: Square Enix Developer: Eidos Montréal / Crystal Dynamics Release Date: September 14th, 2018 Reviewed On: Xbox One Also available on: PS4 and PC/Steam