The Tomb Raider gaming series started back in the ‘90s with the original games starring Lara Croft on the PSOne. Ever since then, Lara Croft has become one of the most popular and recognizable video game characters of all time. She is still arguably the best known female video game character ever aside from maybe Ms Pac-Man.
As we headed into the 00s, Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise started to lose their thunder. The video games weren’t selling as many copies as they used to and some of the games were just mediocre at best. There was a period where no Tomb Raider games were being made and the franchise’s history was unknown at the time.
Thankfully, that dark period ended when Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics brought back the Tomb Raider IP with the decent reboot releasing in 2013. This kick-started a new trilogy for Lara Croft with Rise of the Tomb Raider releasing in 2015, and now we have Shadow of the Tomb Raider releasing this year.
The first thing gamers will be happy to hear about Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the fact that it will be released simultaneously for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One platforms. This is different from Rise of the Tomb Raider which remained an Xbox exclusive for one year before finally getting released on PS4 and PC.
In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the new game continues focusing on a younger Lara Croft who is in her twenties and still fighting off the evil Trinity organization. In this new adventure, Lara heads off to Peru to find a hidden city called Patiti. Lara Croft is searching for an individual named Pedro Dominguez who is seeking a special box that allows its owner to rule the world. Croft needs to find the box before he does or else the whole world will be in Trinity’s grasp.
The story itself isn’t original and nor does it feature many plot twists, but it is engaging enough for players to play through it until the end. What I like most about this game is that Lara Croft’s friend Jonah gets a bigger part here than he does in both Tomb Raider 2013 and Rise of the Tomb Raider. Another thing worth mentioning is that main bad guy, Pedro Dominguez, is also not just a one dimensional villain too. Pedro Dominguez has a somewhat good reason as to why he wants to rule the world his own way.
Surprisingly, Lara Croft herself is flawed in her portrayal in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. I don’t want to give away too much, but there is one selfish incident she does that kind of causes lots of problems for all the people in Peru. Not to mention she’s still a cold blooded killer with no mercy to any of the soldiers working with Trinity. That being said, Lara Croft does learn from her mistakes and eventually gets better as the game progresses.
Graphically, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is by far the best looking game in the entire trilogy. The Peruvian jungles look awesome especially if you are playing the game on a 4KTV with HDR support. I managed to play this game on an Xbox One X and the end results are stunning. It’s one of the best looking games I have seen all year long. Performance-wise, I did not see any hiccups or frame rate drops. The game plays very smoothly and it’s all thanks to the power of the Xbox One X. Just like its predecessor, players will have an option whether they favor resolution or high frame rate. Regardless of what players choose, the game still look phenomenal but I played the game in high resolution to see the game in glorious 4K.
In terms of gameplay, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the most relaxed game in the entire new trilogy. I remember feeling there was TOO much action in the 2013 reboot as it felt more like an Uncharted video game than a traditional Tomb Raider title. Rise of the Tomb Raider was an improvement because there was a healthy balance between action set pieces and exploration.
Well Shadow of the Tomb Raider dials back on the action even further than Rise of the Tomb Raider as exploration and puzzles are the main thing you will be doing in this latest adventure. Aside from exploring tombs, Lara Croft will be climbing lots of cliffs, swimming in water, solving riddles and hunting wild animals just to name a few.
The machine gun fights and stealth elements are not prevalent until at the very end of the video game. This might disappoint fans of the 2013 reboot, but I admire the change in pace because this newer game feels more like a traditional Tomb Raider title. Sure the game might feel a little slow at the beginning, but the beautiful environments and challenging puzzles kept me engaged throughout my entire playthrough. Compared to its predecessor, the action scenes in Shadow of the Tomb Raider are more intense, especially with its combat being refined and not as clunky as its predecessor.
Control wise, not many gameplay mechanics have been altered since the new trilogy started in 2013. There are still lots of climbing, jumping, swinging and swimming to do in this game. There is also base camps that Lara can chill to craft items from the materials she gathers in the wild. In addition, Lara also has the same weapons as before such as a bow and arrow, pistol, shotgun and an assault rifle. The only new stealth element added here is that Lara can now rub herself with mud so it will be harder for the soldiers to spot her.
The only thing I still hate about the game is that Lara Croft is still pretty weak and vulnerable when it comes to melee combat. Melee has always been the weakest elements of Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, and sadly no improvements have been made in this new game.
Another minor flaw about the new game is that the main story campaign feels a little too short in my opinion. Whereas Rise of the Tomb Raider was around 15 hours long, Shadow of the Tomb Raider can be completed in about 12 hours. However, there are still lots of things to do such as raiding hidden tombs and other side missions that you can do after you have finished the main story.
Despite some minor flaws, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an excellent addition to the new trilogy that started with the reboot in 2013. The fact that this game favors exploration over action sequences is a huge plus for me. It’s also worth mentioning it’s one of the most beautiful looking games you will play all year long. If you liked the new Tomb Raider games, then you will certainly enjoy playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider as this game brings back to the roots of the series where it focuses more on exploration rather than action.
[Editor’s Note: Shadow of the Tomb Raider was reviewed on the Xbox One X platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]