I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the Tomb Raider franchise. While one title gave me a pretty refreshing and audacious experience, the subsequent one felt more like its predecessor and lacked its own identity. It’s pretty difficult to explain, but it’s been that way ever since I got into the Tomb Raider franchise, atleast that’s the way I felt. When I first saw Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I was a bit skeptical about the game due to my past experiences with the franchise. But, how does it actually perform? Let’s find out.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an action-adventure video game developed by Eidos Montréal in conjunction with Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. The game was released worldwide on 14 September 2018 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Shadow of the Tomb Raider has the same skeletal plot as the other titles in the franchise, i.e. mending the destruction caused by Lara’s never-ending thirst for knowledge. While the ill-effects were subtle in the previous entities, this time Lara’s quest for a dagger leads to a catastrophic effect on the world, triggering natural calamities first of which we witness ourselves in Mexico. That ignites Lara’s journey to fix the damage done by her, with the world at stake. The story does have many loose ends, and is underwhelming compared to its predecessors, but there are some moments of glory in this department as well.
One of the most notable change in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the change in Lara’s character. She is no more the Lara Croft who sighed after killing people, but she is much more fearless and selfless. Eidos Montreal have excellently portrayed the relation between Lara and Jonah, and the few dialogue sequences between them are the shining parts of the story. While Eidos have got the characterization on point to some extent, the antagonist group in the game, aka Trinity has a pretty underwhelming presence. They are no longer the violent group who aimed at fulfilling their desires by hook or crook, but rather they have turned into a mere talk-show. Overall, the story and narrative is pretty underwhelming and players shouldn’t be expecting much from the same.
Gameplay & Sound
Shadow of the Tomb Raider, was extensively compared with Naughty Dog’s chart-topping franchise, Uncharted after the early gameplay reveal. Before I jot down my opinions on the last title of the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy, I pretty much assert beforehand that the Shadow of the Tomb Raider is still a Tomb Raider game, inheriting the same virtues from it’s predecessors which gave the series a name.
I’ve always been a fan of the hub-based open world of the franchise. While many developers are resorting to incorporating huge open worlds in their games, immersion is one aspect where they falter. This is one such department where the Tomb Raider franchise or the rebooted trilogy to be precise, has excelled. While the platforming sequences in the game has always got mixed reception from the community, it still offers a pretty engaging experience for the players.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider, has undoubtedly one of the most gorgeous worlds in the rebooted trilogy. While players will be spending most of their time in Patiti, the franchise’s largest hubs, the exploration is still as adventurous as it could get. Like the previous entities of the franchise, the game still has those adrenaline rushing quick time events, revolving around crumbling environments and sloppy jumps to ledges. Quick-time evens often get mixed reception from the player base, but the way they are implemented in Tomb Raider franchise is rather enticing instead of a chore to complete. SoTR also has some more emphasis on underwater sections, which provide a pretty enthralling experience. The underwater sequences have a pretty realistic and tension-inciting touch to them, thanks to the various visual effects which hint towards catching a breath at air pockets after staying in water for long.
As I said earlier, fans of the franchise can pretty much expect the same core gameplay as the other titles in the Tomb Raider franchise, but this time there is more emphasis on the stealth sequences. One of the reasons why Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s stealth sequences stand out is due to the addition of the new stealth mechanics in the game, i.e, the ability to lose sight of enemies by hiding along mud-covered walls.The new stealth mechanics ensure that players can undertake sequences stealthily, or keep switching between going all out, and hiding. That is really well supported by the ability to heal and eat on the fly which makes the acts up as an icing on the cake in the action pumped sequences.
I was really surprised to see the omission of the cliched enemy tagging given the fact that the game has ample emphasis on stealth, and almost all major titles having even small stealth sequences incorporate the tagging feature; But I rather embraced the changed since it made the stealth sequences much more realistic. Apart from the enhanced stealth mechanics, Shadow of the Tomb Raider also gets a variety of new traversal elements, in the form of overhang and enhanced rappel mechanics which makes traversal a much more exhilarating and vertigo-inducing experience. That again is well supported by the QTEs, which act as an icing on the cake.
There is a variety of guns of each type to choose from in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and this is the department in which Tomb Raider falters, in my opinion. While the gunplay is pretty much similar to what we saw in the earlier entities of the franchise, I didn’t feel the need to buy or search for a better weapons because of two reasons. First, much of the game is set in Patiti, where Lara can only use her bow, and gets access to the rest of the weapons in her arsenal ‘occasionally’. Second, guns are a bit overpowered and I hardly felt the need to switch to a powerful variant of a particular weapon while playing the game in Normal difficulty. In short, the base weapons itself feel pretty overpowered at Normal difficulty levels and players would find no little to no need of switching to powerful variants.
Coming to the skill tree and the weapon upgrades, like the earlier games the skills can be upgraded at camp fires. The skill tree in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is expanded and boasts a more complex appearance as compared to ROTR. The skills provide some much needed perks to complete the campaign, and they can be unlocked by skill points which are gained by completing missions while some of them are exclusive to challenge tombs.
Finally coming to the sidequests, tombs and puzzles. The game does have a load of sidequests which increase the playtime considerably as compared to other titles of the franchise. While they do increase in quantity, they have detoriated in quality and a majority of the sidequests felt just boring. On the contrary, the the various challenge tombs are simply outstanding, involving some mind-boggling puzzles and ample exploration. Conquering the challenge tombs gives a sense of accomplishment, and is undoubtedly the best aspect of the game, although some of them still look lacklustre as compared to the ones in the Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Graphics & Performance
To no surprise, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the best looking title in the entire franchise. Be it Mexico, or the tropical forests of South Africa, each and every location in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a visual spectacle. The plethora of visual effects and animations players witness during world traversal and especially during climbing and rappling are just a treat to watch. The forests are undoubtedly the most well designed area of the game, with branching paths, lush greenery and a number of animals.
While rest of the character designs are really good, the facial animations and design of Lara’s face looked pretty awkward at times. Speaking about the performance, we played the game on the base PS4. While the game maintained stable FPS most of the time, there was indeed some massive fps drops amidst some of the more populated areas of Patiti and when there is a lot of stuff going on in the background. But, that is really rare, and the game ran pretty smoothly rest of the time.
Shadow of the Tomb raider is a pretty good, if not great game. While I’ve been playing a number of games over the past few weeks, including Assassins Creed Odyssey and Call of Duty Black Ops 4, I still keep going back to Shadow of the Tomb frequently. If you aren’t disappointed with a below mediocre storyline, and are expecting some good gameplay emphasizing on stealth with some decent exploration, then this is a must buy. For others, I’d recommend picking this up on sale, since this is still well worth a buy.