After decades riding on the absurdity train, ranging from fighting dinosaurs inside pyramids to being portrayed by Brad Pitt’s ex in two so-bad-they’re-good films, Eidos and Crystal Dynamics’ brand new take on the Tomb Raider franchise brought Ms. Lara Croft to the pantheon of serious and down-to-earth videogame characters of the decade, thanks to two very well-received titles, Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider. The reboot games ditched the extremely confident and always right femme fatale in favor of a damaged, traumatized, more human version of the character, while also dialing down the absurd settings and gameplay in favor of something more realistic and believable.
The third and final episode of the reboot series, Shadow of Tomb Raider, can be best described as the polar opposite of those two other games, and that can be considered something really good as well as something really bad, depending on who you ask.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is less focused on Lara herself, and more on the supernatural setting and macguffins the game is centered around. To be fair, this older, more mature and more “damaged” Lara is extremely hard to sympathize with. Right from the beginning of the game, her selfishness and complete disregard for everything going on around her results in the literal destruction of a nearby village and the killing of innocent people. And things don’t get much better afterwards. Do you remember the first time Lara had to kill someone in the first Tomb Raider reboot? Remember how her mind got scarred? Well, this time around, she murders foes with the same ease a five-year-old steps on ants. If you’re a fan of the trilogy because of Lara’s character development, this game is going to disappoint you. If you’re here for gameplay, or if you’re yearning for a more classic approach to Tomb Raider, I have some good news.
If you ever thought that the two previous Tomb Raider games were too “down to earth” and focused on realism, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a polar opposite. While it doesn’t reach the point of having you fight against mummies and dinosaurs in Atlantis, this game features a lot more actual tomb raiding and even dwells into having to face people with godlike powers and facing a supernatural Mayan apocalypse. If you ally these themes to the fact most of the plot is quite dumb and hard to care about, you’ll end up having the closest to a classic Tomb Raider this trilogy has ever dared to reach, and it makes me wonder what Square Enix will attempt next with this franchise. Of course, plot and atmosphere alone aren’t solely what makes a game enjoyable or not, and thankfully, the gameplay, while still a bit derivative of its sources of inspiration (read: Uncharted), it’s still pretty fun.
As previously mentioned, since this new Lara cares very little whether or not humans near her are breathing or not, this new Tomb Raider is a bit more action-packed and very focused on stealth. One of the best additions this time around is the possibility to cover yourself with mud in order to blend in with the mostly jungle-esque environments, then proceed to sneak onto an enemy and quietly kill him without sounding any alarms. Between this new stealth method, Lara’s weapon proficiency, the jungle setting and the vast amount of foes you’ll be able to kill throughout the game, this is the closest to a Predator game you’ll be able to play nowadays. Does it make any sense? No, it doesn’t. Do I actually care that it makes no sense? Definitely not. The combat is fun, and so is the stealth, even though it could have been better implemented. For instance, the enemy A.I. doesn’t pay attention to how loud your steps are.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is also a bit more accessible than its predecessors, allowing you to manually set the difficulty level for each of its main gameplay aspects, like combat and puzzles. It’s a welcome option due to how much of both there is in the game, which made me appreciate the way Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics allowed me to tailor my experience as I saw fit.
If you can ignore the really poor storytelling and the fact this new version of Lara Croft flings the previous games’ character development out the freaking window, Shadow of the Tomb Raider can be widely enjoyed as the closest to a proper old-school Tomb Raider the reboot series has ever been. It’s dumb, often cringy, but push all believability aside and you’ll be able to enjoy a very competent action-adventure full of exploration segments, side quests and a good dose of absurdity. To sum it up, it’s pure dumb fun.