'Shadow of the Tomb Raider'
A Good Finale to a Good Prequel Series?
After a three year gap, the latest Tomb Raider reboot continued this year with its third and final installment, marking the end of Lara Croft's origin story. While it gave Lara the happy ending she truly deserved, the game itself left a little to be desired.
For anyone not completely caught up on what the game is about, here's a short summary. Starting shortly after the events of the previous game, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara and Jonah head to Cozumel in Mexico in the hopes to secure an artifact that Trinity is after. After making a disastrous decision in the chase of this artifact, Lara must head to Mesoamerica and South America in search of the legendary civilisation of Paititi in hopes of finding a way to stop the Mayan apocalypse she inadvertently unleashed.
Now, I'm a huge fan of the Tomb Raider series. Tomb Raider: Legend on PlayStation 2 is one of the first games I remember being absolutely obsessed with. And because of this, Lara holds a special place in my heart and I will generally like any content that is released that revolves around her. Hell, I even liked the film released this year starring Alicia Vikander which is not the most popular opinion. While this final game in the trilogy was nowhere close to being it's best in my humble opinion, it did have plenty of redeeming factors, however. Just a quick warning, this article does try to avoid spoiling too much of the main storyline and stick to what is common knowledge of the story, but there may be some spoilers. There's your warning.
Pros of the Game:
- The Story
Whilst many have complained about the story and general writing of the game, stating it is a generally weaker entry in the series compared to the last two games, I've decided to look past it. I can see the good in what the creators are trying to do. The idea of tomb raiding is rather problematic and Lara's actions aren't exempt from this. This game works to point that out. During the early stages of the game, this is pointed out to both you and Lara. Lara's actions trigger a Mayan apocalypse called 'The Cleansing' and the game makes it very clear that while Lara isn't the villain, to some, she would be a villain. While Lara is still the hero of the game, it's clear that the creators want you to see that Lara is still doing bad, her good just slightly outweighs it. She is almost a wrecking ball throughout the series, destroying artifacts and tombs and temples of indigenous and historic cultures and the game doesn't let you forget that in this installment. While it makes the actual story a little convoluted and weak, it makes for a refreshing take on the themes of the franchise.
- The Setting
After the cold and snowy setting of the last game, I was desperately hoping for some sort of tropical rainforest setting for the last game. Whilst the setting of Siberia offered one almost tropical setting in form of a geothermal valley, it didn't quite hit the itch I had for a dense Amazonian rainforest setting. 'Shadow of the Tomb Raider' gave players just the setting I wanted. The dense foliage provided a game more focused on stealth, allowing Lara to cover herself in mud and hide in vine-covered walls. Also, in keeping with the series, the setting is gorgeous. There are many moments where you are treated to a grand cinematic scene of the forest or temple ahead of you. It's a truly stunning game.
- The Animals
Not only did the rainforest of South America provide a beautiful setting for the game, but it was also full of threats that took the form of new animals. The previous games in the series have each provided their own animal enemies, such as bears, boars, snow leopards, and most prominently wolves. As much as I love a good fight with wolves, I was really hoping that Lara would get a break from that specific type of predator, and luckily, for the most part, she did. The main animal boss fight in this game was that with the Empress Jaguar. As soon as you enter the deep jungle, there are hints and flashes of the jaguar enemies but you aren't truly treated to a one-on-one fight with them until a little bit later into the game. They are just as terrifying and formidable as the bears in the last game, but even more agile. But it was really the introduction of new location-specific animals that I loved. The capybaras, piranhas, eels, birds, monkeys, and frogs all colour the setting with noise and movement that make the game feel truly alive.
- Underwater Levels(ish)
One thing that always reminds me of the older Tomb Raider games is the huge underwater sequences. There used to be whole levels based solely underwater that presented their own dangers and complications. They were always my favourite levels and are something I missed. Don't get me wrong, the use of underwater sections in the previous games wasn't lost on me, but they never presented the same sort of danger or playability that the levels of old games did. Shadow of the Tomb Raider gets even closer to implementing these old levels. The game has sections that are based massively underwater, adding a classic and vicious enemy to the game - piranhas. The generous use of air pockets prevent the levels from being majorly annoying and difficult. In my opinion, they are a massively welcome call back to the Tomb Raider games of old.
- Tombs and Crypts
One of my favourite parts of these games has always been the challenge tombs and crypts. Exploring the old, mostly destroyed temples and complete puzzles to earn new skills and skill points is what the whole game is about, in my opinion. This game continues to deliver a multitude of different puzzles across nine challenge tombs to keep you busy between story and side quests. Although the tombs aren't quite as memorable as those in the game before, they are still plenty of fun. Crypts also feature in this game, and while they don't offer much more than some easy loot, they tend to give detail about the lore of historical setting the game is set around and thus, help to level up your language skills. So, if deciphering monoliths is your thing, crypts are the places to head.
The villains in this instalment of the series must be commended. Pedro Dominguez acts as the main antagonist of the game. Dominguez is the head of Trinity's High Council and aims to use the power of Kukulkan granted by uniting the Dagger of Ix Chel and Silver Box of Chak Chel to remake the world in his own image. He is revealed to be the leader of a cult dedicated to Kukulkan. Throughout the game, you see how charismatic and charming he can really be. It is completely easy to see how he managed to coerce people into working for him and become to be the leader of a cult. He's totally believable villain and the fact that you don't completely hate him straight away, makes him even more dangerous. A big shout out goes to Commander Rourke, Dominguez's second in command and leader of Trinity's military forces. He's the person you truly hate. His scathing comments made to Lara over the comms radio and ruthlessness in his attempts to stop her make him the focus of your hatred. A good comparison would be that of Rourke and Professor Umbridge in Harry Potter. Whilst you hate Voldemort and Dominguez as the main antagonist, you have a sort of recognition as to where they got their power from. Rourke and Umbridge, though not the main villain, are just dicks for being dicks sake.
- Stealth and Combat
I've already briefly mentioned the stealth element in this game before, but I love it so much I think it needed its own bullet point. I always much prefer a stealthier approach to large groups of enemies, preferring to take out as many individuals as I can without being noticed than going in all guns blazing. While the previous games in this series had a couple of mechanics that allowed me to live out this preference, 'Shadow of the Tomb Raider' takes it to new levels. This game allows you to cover yourself in mud in order to hide along mud and vine-covered walls and hide in bushes in order to take out individual enemies and hide their bodies. While it is not a new mechanic for Lara to hide on the branches of trees and silently shoot people, this game allows you to develop the skill to use your rope arrows to string enemies up from the branches in order to strike fear into the hearts of those still left alive. Speaking of new killing methods, the game sees a new brutal side of Lara that wasn't apparent before. The ways in which she kills the members of Trinity's militia are bordering on savage. She can use arrows to poison enemies, set them on fire, and give them hallucinations that cause them to murder members of their own team. It's a new side of Lara which works to show how she's become the experienced tomb raider we've come to love, and it works. The game, in general, is darker than those before it, so it makes sense for the combat to follow suit.
Cons/Meh Points of the Game:
- Still no playable Croft Manor
Another of my favourite elements of the old Tomb Raider games was the ability to visit Lara's home—Croft Manor. It provided the player with more parkour opportunities, rewards, and puzzles. 2015's 'Rise of the Tomb Raider' provided us with a taste of Croft Manor in it's DLC "Blood Ties" and "Lara's Nightmare," but this wasn't enough. It wasn't the fully explorable manor we'd grown to love. However, it did hint that maybe a fully playable manor would be available in the next game. Unfortunately, this hope did not come true. "Shadow of the Tomb Raider" provided us with one level to explore the manor, a level you can't even re-access unless you fully replay the game. You play as a young Lara, exploring and climbing around the manor on a set path. The level includes collectables and puzzles, but nothing that could hold a candle to what Croft Manor used to be. A big disappointment.
I must admit, there was nothing awful about the allies of this game. This is more of a meh point. I just really didn't warm to them that much, not as I did with Jacob in the last game or Roth and Sam in the first game. Jonah obviously isn't included in this section. After appearing in all three games, Jonah provides a good amount of comedic reprieve in a trilogy of games that could be considered serious and dark. He's a pinnacle in this reiteration of the franchise. I'm referring to Unuratu, Etzli, Abigaile, and Uchu. I'm not saying that I dislike the characters because I don't. It's actually a nice change to the game to have more than just a couple of people you return to and have a dialogue with. They just weren't as special as they have been in previous games. I'm not sure whether it's because I liked the villains so much in this game, but the allies just didn't do it for me.
Climbing is always a massive part of any 'Tomb Raider' game, and this installment is no exception. In fact, it feels as though you're doing more climbing in this game than ever before. My only issue is that it was the same as it always is. The difference in climbing mechanics between Tomb Raider (2013) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015) could be felt. The creators introduced various new mechanics that kept the climbing in the second game feel updated and like Lara was truly learning how to be better at what she does. This change wasn't apparent between the 2015 game and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The only new and innovative mechanic introduced was that of rappelling, but this seemed more to come from the idea that Lara was more prepared for her journey and not that she had become more experienced. I still enjoyed the climbing in this game, but there was nothing that excited me about it.
Overall, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an extremely enjoyable game, with over 25 hours of content for you to enjoy. In my opinion, much like Lara herself, the good it does outweighs the bad. When it excels, the game does well. The stealth, combat and setting really make the game what it is however, providing an experience that isn't often seen in many action/adventure games other than the Uncharted series. If I'd asked, I'd definitely recommend it, more as a trilogy as a whole though.