It’s been a while since a game captured my interest so fully that all I wanted to do was escape my reality to spend hours traversing through the jungles of South America, raid hidden tombs, solve challenging puzzles and uncover ancient myths.
However, since the release of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, that’s all that I’ve been wanting to do every single day. This feeling, of wanting to rush home each day to play a title I deeply enjoy, is one that I’ve not had since 2009, when I spent every afternoon for an entire week of University holidays playing Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Having that burning desire to delve deeper into a game’s narrative, uncover mysteries and complete the character’s journey, is something that is truly exhilarating and I just can’t get enough.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider (“Shadow”), by Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics, is the third game in the rebooted Tomb Raider franchise, which began in 2013, and acts as a continuation of Lara Croft’s story.
Set two months after Rise of the Tomb Raider, the direct prequel to Shadow, the game’s story follows Lara Croft as she embarks on an adventure through South America to the legendary city of Paititi, to retrieve a Mayan artifact, which her late father had been connected to. On her expedition, she stumbles upon the paramilitary organisation known as Trinity, who are hell bent on using the Mayan artifact to reshape the world. In her attempt to prevent Trinity from getting their hands on the artifact, Lara accidentally triggers the Mayan apocalypse and must race against time to not only defeat Trinity, but save the world from imminent danger.
Like the previous two games, Shadow is played from a third-person’s perspective where players must journey through the South American environment and combat enemies using a combination of bow and arrow, firearms, as well as stealth.
Stealth has never been my forte so I was incredibly hesitant upon learning that it was an aspect in the game. However, I was pleasantly surprised as to just how easy it was to stun enemies and attack them using stealth. I’ve never performed manoeuvres so easily and was rather shocked that the enemies didn’t make a sound when Lara stabbed them with her axe or slit their throats. Yes, gore is aplenty in this game.
I suppose one of the reasons stealth was enjoyable for me is because Shadow provided three different levels of difficulty and the easiest level, the one I played on, was actually easy, unlike other games I’ve played in the past where the easy setting isn’t completely noob or beginner friendly.
The game’s environment (or ‘hub’) is one of the largest in the Tomb Raider franchise, which provides players plenty to do outside of the main story campaign. This includes the opportunity to raid challenge tombs, participate in side quests, which unlocks rewards, such as skill points, and scavenge for resources, such as wild animal carcasses and plant debris, which can be used to craft useful materials.
It wasn’t just the vastness of the game’s hub that led to the appeal of exploring every nook and cranny of the in-game environment but it was the visual splendour before my eyes that enthralled me to the point that I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen for even a second. Playing Shadow on the Xbox One X provided one of the most vivid and stunning visual experiences that left me in complete awe. The entire game looked so realistic, making me feel as if I was, in fact, traveling through the jungles of South America. The water was crystal clear, a shade of aqua blue that ignited a strong desire within myself to go swimming. Never before had a video game affect me in such a visceral way. At one stage, I could have sworn that I could smell the chlorine that’s typically present at swimming pools. Perhaps it’s just been a long time since I’ve gone swimming but I’d like to think that the sheer beauty of the game had an effect on me as well.
Whilst Shadow provides an array of side activities for players to indulge in, much like its predecessors, there were far more tombs to explore compared to the previous two games. With the side missions and optional activities present within the game, one could easily spend hours just engaging in the side activities. This is certainly welcome as it means that the game can still be played beyond completing the main story campaign and provides nice little distractions to the seriousness of the main story.
One of my favourite side quests (which is more part of the game than really a side quest) is the short part of the game where players are able to play as little Lara Croft, back when her father was alive. I enjoyed playing this bit mostly because I immediately recognised Croft Manor as the same mansion used in the film Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It was also nice to see that Lara was ever the adventurer as a child as well.
Another side ‘activity’ that caught my attention was the photo mode. Given how stunning the in-game scenery was, I couldn’t help myself and attempted to use the photo mode to take landscape shots to capture the beauty of Paititi. It was quite a fun quirk to add filters, frames, expressions and other effects to the screenshots being taken in game. It seems like more and more games are utilising photo mode these days, and I don’t blame them. Social sharing wise, this provides for some great and rather funny content.
In many ways, Shadow’s gameplay is very much in keeping with the previous two games. However, certain tweaks have been made, which are clearly apparent when playing through the game. One fairly evident change is the introduction of air pockets underwater, which allows Lara to swim underwater for much longer periods of time. Another is that players are now able to rappel down high surfaces and cliffs using Lara’s rope and axe, making it easier for players to move more fluidly from high surfaces. Being able to rappel is actually a godsend for noob gamers such as myself as it meant that I wasn’t falling off to my doom as much.
It is quite clear that Lara Croft has certainly grown and matured since her rebooted debut in Tomb Raider. There’s no doubt that she will indeed become the Tomb Raider that we all know and love by the end of Shadow, as the narrative comes to a close. Watching her journey has been an immense treat, which stems from a well defined narrative as well as character development.
Everything in Shadow was spot on and truly left me stunned and impressed. However, the only aspect of the game that I wasn’t completely taken with was Lara’s companion, Jonah, who was entirely useless as a character and to be quite frank, was unnecessary in the game. Comparing Jonah to the side characters, or rather, sidekicks in the Uncharted series, it becomes immensely clear that Jonah is no Sully, or Chloe or even Elena. No, Jonah, was simply there as someone for Lara to interact with from time to time. Nevertheless, this was just one small gripe I had with a game that was predominantly fun and thrilling.
Overall, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a beautifully crafted game, one that captivated me in a way that only the previous games in the franchise and the Uncharted series has in the past. I struggled to keep myself away from the game and enjoyed every moment playing the title, even through numerous fails and deaths. If you’re looking for a game to spend hours on and be fully immersed in, I can’t recommend Shadow of the Tomb Raider enough.