On the 14th of September 2018, the third and last Tomb Raider in the trilogy has been released, and it was highly anticipated. Rightly so, if I may add. The new adventure is called Shadow of the Tomb Raider and I’m happy to do this review here for TechAcute. However, is it a good, third installment and does it do justice to its two predecessors, let alone the franchise? In my opinion, that question deserves a resounding “Yes.”
We tried to keep this free of spoilers but there might be hints to how the plot unfolds but certainly without any plot twists or anything that wasn’t already clear after watching the trailers.
Overall the Shadow of the Tomb Raider story has a very dark and foreboding touch to it, even more so than the “Chasm Monastery” scene in the first game with all the gory, gritty body parts. It has grown up. And so has Lara. While she is still the headstrong character we know and love from the first two games, she is slowly but surely growing into her role as an adventurer but also as a cold-blooded killer, if the need arises.
At the same time, Jonah, her companion throughout the trilogy, provides an excellent contrast to Lara’s eagerness (dare I say impatience?) as well as her single-mindedness regarding stopping Trinity or solving the newest riddle. He repeatedly provides her the much-needed mirror and wisdom to see that not everything is about her and her quest. Moreover, he teaches young Lara that her actions have very real consequences for her, her friends and the people around them.
Over the course of the game and especially the story, you begin to learn what drives Lara to the extreme lengths she is willing to go for a bit more knowledge or the chance to stop Trinity. It is this journey and her growth through it that probably provided the title for the game.
Congrats, you started the apocalypse
The game begins with Lara being her rash self that finds herself and others with a big, big problem at their hands. To prevent Trinity from getting an artifact, she grabs it herself in a true Tomb Raider fashion which inadvertently starts the apocalypse of the known world. The first calamity doesn’t wait too long to make itself known, and Lara is swept away by the water masses of an incoming tsunami.
This very much sets the stage for the story and the urgency behind it. While she did not want the apocalypse to happen, she did trigger it and now has not only to find a second artifact to be able to stop it but also prevent Trinity from acquiring it along the way, lest they’ll abuse it for their own nefarious purposes.
To achieve that, our favorite Tomb Raider ventures into the deep jungle, uncovering long forgotten stories and secrets as well as adapting to the dangerous, almost hostile environment she finds herself in. And adapt she did!
Predator in the making
Shadow of the Tomb Raider introduces a range of new mechanics that improve every aspect of the game, especially the exploration and the combat. As Lara finds herself in the dense jungle of South America, she rapidly changes gears in the adverse surroundings, adapting all kind of useful skills starting from camouflaging herself with mud to avoid detection, stringing up enemies with her arrows and rope or grabbing her enemies from below, dispatching them effectively and efficiently. No longer does she use her bow to slowly incapacitate her adversaries like in the first game. Instead, she liberally makes use of her knife or climbing axes without showing an iota of remorse. They stand in her way, they have to go.
With all these possibilities at your disposal, the game offers a wider range of options on how to approach certain situations. Do you want to be the predator that strikes unsuspecting, lone enemies from his vantage point? Maybe even leave the corpse up and about, instilling terror and fear? Or maybe the direct approach is more to your liking, gunning your way through mercilessly? Even a combination of the two is an option, though I personally only us it if I fail gloriously at my stealth approach. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider each choice, each ‘strategy’ is up to you and your exploration of your surroundings.
Back to the roots
It is as if the reboot of the franchise is returning to its original roots, at least somewhat. The focus has been more on exploration than on combat, leaving you to discover new ways in an already explored area, rewarding your thoroughness with rewards ranging from simple crafting resources to recipes allowing you to craft clothes or even upgrades for your weapons. And let’s not speak of the breath-taking view you get to experience sometimes along the way, which is a reward in itself, really.
In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, exploration doesn’t take place solely above ground either as the game now allows Lara to dive into unknown depths and stay underwater for extended periods of time. Only, you have to carefully manage your exploration as you have a limited amount of oxygen, making it all the more dangerous, especially if you are swimming along in a narrow tunnel, desperately seeking the next air pocket, lest our favorite adventure meets an untimely end. Oh, and don’t think that the lack of air is the only danger underwater.
Last but not least; Challenge Tombs! Finally, they are quite a challenge. With Lara’s new spelunking skills, the exploration of the tombs is on a whole new level compared to the previous two games. But Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn’t stop there – while there are more tombs overall, each comes with its own environment and challenges which can be either mental or physical, let alone that timing is often crucial getting to the desired treasure at the very end. One ill-timed or wrong move and Lara meets a very sticky end (pun intended). However, while the tombs are more elaborate and dangerous, the developer Crystal Dynamics kept it as authentic as it can be, emphasizing that the complex systems behind the mechanisms could have been built by the indigenous people back in the time.
So, as far as this review goes, how does it all work out? Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the last game of the rebooted series, and it has undoubtedly matured over the course of three games. I have yet to encounter the feeling that just something is missing like in the previous games, be it either a game mechanic or the story. The game picks you up at the beginning in a very firm grip and doesn’t let you go until the very end. It makes you want to explore, want to stop Trinity, want to right the wrong Lara unknowingly committed at the very beginning.
With a bittersweet feeling, since it is the last game in the trilogy, I can wholeheartedly recommend the game from Square Enix for all who want a good mix from the old series with a massive set on exploration and puzzles but also a captivating, mature story with albeit very dark touches to it. Buy the game, play it – you will regret neither the money nor the time spent.
This guest article has been provided by Michael Schulz, project manager and service operations specialist at i:FAO. You can visit him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more insight.
YouTube: Shadow of the Tomb Raider [All Trailers + Review]
Photo credit: All images have been provided by Square Enix as part of a press kit.
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