Shadow of the Tomb Raider – Review

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the final chapter in Lara’s origin story. As such you can expect to find some answers to questions you might have had over the last game or two, involving both Trinity and Lara’s personal life. You start out in Cozumel, Mexico looking for an artifact. Of course, Trinity is there looking for the same artifact. It isn’t long before something takes place that triggers a cataclysmic event that results in complete disaster. At that point, it becomes both a race against the clock (and Trinity) to try and save the world before it is too late. The majority of the action in Shadow of the Tomb Raider takes place in South America. You will traverse through jungles, ancient civilizations, crypts and, of course, plenty of tombs.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is set up as sort of a linear open-world game. I realize that sounds like an oxymoron but I feel like that is one of the best ways to describe it. You’ll travel through some of the aforementioned environments and then stumble upon a town. Once you are in a town it does become a bit of an open world game. You are free to progress the main story, talk with residents of that town, complete side quests, track down collectibles, go through crypts, attempt challenge tombs and more. You can do this in any order you please, for the most part. The only time a roadblock might be placed in front of you is if you haven’t unlocked the right gear yet for that particular area you are trying to go through. Once you are done exploring you can resume the main story which will probably take you on a more linear path for a little while. For example, there really is only one way to get through a tomb. Even if you have a path that branches off in different directions, they will eventually all come together as you meet certain requirements.

I had a tremendous amount of fun going through the tombs and crypts in the game. For those who might not be aware, the difference between the two is fairly simple. A crypt is a bit of a smaller area that you can get through in a few minutes and it will house a valuable item for you to find. This item is located in a sarcophagus, so once you find one of those, chances are you have found what you were looking for in that specific crypt. A tomb is much more advanced and definitely more challenging. This is where you will encounter some of the game’s puzzles that you will need to solve. If you have played the original game back in 2013 or Rise of the Tomb Raider a couple years ago you have a good idea of what to expect here. One of my favorite tombs was featured in some of the trailers that Square Enix has released and involves a destroyed pirate ship that somehow got into a cave. You need to get into the captain’s cabin to acquire an artifact, however, access to that cabin is nonexistent when you arrive, so you will have to find a way to create your own entry. This involves scaling the mast of the ship, using your rope arrows, and more. I don’t want to get much more specific and ruin it for anyone who might be reading this review. If you get stuck during one of these puzzles you can press in the right analog stick to get a different view of your surroundings. If there is a key element or component that you should be paying attention to it will be highlighted in yellow. Depending on the level of difficulty you have chosen Lara might give you a hint as well.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a game with different difficulty settings, like most games. There are difficulty related achievements, so if you want to try and get the full 1,000 gamerscore you are going to have to go through the game on hard. The development team at Eidos Montreal came up with something clever to affect the game’s difficulty, other than making enemies more difficult to kill and that sort of thing. The level of difficulty in Shadow of the Tomb Raider will determine how you view the environment. What I mean by that is there are certain markings on walls to give you an indication of where you should climb next that gently nudge you in the way you are supposed to be heading. If you decide to play Shadow of the Tomb Raider on easy these marking are a bit more pronounced and easier to spot. The interesting part comes when you play the game on difficult. These same markings are damn near nonexistent so you don’t get any of those hints. If you are in an underground tomb (or anywhere else) you are going to have to find your own way out without any hints on where to go next. Of course, the route you go is the same regardless of difficulty, but this is a fantastic way to give players an extra level of challenge instead of just turning enemies into bullet sponges or any other artificial difficulty spike that is seen in a lot of titles. It also really helps with the overall immersion of the game if you are basically left alone and have to find your own way out without any help.

The combat in Shadow of the Tomb Raider has been handled really well and there is a big emphasis on stealth this time around. In most areas utilizing stealth is optional. If you want you can try and go in there guns blazing and see how long you last. I highly recommend you utilize stealth whenever possible though, especially if you are playing on the higher difficulty levels. There was one particular aspect of the stealth in Shadow of the Tomb Raider that I really enjoyed and that was getting all muddy. There are times where Lara can put mud all over her arms, clothes and most of her face, which helps you blend into the background. Then when an enemy combatant walks by you can get a quick and silent stealth kill. If you did that while in the bushes you will drag him into the bushes so no one sees the body. When you do this though you will want to be sure it is safe to do so. You determine that by clicking in the right analog stick and using that special vision I mentioned up above. If an enemy is glowing yellow, that means it is safe to eliminate them. If they are glowing red that means that another enemy is looking at them, so if you choose to act at that moment you will be spotted and everyone will be alerted to your presence.

A tactic that I loved to use towards the later part of the game was getting a stealth kill on an enemy and rigging the body with explosives. It would emit this loud beeping sound which would attract the attention of another guard. When he comes over to inspect the body the explosives go off and you essentially get two for the price of one, so to speak. As far as your actual weapons in the game you have the bow and arrow which is great for stealth attacks, a pistol, a rifle, and a shotgun. You don’t get all of these at once of course but by the time you get to the end of the game, they should all be in your inventory. My favorite arrow to use during the last part of the game was the fear arrow. What you want to do here is shoot an enemy with this arrow. Once that happens he can’t control his fear and he will turn on some of the other enemies and kill them for you. It works well if there is a small group you want to get through but be prepared to deal with any possible consequences that come from making such a loud maneuver.

The save system in Shadow of the Tomb Raider works just like the previous titles. You will see camps throughout the game that you can stop at and start a fire. This saves your game but is also an opportunity to get some things done now that you have a quiet moment. As you progress in the game you will earn XP for your actions. This can be used in the skill tree that is broken up into three sections. These sections are “Seeker,” “Warrior,” and “Scavenger”. This is where you can learn some new tricks to dispose of enemies more efficiently, learn new skills such as being able to breathe underwater for a longer period of time, being able to negotiate a better price from merchants and more. There are also some new skills in this tree that can only be unlocked by either progressing through the main story or going through some challenge tombs. Something else that you can do at these campfires is inspect your inventory and upgrade your weapons. During your journey you will see different items in the wilderness and elsewhere that you can pick up. You will want to do so whenever possible because it is these items that will help to upgrade your weapons. You can upgrade your bow, handgun, rifle, and shotgun. Your knives get upgraded in the game as well but those are upgraded through the story. You can also craft different outfits for Lara that will have different effects. The outfits that I chose for Lara made it so it was harder for enemies to hear my movement, in addition to being harder to see in general. There are times where you don’t get to control Lara’s outfit for story purposes, however, whenever I was able to I always liked to wear things that made it harder for the enemy to know I was coming. Finally, the campfires can also be used as fast travel portals. You can fast travel to any campfire you have unlocked which really comes in handy if you need to backtrack to a previously visited location to track down collectibles or tomb entrances or whatever the case may be.

Speaking of collectibles, there are a lot of them and you will want to find as many as possible so that you can get the complete picture of what is going on. There are letters to find, statues, handmade dolls, Trinity items and more. There are also backpacks that are placed throughout the environment. You will want to track these down whenever possible as they contain maps of the area you are in, which will put more collectibles on your map so you know where to look. Something that the development team did that I really appreciate is list everything in a given area. So if I am in a city, it will tell me how much of the city is complete. It will tell me that I have found 4 out of 5 campfires, all three treasure chests, 2 out of 3 monoliths and things of that nature. It is always nice when developers do that so you know what areas you have completely cleared out and which areas you might need to go back to so you can finish everything there.

I have spoken quite a bit about how Shadow of the Tomb Raider plays and some of the puzzles and what you will encounter throughout your adventure. What I haven’t mentioned is that this game is stunning to look at. If you have an Xbox One X you are in for a real treat as Shadow of the Tomb Raider is in Native 4K, has HDR support, and takes complete advantage of the more powerful Xbox One X hardware. If you do not have an Xbox One X it is still a beautiful game, but it really pops on the X. The audio was also done really well. I remember an instance fairly early on when it was raining in the game and I was wearing headphones. The audio was so on point I could have sworn it was raining outside of my house. It sounded just like it does when it is actually raining here and I pause for just a moment to listen to it hitting the windows. That is just one small example of the great work the audio team has done. The music selection is also fantastic and helps to set the mood for whatever situation you find yourself in. Whether it be raining, explosions, walking in a puddle or whatever, you definitely want to either have a nice sound system or a good pair of headphones for this one.

Going through Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a good amount of fun but there are some minor annoyances as well. There are times when you are trying to solve a puzzle where Lara will just keep repeating herself if you push in the right analog stick to get a clue about the area. I like the fact that they want to make sure we don’t forget what Lara is trying to tell us, but there were times where that got annoying really quick. Of course, if you are playing on a higher difficulty that probably won’t be much of an issue. Quite possibly the biggest annoyance I had with Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the lack of a mini-map. It became frustrating really quickly when I was in a big area and I was trying to track something down. Instead of glancing at a mini-map on the lower part of my screen to make sure I was going in the right direction I would have to bring up the full map every time. At times this could interrupt the flow of the game. If you set a waypoint you can also click in that right stick to see a blue light in the general direction of where you need to be going, but it wouldn’t let you set a waypoint whenever you wanted to. For example, if I wanted to set a waypoint on a treasure chest it would let me do that. If I simply wanted to set a waypoint for the middle of town though it wouldn’t allow me to do so. It was pretty damn frustrating at times.

Overall Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a fantastic title that I had a lot of fun playing. Despite the frustrations that I mentioned above I will definitely be going back and continuing to play this game. If you are a Tomb Raider fan or simply a fan of third-person action adventure titles, this is a game that you must try. I look forward to the DLC that will be coming out in the future so that I can return to this game every so often. If you haven’t played the 2013 Tomb Raider or Rise of the Tomb Raider I would advise playing those first for story purposes. You can certainly play Shadow of the Tomb Raider before those, however, some of the story and the events won’t have the same resonance they would if you knew about the events that took place in the first two games. With that said, there is a scene after the credits stop rolling so be sure not to miss that. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the conclusion of this particular story arc but it is my hope that we will not have to wait too long to join Lara on her next adventure.

Score: 9/10
Originally posted on Gaming Target

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