Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Lara Croft has been a staple in the gaming industry since she first hit the scene in 1996. A lot can change in two decades, but one thing has remained consistent: Tomb Raider is still a franchise that brings great platforming and puzzles to enjoy. Though Shadow of the Tomb Raider has a few flaws, it’s a fun ride that tells a wild story well, humanizing its characters and delivering on the action fans expect.
Spiritual Content: Shadow of the Tomb Raider incorporates a surprising amount of spiritual content in it, but it’s not Christian in nature. In a bid to keep an ancient artifact out of the hands of Trinity, the evil corporation that killed her father, Lara accidentally sets the Mayan apocalypse in motion. The people she encounters believe several major catastrophic events will take place before Kukulkan comes back to consume the sun or destroy the world. Trinity is trying to acquire all the artifacts necessary to harness that power for themselves so they can command the power and remake the world as they see fit. A race of zombie-like creatures known as Yaaxil defend the tombs. The Mayan goddesses Chak Chel and Ix Chel (classically one deity but two entities here) work together to protect earth from the coming apocalypse. A prominent villain consumes the power of the sun and fights Lara with otherworldly powers.
Violence: Shadow of the Tomb Raider is not shy with its violence. Just as in the previous two entries, if you miss a critical traversal section in the game, you’ll often witness a gruesome death—landing in a pit of spears and being skewered through the neck or being eaten alive by piranhas, to name a couple. On the offensive, Lara is downright brutal. She still has her firearms and bow, but stealth is also strong ally. From hiding, she’ll use her climbing picks and knife to slaughter unsuspecting foes. Stabs in the neck, face, chest, and head are prominently showcased and serve to get the bodies out of view at the same time. It can be almost unsettling at times. She can even string foes up and choke them to death as they hang. Beyond the violence Lara performs, the game is full of grotesque imagery. There are scenes featuring human sacrifice. Tombs often have mangled and disfigured corpses or hundreds of skulls. Some have troughs of blood Lara will have to manipulate to solve puzzles. There is even a scene where a child falls to its presumed death as a tidal wave destroys a city.
Language/Crude Humor: There is strong profanity used in the game. F***, s***, and other strong remarks are relatively common, particularly in scenes with stout narrative punch.
Sexual Themes: There is nothing sexually explicit shown or, for that matter, even spoken of.
Positive Themes: Lara is compassionate by nature. She wants to help everyone she encounters, but it’s more evident than ever in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Her face shows empathy and her vocal tone softens as she speaks to the children begging for her help. Even with a heart of gold, she’s a fierce, cunning warrior willing to risk her life to stop Trinity and save those she loves. I believe she houses the characteristics of a fantastic strong female lead.
Set two months after Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara and her friend Jonah have continued butting heads with paramilitary group Trinity. As time goes by, Lara continues to decipher her father’s notes. This leads her on an apocalyptic journey through South American territories, uncovering artifacts to stop Trinity and save the world.
Though the story itself feels a little kitschy, Shadow of the Tomb Raider has excellent storytelling and characterization. The game captures a wide range of emotions from Lara and Jonah, helping the viewer empathize with our protagonists. Even more impressive, Shadow‘s storytelling helped me empathize with the villain, a feat few games are able to accomplish. Storytelling has been evolving in games for years, and Shadow is a great game to showcase that.
In terms of the gameplay, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is relatively similar to Rise of the Tomb Raider. You still craft arrows and ammunition, upgrade skills and weapons, seek treasures in crypts and tombs, and traverse landscapes through similar mechanics. Shadow has been much more intentional about having more crypts and tombs set aside for Lara to explore, and they’re all treats. Each has its own unique layouts and puzzles you’ll have to decipher and conquer, giving traditional Tomb Raider fans more of what they long for over the years. There are various side quests you can pick up from villagers that will net you specific rewards, too.
Shadow‘s combat feels fantastic. While it won’t feel new to veterans of the franchise, drawing and firing a bow still feels as satisfying as ever and, should you feel the need to use firearms, there’s a substantial arsenal to pick from. Whether you prefer a pistol, assault rifle, or shotgun, you can upgrade and outfit every projectile weapon at your disposal. Though classic stealth combat has been a franchise staple, Shadow introduces a “mud” mechanic where Lara can coat herself in mud to further obscure her from sight. While it feels like this was being sold as something revolutionary, it only really affects letting you hide against mud walls and, later in the game, obscuring you from enemies with infrared goggles. It does effectively lend to making you feel like more of a guerilla warrior, though.
In past games, you could get different outfits. These never really served any purposes past aesthetics and storytelling. In Shadow, however, you can find and craft gear that actually alters Lara’s stats. These pieces of gear can augment her, granting bonuses to earn more experience, or gather more resources and ammunition. The blueprints can sometimes be bought in shops, but the vast majority are rewards granted for finishing the extra tombs and crypts. I also love that each has its own distinct look when equipped.
As much as I love Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I have qualms with the game’s underwater sections. While I don’t mind sympathetically holding my breath as I maneuver underground caverns on occasion, Shadow has so many that I was starting to blackout. Lara can only hold her breath so long with the “timer” indicated by a hard thump of the screen; Square Enix strategically placed tiny pockets of air through each zone. Even in its practicality, this design choice feels like two steps back for the franchise. Tomb Raider games are about exploring, but I feel discouraged from doing so when my air supply is limited and the wildlife in the water can instantly kill me.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider features great sound design. The voice acting, led by Camilla Luddington reprising her role as Lara Croft, is emotional and well-delivered. It helps the game’s narrative feel akin to film quality. Because of their performances, I want to get to know Lara and Jonah (Earl Baylon), and I grew to understand and sympathize with the villain, Dominguez (Carlos Leal), despite his atrocities. Beyond the voice acting, the world audio design is engrossing. Hearing enemies skitter through the tombs around you will send shivers up your spine, and getting the radio chatter of enemies unaware of your presence is entertaining, too.
The visual design is impressive as well. Enemies offer a wide variety of looks and tactical prowess and the environments range from seemingly-alive open jungle to dark, dank caves and luminescent underwater caverns. Everywhere you go, the world feels like it was hand-crafted to be living and immersive. The character models and facial features are wonderful, too. We’re nearing the point where character models are getting harder to distinguish from real life, and that’s a good thing.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a great game and a fitting end to this most recent trilogy. The game is gorgeous with a large, crafted, immersive world and engrossing sound design. The story, though a bit ostentatious, is well told with fun, relatable characters. Perhaps even more importantly, stalking and fighting enemies is fun and satisfying, as are exploring the world and upgrading your arsenal. Start to finish, there’s plenty to keep fans’ undivided attention. I can’t wait to see where they take this universe in years to come.
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The Bottom Line
Fans of action adventure games are sure to enjoy Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It features great storytelling and exploration with fun combat, customizable weaponry, upgradeable skills, and plenty of new tombs to explore for treasure! Despite a couple of things holding it back, it's well worth your time and money.