Categories
Gaming PC PS4 Reviews Xbox One

Review: Anthem (PC)

Developer: Bioware

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Genre: Third-Person Shooter

Platforms: PCPlayStation 4, Xbox One

Rating: Teen

Price: $59.99

 

When I first saw footage of Anthem, I knew deep down it was going to be something special. To have the freedom to take off in a futuristic suit, fly through lush, green worlds full of wildlife, dipping through waterfalls and swimming through lakes would be a level of unprecedented freedom. Even more, to know it came from the same studio that delivered the Mass Effect franchise gave me hope for a true, narrative return to form with jaw-dropping gameplay. For my birthday, I treated myself to a pre-order of the $80 edition of the game on Xbox. Now, though, I’ve played nearly 25 hours of the PC version and, sadly, that pre-order money is lost to the abyss. It would take something monumental to stir me into ever playing it again.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: There is some reverence given to a device known as the “Cenotaph,” which can utilize the power of the “Anthem of Creation” to both create and destroy. An evil army led by a powerful cipher known as the “Monitor” is seeking to harness that power for evil. You’ll have to dig up ghosts of the past for special technology to stand against him.

Violence: People die from gunshots and javelin powers, but there’s nothing graphic. No gore, no viscera,  no blood. They cry out in pain, collapse, and vanish.

Language/Crude Humor: There is some crude language. Expect to hear the majority of vulgar language you would on primetime television.

Sexual Themes: There is no sexual content, either explicit or suggestive, shown in the game.

Positive Themes: Mending relationships, standing up for what’s right, and working together to overcome adversity are all present themes in Anthem.

Review

First, let’s discuss the gameplay, which has had folks chattering since it was teased at E3 in 2014. The most jaw-dropping aspect, the portion that has caught everyone’s attention, is the open-world flight. Reminiscent of controlling a certain ferrous superhero, players are able to cover large swathes of the landscape by jetpacking around. You can also rain down destruction while hovering over the battlefield. The transition from terra firma to domed expanse is quick, seamless, and smooth. The act of actually flying around may take some getting used to (or in my case, tweaking some control sensitivities), but it’s definitely fun.

Unfortunately, it also feels somewhat restrictive. Once you take off, you have a heat meter you’ll have to contend with to stay aloft. You can literally cool your jets by zipping through a waterfall to reset it mid-flight. You can dissipate heat by entering a nosedive. Otherwise, it only takes 20-30 seconds before reaching your limit and crashing down. You don’t take fall damage, but let’s get real. Who wants to fly a minute or less, only to be grounded while your heat dissipates? Even more obnoxious is the fact that most missions while have you doing that multiple times.

Speaking of mission design, Anthem‘s missions feel like they were designed by someone caught in a rut. Fly to location X, kill a group of enemies, repeat a couple more times. Sometimes you have to stand around in a circle to fill a bar while you do it. Sometimes, you have to fight a big critter while smaller ones pepper it. Otherwise, there is little deviation in quest structure for the 20-25 hours you’ll be in this world. 

Anthem has long been looked at as the next big “looter shooter.” Anthem is in stark contrast to other loot-driven games. Where titles like Diablo III feel like an effervescent dopamine fountain, Anthem reminds you of the feeling you get when the great aunt you hear from once a year gives you a pair of knitted knee socks for Christmas. Yeah, they’re technically useful, but they’re rare and lack anything to make them exciting.

To that end, there are only a handful of weapons and skills you get in the game. Weapons have a handful of archetypes and there are maybe 8-10 character skills you can unlock per javelin. There are rarities on the drops (common, uncommon, rare, etc.) but in Anthem, it seems to be more driven by your character’s level range than any actual sort of rarity odds. In ~30 hours with the game across two platforms, I never saw anything beyond a blue (rare) drop, but near the end of the game, every fight was yielding a couple of blue items. On top of that, the only real effects of higher tier loot are larger numbers, which makes the excitement of finding new gear feel neutered.

In terms of the narrative, I actually enjoyed the story. It uses a lot of world-building terminologies (cyphers, the Monitor, the Cenotaph, shaper relics), but the idea of the story itself is cool. There’s an item called the Cenotaph that uses the Anthem of Creation to create, destroy, and shape the world. The Dominion and their leader, the Monitor, are after the device so they can reshape the world. You’re hired to ensure they can’t do that. With some help of a friend and a couple of long-lost comrades, you’ll take the fight to the Dominion. Much of the tale is a straightforward sci-fi story and, quite frankly, the tale’s end is pretty weak, but the beats along the way are enjoyable.

I enjoyed Anthem‘s characters. Maybe it’s the great voice acting or excellent facial expressions, but I found the cast to be endearing in a way few games’ characters are. You can get an actual sense of emotion and motive speaking with each of them. Main characters, like your friend Owen, have goals and aspirations beyond their day-to-day lives. While many characters are just throwaway side characters, there are a few outstanding performances and some solid dialog.

My primary problem with Anthem‘s campaign, though, is how they’ve artificially padded it. About halfway through the story, they put up open-world blocker quests that require you perform arbitrary open-world tasks (like completing a certain number of events, raising a certain number of fallen teammates, or opening a certain number of loot boxes) to access some tombs. When you’ve flown around the world and been “deemed worthy” to enter each of the tombs, you can proceed with the story. Some folks say it isn’t a big issue and they’re easy to complete, but they present this poorly and when I was playing it, the tracking seemed spotty. I’ve discussed this blocker mission with a handful of other players and I know I’m not the only one who’s been bitten by it. I was enjoying getting through the story and the decision to block progress in such a way was both jarring and, frankly, a big turn-off to me. Let me enjoy the story. Don’t force me to do the stuff I want to avoid.

The game looks fantastic. Character models are lifelike and fluid, the environments are lush and expansive, particle effects look great, and the javelin customization is a fun degree of added personalization. The use of color really helps bring the game to life in a fun way, too. Player movement is particularly fluid when transitioning sprint to flight. Anthem is a beautiful game.

Unfortunately, the game is a technical mess even after the Day 1 patch. I saw everything from minutes-long load times for missions to excessively-long environmental pop-in (causing me to fall through the world). The servers have been more stable since the Day 1 patch released, but I’ve still seen instances where mission progress wasn’t saved due to server problems and I’d have to replay whole missions. Playing Anthem on the Xbox One X, I even saw noticeable framerate drops in the middle of heavier combat scenarios. It was nothing PUBG-like (few games run at ~15 frames per second or worse) but it was certainly noticeable.

All-in-all, Anthem feels like playing in a mud puddle. It’s a mess, but it’s a fun mess. It’s plagued by both poor design decisions and technical hiccups. The good news is that both of these can be fixed with time and some TLC. Despite all of that, when you’re flying around in the world, calling down lightning on a group of enemies, it’s fun. The game is beautiful, too. For folks dying for something to play, Anthem will get you through the lean times. Just know you may suffer death by a thousand papercuts. Those looking for a serious looter-shooter to play with friends may want to wait to see if The Division 2 is a better option, though.

 

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Categories
Gaming PlayStation VR PS4 Reviews

Review: Smash Hit Plunder (PS VR)

Developer: Triangular Pixels

Publisher: Perpetual

Genre: Action, Strategy

Platforms: PS4 (PS VR)

Rating: E for Everyone

Price: $29.99

Last year was amazing for PS VR, with games like Moss, Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, and Beat Saber leading the charge. I thought I had seen everything the year had to offer, but I was surprised to see that many new titles were released at the end of the year. One such title was Smash Hit Plunder from developer Triangular Pixels, where you step into the shoes of a prodigal mage to cast spells and smash stuff up.

Smash Hit Plunder is physically available at North American retailers GameStop, Best Buy, and Amazon; it is also available digitally.

[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B07JC971MW,B07G1F6PGK]

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: You play as a mage so magic is used frequently in order to break objects and attack the paranormal, including ghosts and spirits.

Violence: The action is cartoony, with your character attacking various types of enemies from animals to ghosts. There is no blood or gore. You are breaking items in a castle, so this may be construed as being haphazard with property.

Negative themes: The act of breaking objects can be seen as rage-inducing and the game takes this and uses it as a great way to relieve stress. Relieving stress is a positive, but doing so in rage is not the best way to alleviate the problems we may face.

Review

Smash Hit Plunder has you smashing various objects in a castle to get treasure. At the beginning, you are put into a castle that I believe is yours, but you soon find out that it has been locked up by a ghostly debt collector. Now, you are tasked with finding treasure to pay off the debt and this involves letting out your inner mage skills to de-clutter the castle and perform some rage-relieving stress techniques. There is an ongoing story, but it’s nothing special and is only there to provide a reason for smashing.

There are three single-player modes and two multiplayer-party modes, with the single-player including Treasure Rush, Scavenger Hunt, and Free Run. Treasure Rush is the mode you’ll probably be playing the most and it’s unlocked at the beginning. In Treasure Rush, you are given a few minutes to collect as much treasure as possible. You can obtain treasure by destroying objects, eating food, picking up items, killing ghosts, ravaging animals, and much more.

As for the two multiplayer modes, there is Jewel Duel and Poltergeist Panic. Jewel Duel has one player use the VR headset and the others using the TV, with all players competing to find a hidden treasure in each room and whomever gets the most treasure wins. There’s also Poltergeist Panic, which has the VR player as a ghost and the TV player cannot see you unless you use the flashlight or throw an item. The VR player’s goal is to free trapped ghosts by collecting treasure. Both multiplayer modes were decent and a nice diversion when you have friends over, but they probably won’t hold your interest for too long.

As you collect more treasure, you unlock new game modes and more areas of the castle. There is a lot to explore and some areas get surprisingly bigger containing increased treasure. This simplicity is great for casual players, but I prefer more of a challenge and Smash Hit Plunder just felt overly simple. It does have an increased level of polish and everything runs well, but it doesn’t have the depth that it needs to be truly enjoyable. The gameplay remains the same throughout your entire experience and it can get repetitive with only slight variations in the game modes.

Smash Hit Plunder brings a very simplistic look to our headset, taking inspiration from the blocky, low texture qualities of titles like Minecraft.  Everything is bright and colorful with a family-friendly aesthetic that is sure to appeal to casual gamers. Character models are also simplistic, but there is a charm behind the look of the game. A plethora of items are scattered about and can be smashed or moved, as well as the inhabiting ghost that you may have to deal with as they will prevent you from gathering precious loot.

Matching with the aesthetic of the game is the sound, which reminds me very much of Nintendo games from the past, particularly Wii-era games. Characters are voiced, but speak in a sort of The Sims-like gibberish that gets a little grating, especially at the beginning when your grandmother’s ghost drones on and on. The music easily slides into the background and becomes almost unnoticeable until a round winds down, whereas some bleeps kick in faster and faster as the stage ends.

Overall, Smash Hit Plunder doesn’t do anything special or unique with VR, but it is an enjoyable experience if you need an outlet to smash things. Unfortunately, only after two hours did things start to become stale, and it only became about smashing objects as quickly as possible. There are many great elements, such as the music and how polished the experience is, but the gameplay just doesn’t hold up. Still, Smash Hit Plunder is worth purchasing for when friends come over to get accustomed to how great PS VR can be.

Code generously provided by Wonacott
Categories
Gaming Reviews Switch

Review: Save Me Mr Tako (Nintendo Switch)

Developer: Nicalis

Publisher: Nicalis

Genre: Action, Platformer

Platforms: Nintendo Switch

Rating: E for Everyone

Price: $14.99

 

 

Save Me Mr Tako! feels like a remake of a classic Gameboy title; one that I have never played before. It’s a modern game that pays homage to the games released back in the early 90’s on the original Gameboy in what feels like Kirby’s Dreamland mixed as a Metroidvania title. Mr. Tako has a charm to it which shines through in the overflowing abundance of Metroidvania indie titles that came out this year.

Content Guide

Violence: Near the beginning, you control one of the octopi raiding a human passenger transport boat. The squids use lance-like weapons, but no one is seen being killed. While playing through the adventure, you’ll be inking and finding a variety of powerups to take out enemies, but it’s not graphic or violent.

Positive Content: Even in a time of war between humans and octopi, Mr. Tako displays compassion by saving a young girl who was trapped in the passenger boat. Mr Tako tries to defy the odds and bring peace between humans and octopi. It’s a surprisingly deep tale of tolerance and loving everyone, even if they’re different from you.

Review

In a world where octopi and humans rage war between land and sea, a young and brave octopus named Mr. Tako hopes to put an end to it all. One day, the army of octopi throw a woman overboard only to be saved by a passing Mr. Tako. Seeing his act of bravery, a fairy grants him the power to traverse both land and sea. With his new power and an assortment of different hats that grant him even more abilities along the way, Mr. Tako seeks to end the war once and for all.

The story is straightforward, but one that’s fleshed out with an assortment of different NPC’s you’ll meet along the way. It surprised me with how much development there was with some of the characters you come across. I was easily fooled by the simple retro design of the visuals and the depth of the character’s performances were surprising. It was a pleasant surprise though, and I appreciated some of the subtleties in the narrative.

Save Me Mr Tako! is a Metroidvania title that takes elements from a handful of different Gameboy games to create something unique. It’s a remix of sorts with its own original story. Mr. Tako may look simple, but it’s not your strict level-to-level linear setup. In total, there are six worlds to explore that are filled with main levels, hub areas, side quests, and more. It’s all structured very similarly to Kirby titles you’d find on the NES or SNES.

Doors open up on a world map that lead you into either levels or hub areas. Mr. Tako himself is a very simple character and his abilities are limited to moving, jumping, and shooting ink. However, throughout his adventure his abilities are expanded with different hats he can find and wear. There’s a total of 50 unlockable hats for you to find and each one gives you a new power to use. They help add some diversity to the gameplay and even add some Metroidvania elements for backtracking to previous levels.

Your main weapon has you shooting enemies with ink to stun them and then can be used as platforms. Save Me Mr Tako! is simple to play in this regard. However, the physics are somewhat of a gripe for me. Mr. Tako feels overly floaty, with a sense of precision to him. There are moments where I made leaps of faith that feel like they should not have worked, but somehow, I still managed to make the jump. I found that the consistency between jumps was not always optimal and ended up being frustrating at times.

While Mr. Tako himself doesn’t have these grand sets of moves, the world around him is constantly changing. Levels start off simple, but their dungeon-like design quickly evolves with every few levels. For example, flowers that can be used to launch you to higher levels may be used in later levels to shoot enemies at other enemies. That change in design made it exciting to see what the next new gameplay element would be.

Aside from the traditional levels, you’ll come across boss battles and mini games that add some new gameplay elements to the traditional structure of the gameplay. Bosses became progressively more difficult over time and much like the levels mentioned previously, they rely on the changing environment to keep the fights feeling new rather than giving Mr. Tako new forms of attacks. The mini games on the other hand were fun little distractions in between levels. One in particular tasked you with making rice bowls for the citizens and another had you making cooked octopus, which was ironic but made me laugh.

Every time I played Save Me Mr Tako!, I couldn’t help but smile. The visuals always had this charm to them that reminded me of playing my original Gameboy back in the day. The assortment of different customizable options for the graphics were fun to mess with and it nailed the feeling of playing a long-lost classic Gameboy title. From the options menu you can change the aspect ratio of the gameplay to either play in 16×9 or the traditional 4×3 aspect ratio with a frame around it. Furthermore, you can change the color tones of the screen as if you inserted an original Gameboy game into a Gameboy color. Being able to change the color on the fly while playing was a nice touch that often had me flipping through the many different color palettes.

The audio design and soundtrack in Save Me Mr Tako! can easily be described as authentic. It feels like a product from the era it’s aiming to recreate. Sound effects were simple and mimicked the sound of platformers from the early 90’s. It didn’t stand out as something particularly special, but it was able to at least sell me on the feeling that I was playing a Gameboy title once again. The music on the other hand was more memorable and perfectly encapsulates the nostalgia it’s striving for.

Overall, Save Me Mr Tako! takes you on a charming trip down memory lane, combining elements from other adventure Gameboy titles you would have played if you owned the handheld. Its cute and classic art style, along with the authentic audio design reinvigorated the feelings I felt when I first got my hands on other retro games like Shovel Knight. Save Me Mr Tako! felt new and familiar at the same time and is worth playing for those who want a blast from the past.

Categories
Gaming PC PS4 Reviews Xbox One

Review: Call of Duty – Black Ops 4 (Xbox One)

Developer: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision
Genre: First Person Shooter
RatingMature
Platforms: PlayStation 4, XBox One, PC
Price: $59.99 

 

Over the last few years, the Call of Duty franchise has arguably lost some of the steam it had when the last console life cycle ended. As a perennial juggernaut, the brand had begun to wear out its welcome. It was clear the series needed some changes, and fans knew Treyarch was the studio to do it. With a couple of moves some considered controversial, they announced this year’s title would have no campaign, and perhaps more importantly in today’s climate, would feature a battle royale mode to combat the likes of Fortnite. The resulting release is a great product and a serious contender for 2018’s greatest multiplayer game.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content

In both the Zombie and Blackout modes, there are undead creatures shambling about you’ll have to kill or avoid. It goes a step further in the Zombie levels with demons to conquer and the ability to attain power-ups from altars to gods like Ra and Odin. 

Violence

The violence and gore in Black Ops 4 are intense. Explosives can cause dismemberment, with limbs and heads becoming severed and blood spattering. This is hard R-rated blood and viscera.

Language/Crude Humor

There is strong adult language in Black Ops 4. The F-word is so common, some characters even say it when you pick them to begin a match. Do NOT let children play this game, and be aware of the content in it if you choose to do so.

Sexual Themes

Scarlett Rhodes, the lone femme fatale in the Zombies mode, has a couple of outfits that are capitalized on for sexual appeal. It is utilized in loading screen artwork as well.

Drug/Alcohol Use

You drink elixirs in the Zombies mode. They grant special boons or abilities, but none appear to be alcoholic in nature. There are no drug references.

Other Negative Themes

One character has a dog he can call in for backup. Enemies have to kill the dog to stop its rampage. It makes high pitched whines that made me uncomfortable. Though it’s a war situation, I couldn’t help but associate the sound with animal abuse.

Positive Themes

With a wide swath of game types, Black Ops 4 encourages teamwork in everything but the solo Blackout mode.

Review

I had reservations with the announcement that Treyarch would not include a singe player campaign in Black Ops 4. With news that they were adding Blackout, their own brand of battle royale, Treyarch won over hearts and minds with the focused direction of their upcoming game. Now, their foresight and execution have paid off, proving a Call of Duty game can thrive in spite of the missing campaign fans have come to expect (but rarely play).

Let’s start with the trademark staple of Call of Duty: the multiplayer. Several recent games in the franchise have tried to press things to be more frantic; to do that, Treyarch implemented high-speed mechanics like wall-running and jetpacks. Black Ops 4 has stepped back from that a bit, getting the game back to a boots-on-the-groundto use WWII‘s marketingapproach while maintaining unique characters with special abilities. The result is an experience that maintains the pace without as much frustration and still offers an impressive variety in how to tackle situations.

Black Ops 4 launched with an impressive 14 maps, including 4 classics that are back. They offer an array of ways to play the game, from small arenas packed with action to long, open corridors any sniper can salivate over, to everything in-between. The settings range from frozen wastelands to temperate forests to bombed-out beaches, granting players some ocular diversity to keep things interesting.

As with all Call of Duty games, there is plenty of room for customization. Black Ops 4 employs the well-worn 10-point system, letting players adjust their kit with up to 10 weapons, attachments, equipment, and perks combined. Want a fully decked-out assault rifle? Spend all 10 points there. You could opt for a rifle, pistol, grenade, and a few perks for a more balanced approach. It’s this system that’s given Call of Duty its legs for so long and it’s as great as ever.

The one truly meaningful shift with Black Ops 4‘s multiplayer is in its health management systems. In other Call of Duty games, if you took damage, you could hide for a few seconds to recover. With Black Ops 4, they’ve introduced first aid kits. If you take fire, you’ll have to patch yourself up on the fly for a fighting chance. It recharges after a few seconds so you can afford to move from fight to fight, dishing out damage.

As fun as the multiplayer is, there are undoubtedly some issues that need to be addressed. Overall, the map designs are great but a few such as the Morocco map have spotty spawn issues that can set a respawned player directly in the line of sight for eager campers to exploit. In over 200 sessions, I’ve only seen it a handful of them, but it’s egregious enough to goad salty language from teammates or incite some ragequits. The game also seems to have some issues with hit detection at times. I’ve poured magazines into foes before to only have a couple register as hits. On the other side, I feel like I’m playing with big head mode activated, as about 1/3 of my deaths are by a headshot. Treyarch has already been actively working on many of these bugs, though, issuing multiple patches within release week, some of which even adjust how spawning works on certain maps. They’re listening to feedback, and it’s impressive to see.

The shiny new toy in Black Ops 4 this year is Blackout. If you enjoy battle royale games like PUBG, but feel like Call of Duty‘s gameplay is more your speed, Blackout will be exactly what you want. It literally feels like Treyarch took PUBG‘s basic design tenets and adapted them to the Duty model. Everyone jumps from a helicopter and, using a wingsuit, descends to a location of their choice on a gargantuan map full of iconic franchise locations. From that point, it’s a scramble to pick up weapons, attachments, armor, and equipment. As with other battle royales, the play zone will shrink every few minutes, driving players inward into conflict until only one player (or team) is left victorious. Players can take boats, ATVs, helicopters, and troop transports along the way, and only the strong (or lucky) emerge victorious in one of the most exhilarating experiences Duty has offered in years. Blackout feels like exactly what fans want. Controls are tight, the action is fluid, and shooting feels on-point…in most modes.

At the time of this review, solo and duo competition is fantastic, but games of quads (teams of four) are constantly labored by unbearable lag and hitching, at least on Xbox One. This is a real shame, particularly since I think Blackout has the potential to keep Black Ops 4 on the front page of every player for months to come. I also think the way they reward progression feels like it needs some tweaking. Players are awarded 10 points per kill and 50 points for a top finish. In solos, for example, if you make the top 15, you’ll be rewarded. This could lead to situations where players sneak by for a bit, reach top 16, get killed, and walk away without a single point for their half hour of play. At the end of the day, points are only good for new skins and clout, but it can be demoralizing to see absolutely no reward for your last half hour of workparticularly when the multiplayer mode dishes it out for virtually everything.

Finally, let’s discuss Black Ops 4‘s Zombies mode. Traditionally, I found Zombies to be frustrating and pointless. It was a good time killer, but why stick with it in the long run? Black Ops 4 has changed my mind, though. There are significant progression mechanics and loadouts you can build to take into each stage. Within levels, there is an impressive range of ways to approach your challenges. You can build your kit with elixirs that offer a wide range of effects and set up a custom perk set that will activate with shrines in each stage. There are even hidden items to assemble and characters with a running narrative that have sleuths engaged all across Reddit. On top of that, you pick an ultimate weapon and when you’ve killed enough zombies and get into a pinch, you can activate it for a massive killing boost. Hurl Mjolnir (the hammer of Thor) or use a whip sword to fell massive foes quickly. Each stage has puzzles to solve and challenges to overcome that will keep friends engaged for dozens of hours.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 takes some risks. Between eliminating the single-player campaign and adding a battle royale mode, there are gambles that could have bitten Treyarch, but they’ve paid off big. For fans looking to play something online, Black Ops 4 is the complete package. The traditional crowd will be happy with what Treyarch has done this time aroundBlackout will keep players coming back for a crack at the crown for months, and friends looking for a cooperative experience will be engaged with zombies for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, Black Ops 4 has some technical bugs it needs to work through, but the team has already proven that they’re listening to feedback and actively working to make Black Ops 4 the best game it can be. If you’re itching for something to play with friends, Black Ops 4 is a great all-around game worthy of your time.

Review copy provided by Activision, PMKBNC

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Gaming PC PS4 Reviews Xbox One

Review: Shadow of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)

Developer: Eidos Montreal

Publisher: Square Enix

Genre: Action-Adventure

Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC

Rating: Mature

Price: $59.99

 

 

 

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.

Content Guide

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 deathlanding 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.

Review

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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