Survivor Reborn: Lori’s spoiler-free ‘Shadow of the Tomb Raider’ review.
First of all, I should probably point out that, because I have not been a massive fan of the reboot of the franchise, I originally approached this game with an attitude of “good, we can finally get this trilogy over with and hopefully move onto something better!”
However, it was only after playing the demo at the reveal event in London back in April that I saw how wrong my opinion was, and realised that that this was finally a Tomb Raider game for me to get excited about!
From the outset, I could tell Shadow had a completely different “feel” to its predecessors and took itself a little more seriously. This is nowhere near as bad as it sounds when talking about a computer game. The Tomb Raider games have always been gritty; even in their early cartoony days, they never shied away from being brutal and giving the player harsh lessons to learn.
In early August, I was also able to attend another press event in London where I got to play a full two hours’ worth of the game. This hyped up my anticipation even more as I got to experience a bit of the story and see how the relationship between Jonah and Lara had matured since Rise.
I was counting down the days until I was able to get my hands on the full game, and I was lucky enough to be given a review copy in order to share my thoughts on it for the OFP.
So, without further ado, here are my thoughts! I have broken the game up into the different elements I wanted to explore without giving away any spoilers.
The Lara we see in Shadow is a completely different person to the one we’ve encountered in the previous two games. In Shadow, she is much more confident in her actions and her beliefs as well as her emotions. She knows what she wants and is willing to do anything to get it, but she’s also not afraid to break down and show she is still vulnerable. While vulnerability has been seen as a bad thing in Lara in the last two games by classic fans, the way it is used in Shadow is fantastic and does show a more human side to her/contrasts well with her bad-ass side. It helps to emphasise just how tough she has become over the years.
The Lara we see in cutscenes brings this point home when we see how she interacts with different characters, and in how she approaches situations. She is more confident but also angrier and knows her own physical strength.
Camilla’s acting really shines through in a way I don’t think was utilised much in the previous games. She seems more at home in the role rather than just sticking to the script and remembering to put on an English accent! Lara’s in-game model has really come along, too, facially as well as in general. The muscle definition in her arms has already been pointed out, but you really get to see in their full glory when you play the game! Lara’s new physique adds to the idea that is really pushed in this game: that Lara has well and truly grown up and become a much stronger individual than we have seen before – and I for one love her!
I’ll try to stay as spoiler free about this as possible! The story for Shadow has no real ties to the previous games at all. There may be a mention here and there about people and elements of the previous games, but Shadow can confidently stand alone as a completely different, separate entity. It feels as though Eidos Montreal took this decision so they could create their own spin on the franchise and come up with something completely different, which I think they have managed to pull off very well.
The script also stuck out as something completely different to what we have seen before, clearly showing a different team of writers with different views on where to take Lara and her relationships with different people.
The conversation pieces between Lara and Jonah feel a lot more natural and grounded, and felt a lot more believable as two friends who have grown used to each other’s fears and ambitions. There is a lot of subtlety that a hundred words exchanged in the previous two games have not managed to portray and is fantastic to experience!
This was one of the biggest highlights for me! You are able to to switch the puzzles onto hard mode, which means no hints from Lara every few seconds and being left entirely to your own devices while trying to figure out what to do next. I have so missed the days when I could be absolutely stumped by a puzzle in a Tomb Raider game! While we still have the same basic mechanics from the previous two games, such as rope arrows and climbing axes, the puzzles tend to use these mechanics in a very different way (or not at all); mainly, they’re used for traversing to and from the puzzles themselves. The puzzles also tend to be a lot more dangerous, with unexpected traps waiting around pretty much every corner! It’s frustrating but fun, and exactly what Tomb Raider has always been about!
I couldn’t leave this section without mentioning switches: yes, there are switches back in a Tomb Raider game! Maybe this was something I got a little too excited about, but it was great to see something of the classic games show its head every once in a while in opening doors or activating the next part of a puzzle.
While we still have the “optional” Challenge Tombs dotted around the game, there are actual tombs within the main game itself and the feel/atmosphere is absolutely spot on! There are traps and puzzles galore and it’s this fact that made me realise we have finally been given a Tomb Raider game after all these years!
Challenge Tombs and Crypts are an added bonus to the story-based tombs we come across, but you are given even more incentive to find and beat them. Challenge Tombs reward you with a skill from the skill tree at the base camp, such as stealth or kill abilities, and Crypts reward different items of clothing that (if you mend with your gathered supplies) can give you extra abilities such as being harder to spot when trying to sneak up on enemies. It seems to be such an obvious thing to have tombs in a Tomb Raider game, but Crystal Dynamics seem to have completely missed this point. Fans have been asking for challenging, well-integrated tombs for years, and it’s such a relief that Eidos Montreal has taken this on board.
My review copy was for the PS4, so I can’t give a great review for the graphics as I was not able to play the game to its full graphical potential, but what I did experience was an abundance of atmosphere and colour! The dense jungle and fog did not slow the frame rate whilst playing and the entire game seemed to be really fluid.
Lara’s in-game model has a lot of detail, with scars on her face and arms, and generally a lot more character.
The cutscenes were an absolute delight. The emotions on the characters’ faces were really brought to life, not just with the subtleties of the script but also with subtleties of facial expressions.
I’ve never really noticed the music in Reboot or Rise; to me there was nothing that really stuck out. With Shadow, however, it was the sheer lack of instrumentals and big musical pieces that really made me notice just how great a job they have done with the soundtrack for this game. There are still grand pieces of music within the game, but it was the smaller pieces which really highlighted the ambience of a tomb or situation. One such piece was within a Challenge Tomb; the room was made to feel much more threatening, not just because of the creeping sense that Lara wasn’t alone, but the gentle use of music that really emphasised the potential danger of hanging around too long. I have to admit, it sent shivers down my spine and I haven’t had that from a Tomb Raider game in over ten years!
I’m not a big fan of combat at all; it would probably be the only time I would find myself getting annoyed while playing. However, Eidos Montreal have had the good sense to add in difficulty settings for traversal (exploration), puzzles… and combat. Someone as rubbish at combat as me can set it to easy, although “easy” is still challenging the further you get into the game as enemies become more armored. It has to be said, however, that the combat you have to deal with in Shadow is nothing compared to the seemingly constant barrage of enemies in the last two games. It’s a breath of fresh air to have a Tomb Raider game where the focus is on the puzzles and exploration rather than how many bad guys you can kill. It still helps to upgrade your favourite weapons at every opportunity, though; even though the settings can be set to “easy” it doesn’t mean you will breeze through the combat sections… that is definitely something I learnt the hard way!
Combat mechanics appears to have pretty much stayed the same as the previous two titles, although Lara has more sneak-attack methods up her sleeves and it feels like the game really wants you to think carefully about how to approach each section and play it stealthily, rather than wading in all guns blazing. The weapon-upgrading system seems to have been stripped right down and I wasn’t exactly too clear on the upgrade levels and how they became accessible; a lot of the time, I was mainly doing the best with what I had. I’m sure someone who enjoys the combat will be able to understand the mechanics a lot better than I do; but for me, while it was challenging, it didn’t hold me back too much from the main story, for which I am thankful!
What can I say: I can’t get enough of this game! When I heard that Crystal Dynamics was rebooting the series back in 2013, THIS is the game I was hoping for. It’s a shame that it’s taken two games and a different developer to bring this hope to life, but the wait has been worth it. It’s a true pleasure to play such a well put-together Tomb Raider game.
There aren’t many negative points I can bring to this review other than the fact that I, as a completionist, am finding the New Game + feature somewhat lacking; the only things you seem to keep from your previous game are your skills and resources (minus story specific weapons). And yet… I am finding myself wanting to play it anyway! It just goes to show that those who said gaming had moved on from the old style/that noone wants to get stuck or lost in playing a game are completely wrong. Shadow has brought this style into the modern world. With style.
It’s a shame that it’s taken Crystal Dynamics handing development responsibility to Eidos Montreal for us to finally have the game that we’ve been asking for for so long, and it does make me dread what will happen with the next installment if Crystal should take back the reins. I truly hope that the success Shadow has had (and will be receiving over the next few months) will be enough for Crystal to realise they have been going about the reboot in completely the wrong way. THIS is what a Tomb Raider game is supposed to be! THIS is what the fans have been asking for since Crystal took over! It really is okay to listen to the “classic” fans sometimes, rather than the paying majority. Believe it or not, sometimes we know what we’re talking about!
An Icon Returns: Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review by Lori Croft / Survivor Reborn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Written by Lori Croft. Edited by J. R. Milward.