Lara’s back with a vengeance in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the latest game in the franchise from Eidos Montreal and Square Enix. Releasing a week after Spider-Man on the PS4, Shadow of the Tomb Raider didn’t have enough impact to dethrone our ‘friendly neighbourhood web-slinger’ from the number one spot here in the UK. However, does that mean Tomb Raider is a bad game? Absolutely not. Both games will cater to different people and both games come with their own strengths and weaknesses.
I’ve played over 20 hours of Shadow of the Tomb Raider so far, I completed the main game at just under 12 hours and continued looking for the many collectables. The game got very boring and monotonous, I’m even thinking of returning my rental to Boomerang Games before I achieve the platinum – let’s find out why…
In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, we are continuing Lara’s adventure as she hunts down Trinity, an evil organisation who ultimately was responsible for her father’s death – either directly or indirectly. Lara and her loyal friend, Jonah, unearth some interesting, and devastating, information whilst scouting tombs for clues on Trinities whereabouts. They obtain possession of an ancient dagger and learn of a Mayan apocalypse which will result in the death of the sun – as a permanent solar eclipse occurs. The rather shocking information is that this prophecy/event is already in motion thanks to the previous actions of Lara Croft, the only thing they can do now is set out to stop the event from occurring.
As they try to leave the tomb, they are met by Pedro Dominguez, the head of the Trinity High Council. It’s here where we are basically given the main plot of the game. Dominguez takes the dagger from Lara and casually lets on that he wishes to use both the dagger and a sacred ‘Box’ in order to stop ‘the cleansing’ (the event) and instead of saving the world, he wishes to have it ‘reborn’ in his image, thus eliminating all of mankind. After a narrow escape, Lara and Jonah head off to track down the Box before Dominguez whilst exploring ancient tombs for clues along the way.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider contains less action than the previous games, but don’t let that put you off. The franchise has returned back to its roots with a nice combination of puzzles and action whilst offering a decent selection of difficulty options which allows you to customise your perfect blend of gameplay styles.
First of all, before I get into the review and how I felt about this version of Lara, I was never a fan of the original Tomb Raider games. I tried a few of the classics many years ago and I just couldn’t get into them. The rebooted Lara felt great – it was a nice mixture of action and puzzle-solving, albeit without a lot of the puzzle solving. The second game went all-in on the action with a lot of the good puzzles coming via the additional DLC. Finally, Shadow of the Tomb Raider has really dialled back on the combat, whilst introducing a lot of stealth mechanics, and ramped up the puzzles. The whole thing reminds me of Mass Effect! Mass Effect 1 had a lot of RPG elements and not a lot of combat. This then evolved into Mass Effect 2 with more action and a lot fewer RPG moments. Mass Effect 3 basically scrapped most of the RPG elements as it became a cover shooter. Finally, Mass Effect Andromeda had a nice balance between the two as it tried to return back to the RPG style of the original without sacrificing too much of the combat mechanics.
That being said, I really enjoy the combat in the previous two Tomb Raider games as it felt satisfying and solid – Shadow of the Tomb Raider still feels decent but I don’t like the emphasis on stealth. Sure, I can imagine running around the jungle shooting all the enemies may cause alarm and result in my untimely death, but still – stealth? At times, the game feels like Assassin’s Creed, with your ‘Lara-Vision’ instead of Eagle Vision. It even operates the same way – if you’re stood still and press R3, Lara-Vision kicks in – as soon as you move, it goes away… Just like in Assassin’s Creed. The only thing Lara needed was a button to whistle and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Technically, the mechanic does work, it’s just not very innovative and feels cheap as it looks and feels just like Ubisoft’s game.
One feature of the Lara-Vision I did like though is the orange and red guys. Basically, whilst using your Spider-sense, if the enemies are red then it means they are in the line of sight of another guy – taking them down whilst red will instantly result in the others becoming alert and actively looking for you. If they are orange then it means they aren’t currently being seen by anyone so it’s safe to put an arrow in their face or a knife in their throat as you take them out silently. A major thing missing from Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the ability to hide dead bodies. A few games have done this recently and it’s a major oversight. If your game is focused on stealth and not being seen – why not give us the ability to move the bodies and hide them? Even if Lara can’t pick them up, I’m sure she could drag them into the bushes?
As good as your tools:
In a similar move to Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry (what’s with all the Ubisoft references), you can craft various enhancing drugs and even craft special arrows to help you take down your foes. Why is this like Assassin’s Creed? One of the arrows you can create is a hallucinogenic which causes the victim to go crazy and open fire on all of his colleagues until they eventually die themselves. Similar to the poison dart in AC. Thankfully though, the method of crafting is seamless – hold down R2, whilst you’re holding your bow but not aiming, and you’ll craft standard arrows. R1 under similar circumstances will craft the special arrow. To chose the special arrow, just tap up on the D-Pad until the one you want is selected.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider, once again, displayed traits of a Metroidvania game with it’s blocked off paths that require you to return to them with a new weapon or ability at a later stage. This was present in the previous two games and it’s a welcome return as it encourages exploration and backtracking. For example, you’ll find many blocked off rooms that require an upgraded knife, or rooms blocked by a sheet of metal that must be blasted open with the shotgun. The only thing I didn’t like about these areas was that some of them didn’t update on your map or place any kind of marker to let you know you had to return there at a later stage. This was the cause of many hours trying to remember where I’d seen something previously as I didn’t want to look up any online help whilst playing it for the first time.
This leads me onto the map and the game’s navigation in general – I really didn’t like it. First of all, you can’t place a marker on the map for anything you want – you have to be within a certain distance before you can put down a marker and even then, you can only mark things you’ve found or been told about – no dropping a pin to keep your bearings with. Secondly, when using the fast travel at the campsite, you are only shown a few of the ‘to-do’ items, so you have to exit out of the campsite, look at your map, remember which campsite you need to go to, go back to the fire, then pick your destination. You shouldn’t have to faff about that much. Finally, the in-game marker is pathetic. You can only see the marker in Lara-Vision, which is fine, but if there is a mountain or a wall in the way, it sometimes won’t show up. Not even just a target to show you’re going in the right direction. I resorted to just bringing up the map every few minutes and using that rather than the markers.
Puzzling combat sections:
One of the big reasons I grabbed Shadow of the Tomb Raider on release was because a lot of people were complaining about the number of puzzles in the game (because people apparently don’t like thinking about things these days). I love my puzzles so I thought I would love the game because of this. I can happily say that I was correct in this assumption. There are a few very easy puzzles that are very close to just being called ‘platforming’ rather than ‘puzzles’, but there are some really good ones in there too. For example, at one point you play as young Lara and you have to recreate a saying in the treasures room in order to open a secret passage. Another example would be using mirrors to reflect light to create paths for you to obtain a new skill. I genuinely had to think about a lot of the puzzles within Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which was great as I thought it would have been very simplistic like the previous games.
The combat, however, was a little disappointing. Overall, the mechanics were solid and rather fun to experiment with. although, I found myself using the bow for silent attacks and the rifle or shotgun when I was exposed from my cover. After a few hours, the combat got very samey and repetitive with no new mechanics or reason to try new things outside of the above process. You can purchase new weapons along your journey, or upgrade the stats of your acquired arsenal as you pick up more resources. I basically played the whole game with the same weapons I was given initially. I found no reason or benefit in swapping my fully upgraded base weapon for another one which may have had a slightly faster reload speed or a bigger magazine. The various weapons weren’t different enough for me. Plus, with the emphasis on stealth, I hardly used the other weapons until the final fight anyway!
Lost and Found:
I’m a sucker for collectables. I’ll finish a game and then go back and find everything, or I’ll clean up as I go. Shadow of the Tomb Raider has basically made me hate something I would usually enjoy. There are over 300 things to find and collect within the game, many of which won’t appear on your map until you find them – even if you find one of the few maps which supposedly reveal things. You also need to speak to everyone you encounter, just in case they have info on where you can find something. It gets very tedious very fast as you re-play each area over and over again looking for that one hidden dig site or blocked passage with an artifact behind it.
What makes this worse is the lack of any hazards upon completing the game. That’s right, once you finish the game, all the enemies are now gone – as the threat is over. this means for the next 10-20 hours, you’re going to be wandering around empty forests and caves as you look for treasures without encountering any more enemies. Sure, you’ll see the odd animal which you can shoot and skin, but once the game is over, wave goodbye to any kind of combat and their related trophies. this made searching for the various items even more tedious and monotonous as it was flat out boring.
I put up with about eight hours of wandering around looking for items before I gave up and looked online for a map. I haven’t found a decent one yet, but I’m sure someone will do one soon. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m enjoying doing the challenge tombs and the side-missions in the village are fun, even though there are about as shallow as the Shenmue quests, but still – I’ve not played an end-game this boring in a very long time.
The best part of the game?!
Shadow of the Tomb Raider, thankfully, has a New Game + mode which is unlocked upon completion. At any point, you can transfer your acquired skills and items to a new playthrough of the game. So, if you finish the game on Medium then you can drop to Easy to find all the items and then roll it into a new Nightmare playthrough. I’ve not started my NG+ yet as I want to max out Lara’s abilities first as I want the trophy for completing the game on the hardest difficulty, which leads me to…
The difficulty selection screen is one of the best features within Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Upon starting a new game, you’re given the choice of Easy, Medium, Hard or Very Hard (they may be worded differently, but that’s the premise). There are also three sub-categories: Combat, Exploration and Puzzles. If you set the game to any of the four above difficulty levels, then the three sub-categories also default to that level. Now, you can leave it at that, or you can make the game harder or easier for yourself.
Let’s say you pick ‘medium’ as your difficulty. all three sub-categories are also on ‘medium’. However, you can reduce any of the three options to ‘easy’ yet the overall difficulty will still be ‘medium’. So, let’s say you want help with combat, you can have that on ‘easy’ and the others on ‘medium’ yet you’ll still get the trophy for completing the game on ‘medium’ if you get to the end credits. If you drop two items into another difficulty level then the game will swap to that band in terms of what trophy you get. The only difficulty which doesn’t allow this is Very Hard – that one locks all three options at the hardest settings and you can’t pick this difficulty once you’ve started a game – the others can be swapped and changed throughout the game.
Graphically, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is one of the best third-person action-adventure games I’ve played on the PS4. I would even go as far as saying that I believe it’s graphically superior to Uncharted 4, even though some of the NPCs may have missed out on ‘face day’ here and there! On the PS4 Pro, you have the option of running the game in it’s ‘4k’ mode at 30fps or at 1080p and an unlocked ‘up to’ 60fps mode. I only have a 1080p TV, so the difference between the two graphically due to the resolution wasn’t as big of an impact as switching it from 30 to 60fps was. As such, I played half the game at 1080p/60fps at my house on the Pro and half of it at 1080p/30fps on my parents base PS4 when I stayed over. Both consoles ran the game perfectly with only the framerate differentiating them.
The overall atmosphere, the details in the environments, the physics in the mud pits, the fact you get muddy if you dive face-first into the mud, the texture quality on Lara etc… Shadow of the Tomb Raider is absolutely stunning on whatever platform you wish to play it on. This goes back to my original point – people are trying to compare this to Spider-Man and explain why you should buy one over the other – I’d say pick up both of them – they both cater for different audiences and they are both great games. Shadow of the Tomb Raider also has a photo mode with the post-launch patch – It’s quite basic with a few filters and the rater silly faces you can pull, but it does the job and it lets you grab some stunning images – you can even change your facial pose in all of the non-controllable cutscenes as well, which is nice.
Audio-wise, Shadow of the Tomb Raider does not disappoint. the music is perfect and really helps to immerse you in Lara’s adventure, yet the sound effects and the ambient sounds all come together to further enhance the experience. The voice acting is also, as expected, second to none and of high quality with all voice characters, including the NPCs, sounding great and with emotion where required. The only thing I didn’t like about Lara was the fact she doesn’t shut up talking to herself. I know this may be because I was playing on Medium and one of the things this gave you was ‘hints on what to do next’ but seriously, every time you activated Lara-Vision she would repeat the same thing she said a moment ago. “We need to move the mirror”, “We need to move the mirror”, “We need to move the….” I get it, Lara – shut up! It got rather annoying after a while – a simple pop-up or giving the hint after X amount of time may have been a better option?
Personally, I really enjoyed Shadow of the Tomb Raider, even though I was on the fence after reading a few reviews of the game pre-launch (as I had to rent my copy rather than receiving it from the publisher). However, I’m glad I got it and it was an enjoyable experience to play through. I was actually telling all my mates that the story was about 18-20 hours until I realised you can turn on an in-game border which tells you how long you’ve been playing, where you are and how many collectables you have – this stated I had only been playing for 12 hours. So, either the game felt like it was about 6-8 hours longer than it was (even though nothing really dragged whilst I was playing), or I just spend a stupid amount of time in photo mode. Considering I have over 250 pictures on my PS4, I would say the latter!
I’m glad I played it through to the end though as the game would be hard to judge based on a few hours alone. The first few hours I found incredibly boring – this was a ‘tutorial’ of sorts as you relived the events before the opening scene. Personally, I thought this was done well, but I wouldn’t have minded if it was just a cutscene or a lot shorter. I’m all for exposition, but this part didn’t really excite me. Then I moved onto the main portion of the game, in the jungle. This is where the game got a lot better and exciting for me. Over time, I became a bit bored with the combat, the constant stealth requirement, and the lack of diversity in the cover/hiding based action segments. Then, the final fight had you using all of your weapons in a rather heated battle – this is the first time you’ve been ‘forced’ to use your guns, so it seemed like a ramp in difficulty and went against everything you’ve been doing up to that point – it was hard but fun.
Then comes the cleanup process for the platinum (something I’m still working on). This has brought my motivation levels to play the game right down to zero. There are too many collectables, not enough hints on where they are, the in-game navigation doesn’t always work, and I can feel the energy draining out of me as I wander around life-less parts of the jungle looking for a pixel to stand on so I can press square to dig. I don’t know if, or when, I’ll get the platinum, but it probably won’t be any time soon as the requirement to find everything is just to prolong the game purely for a trophy. I don’t mind collecting things usually, but Shadow of the Tomb Raider has 150 too many in my opinion.
Another thing I would like to bring up is the terrible process in regards to changing clothes. Okay, if you’ve played previous TR games, and the system detects this, then you get a few skins from the 2013 reboot, Rise and also some of the classic games. These are all benefit-free and purely change the way you look. However, once you unlock tops and bottoms which enhance your abilities, like picking up resources or taking less damage, it’s an either-or situation. You can’t look like the original Lara Croft whilst also getting the benefit from a nice new pair of pants you just crafted. I think this is terrible. In games such as Assassin’s Creed, you could kit yourself out with a load of enhancing gear and then throw your desired skin on over the top, so you look the way you want whilst getting the added benefits of the other gear – this should be the case in Shadow of the Tomb Raider as well. But it isn’t…
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is one of the best third-person action games that has released this year. Sure, it has a few issues with it’s chatty Lara, too many collectables, low-quality NPCs, and pointless weapons, but as a whole, the game is a really fun experience with a nice balance between puzzles and combat. The puzzles will have you thinking as they are much more interactive and advanced than the previous two games, but the combat will leave you feeling disappointed by the end as it plays on stealth mechanics without the ability to even hide bodies.
The main story is around 12 hours long and it never outstays it’s welcome – I would highly recommend fans of 3rd person action-adventure games pick it up and try it out, even if you don’t go for the platinum.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider£54.99
- Interesting story and perfect setting for a Tomb Raider game
- Lots of skills to unlock which have you returning to places to progress further
- The puzzles are great - most of them will require a lot of thinking and planning in order to solve
- Graphically one of the best looking games this generation
- Decent pace, the game never feels like it's outstayed it's welcome - until the end-game
- Too many collectibles with a broken navigation system and a lot of un-mapped items
- Combat has too much emphasis on stealth until the forced all-in fight at the end
- Once you complete the game, the jungle is free of all enemies and dangerous animals - this makes it very boring
- The side missions in the town, whilst fun, are all simple 'Shenmue 1' quests of 'go here, talk to them. Come back and talk to this guy. Go over there and talk to them' etc...
- Unlocked costumes (like the classic skins) override the clothing with benefits, thus making them pointless. They should sit on top of the enhancing clothes so you can look the way you want.