There’s been a lot of water run under the bridge between myself and Lara Croft over the last 22 years. We went through the honeymoon period where everything was new, fresh and wonderful. Our days out took us to far away places and exotic climates. The dates were full of risk, excitement, and intrigue. This lasted well, at least for a few years, but then came the fallow period. Everything got a bit tired, everything we did felt a bit samey and that original excitement was missing. Yes, it was still fun, but it became stale, especially when others were introduced into our relationship.
The last few years have been good again though. We’ve re-invented our relationship and taken it to a more realistic level, one that has delivered emotionally charged moments and occasionally taken us to the odd dark place. It’s worked though and I’ve been very happy with our recent days out. But can this relationship last with our latest trip to South America? Will it be the best of times or will our worlds be torn apart?
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the final part of the trilogy for the newest incarnation of Lara Croft. The first two games by Crystal Dynamics were brilliant; brutal game changers. Lara was broken, vulnerable and learning her trade. Yes she was exploring tombs again, but in an open world environment, with RPG type upgrading and skill collecting. It must be said, I loved the first two games and the direction they were heading and so have been eagerly awaiting this instalment. I haven’t been disappointed one little bit.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider starts with Lara in peril, situated on a plane falling to bits. It then backtracks back to find her trapped underground. Nice easy start as per usual then, yeah? The adventure then starts proper and takes you through tombs and onwards to Peru where the events from the plane crash take hold. The lush jungle environment, dotted with Mayan and Peruvian ruins is a great new playground for Lara and harks back to some of the wow moments found in the original games. The story is top notch as well, developing around the bad guys – Unity – and concerns that an ancient artifact that Lara is looking for could prevent an upcoming apocalypse. What it does well is to mix religion, magic and evil greed together in a believable tale, one that delivers great characterisation. You will without a doubt like Lara and will easily buy into her plight with her friend Jonas, becoming engrossed in the believable world you journey in. There is one specific sequence in a flashback to Lara’s childhood that is a brilliant bit of storytelling, setting up the tragic nature of her life and giving an idea of the drive and purpose behind why, and how, she became who she is. It’s magnificent.
The story sets out its path and takes you on a journey across countries, fighting bad guys, solving puzzles and exploring ruins. It’s a very good one and quite obviously is the big focus on a chunk of the game. But then alongside that you have the puzzles of the challenge tombs and these are phenomenal to play; containing must-not miss pieces of gameplay. There are also a number of very good side quests to take in, collectibles to find, hidden tombs to hunt down and a host of other things to do should you wish to go beyond the main story and achieve a full completion record.
The puzzles on offer in Shadow of the Tomb Raider very much feel like those found in the original batch of Tomb Raider games. They are complicated, but also very user-friendly and extremely well designed. If you like spending time scratching your head, waiting for the solution to hit you in the face than this is something that Shadow of the Tomb Raider excels at, bringing a nice feeling of self-satisfaction multiple times.
In the gameplay stakes it all pretty much revolves around the same kind of control scheme as the most recent Lara tales. It still has that intense feeling of ‘jump and hang’ intrepid adventuring that the rebooted Tomb Raider games have honed to perfection. There is the chance to rappel and swing and this is good fun to operate, however the overhang ability makes me feel ill at the thought of doing it in real life. But hey, Lara never has been one to shy away from things. There also seems to be a lot more swimming this time round – especially when compared to the previous two – and it works very well. While beautiful, the underwater scenes see you going up against some terrifying creatures like rays and piranhas which are waiting to make you into a nice meal.
It wouldn’t be Tomb Raider without a bit of combat and there is still the option of going gung-ho into battle with a gun, rifle or the trusty bow and arrow. I wouldn’t advise that option though, at least not unless things start to get really desperate and you’ve run out of options. Stealth is the key here, hiding in bushes and stalking around the outside. With a quick click of a button, you can see which enemy you can take down without the others spotting you. Or in a newly added feature you are now able to cover yourself in mud and stand against a wall, camouflaged whilst waiting for the perfect kill. I’ve never been that bothered about the combat stuff in the Tomb Raider series – preferring to head off on a proper exploration – but it does the job well. There is some hunting to be done as well, which is always hard for my vegetarian ideals to cope with, but upgrading weapons with all the goodies you will find along the way is always appreciated.
And then we get to the visuals and Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks absolutely beautiful, with excellent character animations and incredible lighting throughout both the internal and external areas. Essentially the game is using the same engine as previous, but the development team have most definitely pushed it to the max. The village scenes, where you can wander about looking to chat to people, picking up quests in the process, remind me of an Assassin’s Creed style experience with NPCs effortlessly going about their business. But of course, it is those moments when you see a vista that is most breathtaking, although those terribly fascinating death animations are still in abundance. In the sound department you’ll find that the effects, screams, creaks, cries of strange creatures and wind rush noises are all wonderful. The score once again is sublime and the vocal performances when combined with the motion capture deliver excellence.
Yes I’m a fan of Tomb Raider, but once again I have loved my time with Lara in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. If you’re in my camp, and enjoyed the first two games of this rebooted franchise, then I would highly recommend this experience. In fact, it is the best of the three in terms of of tomb exploration, puzzle interactions, deep storytelling, and action.
As you can probably guess, the good news is that after 22 years my relationship with Lara is still going strong. But where it will go next is anyone’s guess.