With Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the Tomb Raider prequel trilogy comes to a close. I enjoyed the first two games, despite their flaws. All in all, they were fine games that did their job and kept me entertained. I wish they’d done a better job fleshing out Lara as a character and that the writers had worked harder on the stories as they were riddled with bad writing. But I can’t deny that they did a good job on the gameplay and level design and they had a sense of exploration that I enjoyed immensely. So the question is would this continue with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, or would the developers shake things up?
Right off the bat I have to compliment the game’s aesthetics. The environments are gorgeous and well detailed. It all looks and feels like real locations. Character models outside of the main cast can be a bit sloppy, but over all it all looks very nice.
Gameplay feels pretty good. Its on par with the series for the most part, although they streamlined things like selecting different ammo types, which is far easier now. As a whole, the gameplay is satisfying and still the highlight of the game. Combat is challenging, the game pushing stealth more than traditional gunfights. I’m fine with this, as the stealth portions are well designed for the most part and it feels good to lure the bad guys into position to take them out silently. And its nice that if you do get discovered, you can re-enter stealth with some clever maneuvers.
Another neat aspect of the gameplay is that the game is more focused on puzzles than on combat this time around. Which I find nice, as the puzzles are genuinely challenging, one even had me writing down things on paper to help figure it out. It’s always neat when you find yourself having to do stuff like that. And it helps the game feel more like the old Tomb Raiders by focusing a bit more on raiding tombs this time around.
I also have to talk about a pretty spoiler-y moment that I really enjoyed. So if you want to avoid any specific spoilers, don’t read this paragraph. At one point one of Trinity’s commanders, Rourke, tells Lara that he’s killed Jonah and this sets Lara off. After she gets thrown into some water by an explosion, Lara snaps. She rises out of the water, flaming oil behind her and goes on a crazy, murder spree. It’s a surprisingly bad ass moment that I feel is one of the game’s most memorable moments.
Once again the story is a hodgepodge of half-baked ideas and loose plot threads. I feel bad saying that, as amid all the bad writing I can tell that they were trying this time. Lara actually gets attempts made to flesh her out as a character, and there are hints that they wanted to actually give her an arc. It just never goes anywhere. Early on they pull a thing where Jonah, who actually does get fleshed out this game (finally), tells Lara that not everything is about her and that she needs to stop acting like she’s the only one that matters. And this is great, as Lara has been a pretty selfish jackass for two games now. This gave me a glimmer of hope that they were finally going to have Lara grow up as a character.
But spoiler alert, nope. Lara not only doesn’t grow as a character, the game loops around to deliver the message that everything is in fact about Lara and she is the only one who matters. What the fuck? How do you end up setting up a journey where Lara can learn that she’s not the center of the universe and have it culminate in Lara being the center of the universe?
The rest of the story is just a mess. You can tell that the writers had lots of things they wanted to include, but no solid way of tying them together. From a distance, these things aren’t so bad. They’re like a loose thread on your shirt. If you pay it no attention, you’ll be fine. But if you pull at them it all starts unraveling. For example, early on Lara is told that she’s started the apocalypse. She’s told that the omens announcing its approach will be a tsunami, a storm, an earthquake, a volcanic eruption, and finally the eclipse. Shortly after the tsunami hits, forcing Lara to brave a wave of water washing her down a Mexican town street. Its a nice set piece that gets the game off to an exciting start. Then the storm, contained completely in a cutscene. A bit disappointing as I had hoped that these omens would all be set pieces that I, as the player, would have to brave. But no, the storm is over an done with in a cutscene.
Then comes the earthquake. Except it doesn’t. It never shows up. There are some tremors, but no actual earthquake. At least I don’t remember one. And I would hope I could remember an earthquake. It felt like they were building up to it, but then they just acted like it happened despite me never seeing it or the damage it caused. And then there’s the volcano, which is basically just a repeat of the tsunami. Including not having lava, but a mudslide instead. Between this and the earthquake, I feel like the Shadow of the Tomb Raider writers don’t understand natural disasters very well.
The eclipse happens at the finale, which is brief and a bit anticlimactic. There’s an okay final boss fight, but its all built up very poorly. There’s also a bad guy whose final showdown with Lara is teased all throughout the game. The hatred between them is built up quite a bit, and it made me itch to finish him off. He dies in a cutscene, and not even by Lara’s hands. And that exemplifies the game’s finale as a whole. Whole lot of build up for a whole lot of nothing.
Sadly this is not all the issues I have with the game. I don’t want this blog to go on forever, so I’ll briefly fly through the rest of my issues.
First, Lara is still a pretty boring character. She still has trouble emoting (although they do let her smile more, and she even gets to laugh once). There are several moments where Lara should be overwhelmed with anger, sadness, etcetera but she still can’t seem to show more emotion than mild annoyance or a small amount of concern.
Second, there’s Lara’s disregard for physics. She can hop from ceiling to ceiling as if she were Spider-Man. This bothers me immensely. She’s hanging upside down, using her axes and some rock climbing foot gear she finds to stick to the ceiling. She pushes off the ceiling and hops in a parabola to a different ceiling, in complete disregard of gravity and the laws of physics. We can chalk this up to video game logic, for sure, but it’s one of those things that takes me out of the immersion as it’s so dumb.
And that’s the last thing I’ll talk about. Shadow of the Tomb Raider feels like a game. Fair enough, but it very clearly wants to be more. It wants to be an immersive experience, like some other games I won’t mention. But its built too much like a game to work. The challenge tombs are fun and built well as puzzles. But the more I thought about it the more I couldn’t shake the feeling that they did not feel like a real place. They felt like a puzzle room in a game. There was clearly no thought on how these places would have existed as a real location in the game’s world They are just puzzles.
Gameplay tends to ignore physics in favor of gameplay. And honestly that in and of itself is fine. I’m fine with game favoring fun over realism most of the time. But, and I can’t fully explain it, but it feels like it clashes with the game for some reason. Part of it is because the game takes itself too seriously. It feels like it wants to be seen as a gritty, serious game but then the gameplay goes too ridiculous in certain regards. It just kind of clashes weirdly.
There’s technically nothing wrong with a game feeling like a game. I like lots of games that feel like games. And I do like Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It just feels to me that the developers wanted it to be an epic adventure but didn’t really know how to do that. In the end they still made a fun game. It’s just a fun game that is poorly written. But Is suspected that going in. The last two games were poorly written too, but fun over all. Shadow delivered what I expected, so I’m not disappointed in it, but I’m also not terribly impressed. I feel like it could have and should have been more than what it was, but I will judge it for what it was and not what it wasn’t. And what it was was a decent game that I enjoyed playing, even if it wasn’t anything that I would write home about.
Now on to ask the three most important questions about the game. (Note: This is what I do instead of assigning a score).
Did I enjoy it?
Yeas. It was rough around the edges, and I have my complaints, as noted above. But all in all I enjoyed my time with Shadow of the Tomb Raider and am glad that I saw this trilogy through. I don’t feel like it wasted my time, which is one of the worst things a game can do in my opinion.
Would I replay it?
Yes. Not for a while. But someday I will likely replay the game. I enjoyed it enough that I could see me popping it sometime that I want to kill some time raiding tombs and such. May even go back and 100% it some time in the future.
Would I recommed it?
If you’ve already played the last two games or you’re someone for whom the story doesn’t not matter much, yeah, I would. It’s not the best game ever, but it’s enjoyable enough that you should be able to get some enjoyment out of it. And if you’ve already invested time into the last two games then I feel like you should enjoy Shadow. Gameplay-wise its the best out of the three (at least in my opinion) and it its nice to see how this trilogy ends.