Now, I’ve not been the biggest fan of Square Enix’s Tomb Raider reboots, but it seems to be third time lucky. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an instalment that finally feels like a fully fleshed out Tomb Raider game. As a fan of the original games, this is a game that reconnects with what made the originals great, exploration, sense of scale, puzzles and plenty of grisly deaths. The reboot series has come a long way from Tomb Raider 2013’s combat heavy instalment. While there was always a little magic in the challenge tombs, where the real Tomb Raider gameplay was to be found, Shadow of the Tomb Raider has finally focused the main game away from combat back to Lara versus the environment. Of course, you can’t please everyone as there has been some mixed reviews as a result of this re focus with some fans of the previous instalments disappointed by the lack of combat available.
In my opinion, there’s still plenty of combat action to be had with no shortage of mercenary infested ruins to traverse. It’s just that this time around focus has been shifted towards stealth some great new moves added, my favourite of which allows you to hang enemies from above with the grappling hook. However, there is also the option to just grab your machine gun and settle down into a good old-fashioned fire fight, if the mood takes you. The tone of the game is also a bit darker than the previous instalments with slices of almost horror elements creeping in at times. The main storyline isn’t really a vast improvement on the previous instalments. It’s just another chase after an artefact that could destroy the world, but the character development is much better which meant that I cared that much more about Lara and her sidekick Jonah. There is also some pretty decent side quests available such as rescuing a girl’s father and tracking down a lost archaeologist, which actually felt worthy of me taking time out of my quest to save the world.
The environments are, on the whole, bigger and better than before and, with Lara’s improved range of climbing moves, also much more traversable. There is also a return to underwater exploration. Swimming between air pockets and avoiding deadly underwater wildlife is very reminiscent of some of the better aspects of the later titles of the original series. Drowning is also a very real danger and with the tight struggles through underwater crevices, choosing to skip that last air pocket has never felt so punishing. The environments, for the most part, look stunning, with ruins and tombs on an epic scale to traverse. There are times when the atmospherics seem vanish leaving a slightly rougher look, which mainly affects the outdoor areas, but this is balanced out with some excellent use of lighting and atmospherics in internal spaces and underwater. Most of the game does look stunning. There is a place where Square Enix went quite Ubisoft, which is the lost Inca city of Paititi. The attention to detail here with all the NPCs going merrily about their business is a joy to explore and there are a few enjoyable side quests that help you feel part of the local action and politics.
Also new to this outing is being able to change the difficulty independently in three areas of gameplay, Combat, Exploration and Puzzles. Changing the combat difficultly reduces the damage dealt by enemies and their health pool. The exploration difficulty changes the amount of white paint on climbable surfaces and the amount of highlighting of interactable objects. Whereas changing the puzzles difficulty alters the amounts of hints and clues given to players when tackling the games many puzzles. This is a great change that allows players to adapt the game to their likes/ dislikes. I, personally, love puzzles but dislike combat so chose to put puzzle difficulty on high and combat on easy.
All in all, I found playing this game a vastly more enjoyable experience than the last two titles and in all honesty, it is possibly my favourite Tomb Raider game of all time. it does a great job of combining the best aspects of the original games with the best aspects of the modern ones, stealth, crafting and combat. If you enjoyed any of the Tomb Raider games to date then you will likely enjoy this one, unless all you enjoyed about the previous titles was shooting down an endless stream of mercenaries through uninspiring modern military camps, in which case you may find yourself disappointed.