Shadow of the Tomb Raider PC Review - Epitome of the Franchise

excellent
key review info
  • Game: Shadow of the Tomb Raider
  • Platform: PC
  • Gamepad support: Yes  
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Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the third part in a multi-game story that radically reinvented Lara Croft, bringing her into the contemporary world.

Reinventing a character is always a difficult thing to achieve, especially since legendary characters have a large following. And if there is one thing that you don’t want, that is to upset the fandom, no matter the game.

We have to remember that Crystal Dynamics, the current developers of the franchise, is not its creators. The Lara Croft character and the original game came from a British studio named Core Design, which doesn’t exist anymore. Transferring the IP to new hands is risky, and it doesn’t always work out.

After Crystal Dynamics took over the rains, they made three more games, Tomb Raider: Legend, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, and Tomb Raider: Underworld, from 2006 to 2008, basically one every year.

Fortunately, the franchise took some time off, and the simply-named Tomb Raider arrived in 2013. It was a rebirth for Lara as it told a story from the beginning, and started building a fresh origins story. We’re now playing the third in the series, which consists of Tomb Raider, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

Story

The studio took a big leap with the story in this new trilogy because you kind of need to play all them to make sense. Crystal Dynamics tried to make it somewhat independent, and it works for the most part, but if you want the full experience you need to witness Lara growing and gaining the knowledge over the past two games to understand what’s happening.

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In the first game, she’s almost raped and makes her first kill, in the same scene. It’s a brutal beginning for the character, and it sets the mood for the entire trilogy. In fact, in one of the subsequent dialogues, she’s asked if she found it difficult to kill someone, and she says that it’s frightening just how easy it was. We’ll touch upon this subject a little bit later.

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft is still dealing with the Order of Trinity, a global organization that intends to control the world by using old and possibly magical artefacts. They are separated into cells, similar to terrorists, and Lara is confronting them in each game.

To be fair, they don’t’ make a good villain because their mission statement only makes sense if you don’t look too closely. Somehow, all of the people employed or acting on behalf of Trinity want the world to end, which will most likely kill them as well. They make for a decent game villain, but people are more complicated than that.

In any case, now Trinity is after something called the Silver Box, which has the vague power of being able to remake the world, according to the wishes of whoever is holding it. While it’s a menacing scenario, it’s not a valid driver for the story.

I think that the developers knew this, so the inner journey of Lara is much more interesting. Ever since she killed that first guy, and experience just how easy it is to do it, she’s becoming much more emotionally blunted.

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In fact, if we strip the rest of the story away, we can almost discern a pattern that at best makes her determined to a point where she doesn’t care about consequences, or she’s a sociopath.

You will notice this in dialogues, and in the decisions she makes. She ignores dangers to others and herself, she ignores the problems of her friends, and for the most part, she seems to be playing a role, mimicking compassion. From time to time, her true interests show up, as she dismisses her friend’s story, or just ignores him when something important is happening.

It might just be that she really cares about the big picture, and she’s making a conscious decision to move on, no matter what, knowing full well the sacrifices she’s making. I can’t be sure, but I’m inclining more towards sociopath, mostly because it's more fun that way.

Gameplay

Once Crystal Dynamics found a good recipe with the original Tomb Raider, they stuck with it. Of course, the gameplay evolved and became more complex, but not by much. What changed was the size and complexity of the maps, along with the puzzles.

For example, the tombs in the first title were way more accessible and not nearly as complex as people might have wanted. Now, in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the puzzles, tombs, and crypts are a little bit harder to figure out. It’s not like you’re going to need to check online for the solution or even feel that you might need to.

What I did liked was the fact that exploration seems to be a much more critical part, and I only now realized that I was missing out. Having a Lara Croft that’s a killing machine is fun, but I would much rather rack my brains trying to figure out what to do next.

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And this takes us to Lara’s ability to take out Trinity. Crystal Dynamics did their best in trailers to portray just how much deadlier she is now, and that’s true for the most part. You’ll often experience a sensation that you might be Rambo. You’re that deadly, and that image is reinforced by the main menu.

Crafting has been refined a little bit, and more variation has been added. There are still outfits available, but it’s also possible to build individual pieces, which usually offer bonuses. If you’re exploring, it would be nice to have something that offers more experience when hunting wild game. The same can be said about killing humans. Fortunately, there are usually some clues that let players know what type of gameplay there are expecting.

Crystal Dynamics also enhanced the stealth mechanic has been upgraded as well, and a couple of skills are available as well. Most of the time, Lara will be a predator, but she can hold her own in a regular fight as well.

Now, let’s take a look at the things I didn’t like, and I have to say that they are not all that many. The physics have been improved as well, but it’s still a far cry from similar titles. Tomb Raider doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Assassin’s Creed or Middle Earth. It’s not that it’s terrible, but it’s not good either. And mediocrity is not a place where you want to be.

Also, some moves that are obvious and would expect to exist are not implemented. For example, jumping backward from a wall or the swan dive are missing. Jumping backward was available in previous games, but if it’s possible, I couldn’t find a way to do it. As for the swan dive, it’s only available in specific locations. I would have loved to be able to do it everywhere. It was possible a decade ago, but not now.

Graphics and sound

The evolution of Tomb Raider is obvious, and Crystal Dynamics managed to improve upon it without increasing the hardware requirements too much. The game supports DirectX 12 and a ton of other technologies.

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One of the most interesting addition is called Nvidia Highlight, and as the name implies you will need a Nvidia GPU. Nvidia Experience automatically records some of the exciting moments in the game, so that you won’t forget to.

The problem is that most of the footage recorded is more of less worthless, but it’s still early. Nvidia will most likely improve this technology, and future games will make better use of it.

As for the sound department, it’s exquisite as usual. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is at movie-level quality.


The Good

  • Natural evolution for Lara
  • Better design for puzzles and maps
  • Feeling like a Predator when hunting mear humans

The Bad

  • The physics is sometimes a little bit wonky
  • The story could have been better

Conclusion

While I’m sure that not everyone will agree, I think that Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the best one in the series. The puzzle solving/exploration/shooting ratio is spot on, so you feel that you’re playing Tomb Raider.

I also have to add that it looks impressive and that it doesn’t require powerful hardware to run at 60FPS. Some of the physics could have been better, but overall, it’s going to probably be one of the most beautiful games in 2018.

It would be interesting to see where the story goes from here. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the highlight of the series, and topping it will be difficult. 

story 7
gameplay 9
concept 9
graphics 9
audio 10
multiplayer 0
final rating 9
Editor's review
excellent
 
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