Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review

By Mark Delaney, 3 months ago
Lara Croft was reborn five years ago when Crystal Dynamics introduced her to the world again. Much of what players knew about her and the Tomb Raider franchise was remade in a modern context. Now, Lara was no longer an empty sex symbol, and neither was she the unbreakable hero of old. She was maturing, more fragile and unsure, but growing stronger and more resilient. With this third entry, Eidos Montreal takes the reins and puts a bow on this reimagining of her origin story. Shadow of the Tomb Raider sufficiently delivers a third act worth seeing if you've liked the first two, although it does, ironically, play things pretty safely sometimes.

Key Art

Shadow of the Tomb Raider begins in Mexico, but for the most part she and her trusted best friend Jonah spend their time spelunking, excavating, and treasure hunting in Peru in search of yet more ancient treasures. For those who have played the previous two entries, a lot will feel similar about this threequel. The same basic outline of hub worlds offering various collectibles, challenges, and main story beats exists, only now these hubs are bigger and busier than ever before. What's more, they offer many NPCs Lara can speak to, either to reveal points of interest, offer side quests, or even just paint the various villages in more vibrant colors.

It doesn't feel like making everything bigger makes the game any better, as it mostly just increases the volume of post-game stuff to collect, but the side missions are a great addition on their own regardless. Helping the villagers push back against oppressors is a worthy cause and one suited for Lara, even as she herself borders on villainy — or at least chronic selfishness — in Shadow. That characterization is the foundation of this game, as the story is framed entirely around her drive to always be fixing things. Shadow shows us how a hero complex can sometimes paint you as the bad guy. Determined to always be the one who saves the day, she more than ever loses sight of the damage she's causing in pursuit of the endgame she so desperately demands.

To sell this theme, the storytellers employ a few unexpected twists in the narrative framework that work well, sometimes even very well, even as they seem borrowed from other treasure hunters in the genre. A late-game scene is so effective at showing us a new Lara that the game, which for so long feels ironically all too safe for a story about a death-defying treasure hunter, finally clicks. Lara is no longer a survivor. Now she's a predator.

Lara and Jonah are still on the hunt together.Lara and Jonah are still on the hunt together.

Her ability to proverbially feast on the bad guys is put to great use with a new range of moves and tools at her disposal. She basically crosses the line into full Batman mode once you get enough skills unlocked, and it's then, admittedly late in the experience, where this sequel feels most worthwhile. She can string up enemies in trees, even clandestinely. She can poison enemies with arrows that make them enraged and turn on their allies. She can immobilize baddies, then rig their unconscious bodies to concuss any others that come to check on the status of their fallen friends. Most enjoyably, she can cover herself in mud and hide in vines, striking out at those who veer too closely to her.

The "shadow" in the title pulls double-duty as her story still focuses a lot on her father's legacy, but she's also quite ninja-like this time; the game is at its best when it gives you an open area in which you can choose how to take out enemies, and it encourages you to do so stealthily for as long as you can. There are a ton of new toys to play with in the jungles of Peru, and the game strangely makes you wait to use most of them, but it's worth getting to that point. One moment in particular gave me chills when this new-look Lara didn't hold back on the Trinity goons standing in her way, and it truly felt like she had become someone different, even if that image was actually quite uncomfortable.

When she's not stalking her prey, Lara is up to her old tricks like solving massive puzzles, the likes of which only actually exist in fiction, or exploring the world for simpler treasures. With these bigger hubs, there are more means and more routes to complete these tasks, but it's all quite familiar. For too long, it can really feel like more of the same from this rebooted series, and for some that's just fine. For those looking to see a new side sooner, prioritize her new tools in the blue section of her tri-colored skill tree. That's where a lot of the best bits of this game are found, so while it's very weird design decision by the developers to let you beat it all without utilizing much of anything in that section, it's also a much better game if you spend your points there early and often.

You can finish the story without seeing much of what's new, which is a strange design decision.You can finish the story without seeing much of what's new, which is a strange design decision.

The achievement list wasn't visible during my time with the game, though they did unlock as I earned them as is typical for pre-release review copies. A wealth of story unlocks and gameplay milestones came with relative ease, and a lot of them were very much like those seen in past games in the series. There is a limited-saves mode in the game, so if there is an associated achievement for that, it may prove to be the toughest in the game. Otherwise, you're likely looking at a standard list for Lara's latest adventure.

Check out our Best Xbox Action-Adventure Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a sequel that does a lot well, although its biggest detriment is how safely the developers seemed to play it. A lot of the game will feel like more of the same, which for some may start to wear thin three lengthy games into the series. If you're not yet fatigued by the familiarity, or if you focus on spending your skill points on the great but weirdly missable new stuff, it's a much more enjoyable game. It has the flavor of a summer blockbuster. You know what you're getting with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and while you can't say it breaks through any boundaries or leaves you stunned for long after the credits roll, it's fun while it lasts and remains an exciting third act to Lara's reimagined origin story.
4 / 5
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Positives
  • A great second half picks up the pace and introduces a new side to Lara
  • Fun puzzles that demand attention to detail
  • Great stealth sequences that make Lara feel like an evolved predator
Negatives
  • Ironically plays it pretty safe for much of the game
  • Strangely lets you beat it without using or seeing much of what's new
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent roughly 16-20 hours climbing, shooting, sneaking, and swimming around Peru in search of treasure, earning approximately 30 achievements. A review copy was provided by the publisher and the game was played on an Xbox One S.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is the host of the community game club TA Playlist. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his family. He almost never writes in the third person.