Released last Friday, Shadow of the Tomb Raider promised to be the epic conclusion to the origin story first carved out with the reboot in 2013. Boasting a production budget that would make Rich Uncle Pennybags grimace and a larger sense of scale than ever before seen in a Tomb Raider game, plenty was expected.
Having played intermittently since release day, I’m still waiting on Shadow of the Tomb Raider to deliver on its promise. While it’s by no means a bad game, there’s just something missing from it, something that I can’t quite put my finger on. Whatever the special ingredient was in the previous entries, it’s nowhere to be found here.
The immediate pull I felt when playing its predecessors, Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, simply isn’t there. Tomb Raider had my attention the second Lara plunged onto that cavern floor, and Rise gripped me from my first encounter with the bear. I’m still waiting on that moment to come in Shadow, nearly eight or so hours down the line.
It’s certainly been trying by throwing the kitchen sink at me in the form of a goddamn tsunami, but besides that, nothing has really resonated. At the moment, I am engulfed in a civil war (of sorts) in a long forgotten city and there is–I don’t actually know. I think there’s something about an apocalypse, but it’s been mentioned so sparingly and doesn’t seem to be that much of on issue as I can pet llamas and not be hurried on my way. I’m not complaining about that, though.
There’s no real drive to anything, which might be down to the game’s wildly inconsistent pacing. One second, you can be fighting off enemies with some pretty meaty and satisfying gameplay or taking them out like the mud-caked Arnie at the end of Predator. The next, you’re completing many consecutive puzzles with nary but a cockroach to keep you company. It also doesn’t help that the flow is constantly interrupted by sections in which Lara has to trudge behind companions and listen to exposition or is unable to move beyond a small jog when entering a new area.
Perhaps Eidos Montreal had been listening to older fans of the series, who might have been left jaded by the increased action and the ludonarrative dissonance — that pseudointellectual term people loving chucking at games with guns — and chose to opt for what they thought was a middle ground. I can count the amount of gunfights I’ve had in Shadow of the Tomb Raider so far on two hands. Meanwhile, I have lost track of the amount of times I’ve had to revolve a stone to unlock access to another room to revolve another stone.
There’s also a startling amount of underwater sections in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, as if none of the developers had remembered just how horrifically they had scarred so many childhoods. Nobody, and I mean nobody (not even Aquaman), enjoys water sections in video games, but Shadow of the Tomb Raider is plagued with them. Clearly someone must have been very proud of the water physics for the game as you’re barely ever far away from your next baffling wrestling match with an eel.
So far, it’s just the same as the previous games, just better looking and slightly deeper in its systems and unlocks. It even follows a lot of the similar beats as previous games: the jaguars the obvious substitute for the bear in the previous game; Lara losing her gear and having to start over; Trinity being literally bloody everywhere.
Maybe the game’s development switching hands is to blame, the team at Eidos Montreal not quite “getting” Lara as much as Crystal Dynamics, but there’s nothing that gripping here. Like I said, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is not a bad game — it actually does some great things. The challenge tombs feel robust, the combat more intense, and the puzzles as outside-of-the-box as ever. However, there’s a spark and verve absent from the game that just doesn’t make it as electrifying. It, basically, will do.
I initially bought Shadow of the Tomb Raider with the intention of reviewing it. With me struggling to crawl my way towards even the ten-hour mark, I doubt that I will ever get around to it. In fact, I had the intention of playing a lot more of the game to at least write a piece earlier in the week, but the allure just wasn’t there to go swimming and marvel at hair animations. I may have just been spoiled by Marvel’s Spider-Man, but Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn’t quite stack up as an essential game that I can’t put down.
Instead, I think Shadow may be a good game to dip in and out, something to tide you over until the next big thing. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that — in fact, a lot of games could do with being less “heavy” sometimes. If you’re looking for the definitive Lara Croft experience and one that excites for more games to come in the future, however, Shadow may not be it.
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