After a few hours in to Shadow of the Tomb Raider and it honestly feels like a mixed bag. The tombs are really fun and provide a nice challenge but the clunky platforming and uneven combat make this feel like a step down from its excellent predecessor.
While I have enjoyed my time with the rebooted Tomb Raider series, I’ve always felt that there was something holding them back from perfection. I love the gritting reimagining of Lara Croft, but I feel like its loose gunplay and clumsy AI keep it from elite status. The first entry was a great start, but it featured a formulaic plot and paper thin characters outside of Lara. Rise was a huge step forward, the tombs were fun and challenging, the gameplay felt tighter and the narrative was heading in the right direction. Shadow of the Tomb Raider should in theory knock it out of the park, right?
Unfortunately, while the presentation is the best the series, sans the wooden facial animation from NPC’s, the platforming and combat feel like they’ve regressed. Climbing doesnt feel smooth, nor does jumping for that matter, as for whatever reason your climbing axe doesnt want to stick in a wall when prompted. This can be frustrating when performing multiple jumps and can lead to some fairly cheap deaths. I’m not asking for perfection, but it shouldn’t feel stiff and unresponsive, especially because its predecessor was rock solid in this area.
Sections in which you control Lara’s momentum feel loose to the point where pressing too far left or right will end in a grisly demise. Its uneven and for a game that prides itself off exploration, this shouldn’t happen. When it comes to combat, well, theres honestly little challenge. Shadow of the Tomb Raider features fairly advanced stealth mechanics and allows Lara to stalk her prey effectively. You can blend into the bushes, encompass yourself in mud for further concealment, and gracefully move around your enemies to get the drop on them. It’s almost too effective, as the AI is simple and when a corpse is left in the open, the enemies will make their way slowly to that position and then you can stealth kill them until the coast is clear.
When it comes to fighting animals however, it all comes down to well timed dodges and the dodge mechanic is hit or miss. Those sections also happen to be relatively simple. I do enjoy the thrill of fighting Jaguars, but as in previous entries when you fought wolves, once you learn the enemies pattern, these encounters become tedious quickly. I do like how you can craft healing items or ammunition with a combination buttons. But it doesnt help that combat as a whole is uninteresting. It also doesnt help that aiming can be slow, but the reticle is large and forgiving. You can also unlock abilities that will boost you in combat, but these abilities don’t feel needed.
What Shadow of the Tomb Raider does right so far is providing challenging tombs to tackle and a narrative that is fun to follow. The tombs are6nt too difficult, but they do provide enough headscratchers to keep you guessing. They are filled with traps and hidden secrets and are a highlight of the game. Clunky platforming can be frustrating, but if you fail a jump, the game has a forgiving checkpoint system. Which can be a good or bad thing depending on your opinion of the game design.
Now, in terms of narrative, this is the most intriguing tale in the Trinity trilogy. While it does feature an “end of the world” plot, which can be found in a lot of gamea, it’s compelling because Lara is the accidental cause of all the trouble. Her headstrong nature and singular focus causes her to disregard the consequences of her actions. Her detached nature is due to the trauma suffered in the previous titles and she only has one true companion in Jonah. She isn’t a people person at all and can be kind of awkward. Which will lead to some humorous moments. Thus far though, there are some dark turns in the story, but these lead to Lara becoming more empathetic to the people effected by the incoming catastrophes. Her fight to prevent the apocalypse reason enough to complete the game.
If at this point I could assign this title a rating, it would be a four out of five. The challenging tombs, strong presentation, and dark narrative slightly makeup for the uneven gameplay. It’s a few steps behind Rise of the Tomb Raider, which is disappointing because that was released in 2015. I believe that expecting this title to run the best in comparison to a three year old title isn’t asking for too much. Normally, I would say it could get better, but it hasn’t been the strongest first impression. The wow factor, just isn’t there yet. But I am hopeful, as the open world is more interesting to explore than previous entries and I do enjoy the small details in the game.