Crystal Dynamics – the developer behind Shadow Of The Tomb Raider – issued a mission statement when the reboot trilogy began back in 2013. The idea was to create a trilogy of games that would see the development of Lara Croft – arguably one of the most recognisable characters in gaming – from a plucky explorer in the battle hardened, confident adventure who became so beloved in the earliest games. Now that the third instalment in this trilogy has arrived, one has to report that it falls a little short of its goal.
That’s not to say that Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is a bad game – far from it. It’s a great deal darker that either game that preceded it, and rather than putting players firmly on the side of its heroine, it makes her the reason everything in the world gets flushed down the toilet very early on.
As the game opens, Lara has become obsessed with putting a stop to the evil machinations of the shadowy organisation known as Trinity – who first appeared in Rise Of The Tomb Raider – to the point that she’s blinkered. Against the warnings of her friendly companion, Jonah, she breaks into a tomb and helps herself to a black dagger, in spite of the fact that surrounding murals in the place show that this is a very bad idea.
Once she plucks the dagger from its stand, she trigger the apocalypse and, not only that, loses the dagger to Trinity, who plan to use it to bring about cataclysmic change in the world. So, not only is Lara responsible for approaching end of the world, she’s handed her enemies the key to make that end far worse than could have been imagined.
This barmy plot moves from central America to the lush jungles of Peru and the frenetic action of the game’s opening gives way to a pattern that’ll be familiar to anyone who played the last two Tomb Raider entries. The lion’s share of activities are made up of solving puzzles, foraging for items to earn XP and build up Lara’s arsenal, killing enemies in a variety of gruesome ways, scaling rock faces and hills and raiding the odd Tomb – which are really very well designed indeed. The structure of Peru’s jungles marries open world with set pathways in structure and, once again, can be backtracked over using a series of campfires, which open up fast-travel points.
The game opens up a little more as it progresses – at one stage players will find Lara barterning with locals, unlocking the mysteries of her surroundings and even solving the odd detective mystery. The crafting and combat from earlier games has been markedly improved, although if you’re not a fan of stealth, you might find some sections arduous, because there are quite a lot of them.
The best way to sum up Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is to call it ‘solid’. It’s a fantastic looking game that is fun and exciting to play and there are genuine moments of wonder dotted throughout its world. But it doesn’t really feel as though it’s pushing the boat out much. Still, even in something of a holding pattern, it’s always well worth adventuring with Lara – even if she could stand to be a little less morose.