Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review
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Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the final game in the Tomb Raider origin series. Trilogies often go out with a bang and, for the most part, Shadow of the Tomb Raider does just that. Shadow ramps up everything new that was introduced in the original origin game and comes out being the best game in the origin series. It solves one problem that I had with the other two origin games - the lack of exploration. The game is a fine balance of everything that made the other origin games good.
Racing to obtain a sacred dagger before Trinity does, Lara triggers an apocalypse when she takes the dagger. She must race against time to find a box artifact that is needed to complete a ritual that will stop the apocalypse. The story in Shadow is by far the most emotional and personal story in the origin series. There are many powerful moments that are quite memorable thanks to the great voice acting in the game. Lara's voice actress (Camilla Luddington) once again gives us a magnificent performance. Shadow is the final step in how Lara becomes the Lara that we know from the older games in the series and it does stay true to that.
If you're coming into Shadow after playing the other TR origins games, you'll make a smooth transition since the gameplay is just about the same, only with a few additions. Lara can still climb along rock walls using climbing picks but this time she can lower herself with a rope from that wall and either swing to another area or rappel off a wall further below - this really helps to increase the overall transitioning when exploring an area since it allows for greater movement without having to constantly look for the next ledge along the current wall. It allows for areas to be even bigger without having a plethora of climbable walls for Lara to transition to. The outfits in the game now give Lara bonus attributes instead of just being cosmetic.
Stealth plays a much greater role during enemy encounters this time. The majority of enemy encounters start out with the enemy unaware of Lara's location so practically every battle can be a stealth battle so long as you don't blow your cover. Lara had so many stealth options in earlier origin games and this time she has even more. Lara now has the option to cover herself in mud when attempting to hide. Covering in mud will conceal her better and allow her to blend in with mud walls and foliage. She also has a new stealth kill where she can hang an enemy from a tree after shooting the enemy with a rope arrow. The bow is pretty much king when it comes to distant silent kills, but Lara also has access to silencers for some guns later on in the game. Lara still must hunt poor defenseless (in some cases) animals in order to get skins for upgrades. The overall hunting is still the same as it was in other games. You'll come to points where you'll find rare animals to hunt.
Shadow is the first game in the origin series to focus more on exploration. The past origin games were more focused on enemy encounters and overall actions, but this time the game is a much finer blend of both enemy encounters and exploration. Fans of the older TR games will probably appreciate Shadow much more than the previous games like I do. My biggest complaint about the origins TR games is that they are too heavy on combat and Shadow solves that issue. You'll spend a good bit of time exploring environments and finding items and artifacts. There are many areas that are closed off to Lara due to her not having an item required to advance - this means you'll have to return to many areas later in order to explore them once you get the required item (you know the drill there). There is SO much stuff to do in Shadow that it took me well over about 15 hours (or longer) to get through the whole game. I definitely took my time over several days of gameplay since the game was so fun to progress through and I felt the need to try to do everything.
In the past origin games, whenever I would get a notice that a challenge tomb was up ahead, I would usually just shrug it off since they weren't all that interesting to me, but this time I would gladly track down the tombs since they were so much fun to go through in Shadow! Tombs are much vaster than they were in previous games and they often feel like part of the overall story - like tracking down the history of the local people through exploration of a tomb or documents found in the tomb. Shadow's tombs are composed of huge areas or puzzles to explore and solve. The puzzles are very well thought-out and constructed. There was one tomb where I was totally stumped with the puzzle inside and had to leave it for later - never did figure it out. Crypts are once again smaller tombs, but they are still more in-depth than they were in previous games. Solving both tombs and crypts will reward a player with bonus upgrades that are exclusive to that specific area. The game also has a few side missions here and there.
As usual, the graphics have been improved from the last game. The upgrade is mainly noticeable in the environments. The jungle environments in the game look fantastic, especially when you have a good view of the landscape from a distance. All foliage will move whenever Lara walks against it and none of the foliage has a fake-looking 2D appearance that I see all too often in other games. The graphics are rich and very detailed for Shadow. I played the game on an original PS4 (not pro) and I was amazed to see the game running at a solid framerate with very little slowdown. I complain a bunch about the stability of framerates in games and am very rarely pleased with the way games run lately (like with Uncharted 4). I'd say this game runs at a VERY smooth 30-40 fps - whatever the framerate, it's highly consistent.
I only have two major complaints with the game. Lara will often give hints during certain puzzles and she will keep repeating that hint over and over - there should be a way to turn this off or have an optional button tap that will make her remind the player of a hint. This gets highly annoying during some puzzles up to the point where I considered muting the game. The ending boss and sequences to the game feel weak. The final boss isn't memorable and goes down pretty easily, however, the main complaint that I have with the final sequences are the final cutscenes that wrap up the game. The ending is one of those types of endings where you have a huge event taking place then something happens and you fast forward a few days later. You get the idea of what ultimately happens, but you have no idea how it unfolded. It's so annoying when you have a game that is such an emotional and well thought-out journey and get to the end only to find it lacking in its final moments. The very final cutscene (after the credits) is fantastic, but the cutscenes leading up to it are heavily lacking when it comes to wrapping up the story.
Even with my complaints, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is my favorite game in the origin TR series. It is such a joy to play and one that goes along well with the other games. The entire origin TR series is truly one of the best action gaming series and one that deserves a replay through all games. Shadow lets the series go out with a bang overall. If you've played the rest of the series, you'll most likely enjoy Shadow just as much as I did.
+ Much more exploration than previous origins TR games
+ Tombs are bigger and more interesting
+ Fantastic backgrounds and environments
- Lara will repeat hint phrases constantly in some areas
- The ending boss and overall ending feel weak
Final Rating: 92% - Shadow of the Tomb Raider brings a fine balance of exploration and combat to the origin TR series.