When the origins arc first began its journey back in 2013, fans of the iconic Lara Croft were invited on a journey based upon a merciless pace of evolution. For veterans of the franchise, we know Croft as this badass, confident adventurer that can take on any challenge. The rebooted series shows a much different journey, a metamorphosis from a young adult into a weathered survivor with a thirst for knowledge.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the thrilling conclusion to the trilogy and the final installment tells a gripping tale of duality, humanity, and immense growth. The stakes are much higher this time for Croft and her friend Jonah as the pair must face an onset apocalypse and what it means to be human in the face incredible tragedy.
Who Is Lara Croft
One thing that instantly enthralled me about the Shadow title is that this was a much darker perspective regarding our beloved Croft. The first title in the origins arc proposed a scared, confused, and beaten down Lara - the Hunted. In the sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, we saw a much more empowered heroine unafraid of the dark truths ahead - the Hunter. In Shadows of the Tomb Raider, players see the apex. We see a Croft that's seen and survived battle, a Croft that has a hard time reconciling the growth and the weight of her decisions within her reflection. We see a protagonist that has been to Hell and back as she weighs what is most important to her - the Master.
The progression of Shadow of the Tomb Raider did hide an interesting juxtaposition. Yes, this journey is much darker than anything we've ever seen in the character but the developers also showed a different side to the character, more than we've seen in her entire history: Socially awkward, a little introverted, a lone-wolf navigating society and those closest to her. It's an interesting perspective to take on for such a renowned character who is built upon her fast-acting survival and confidence previously seen. This social aspect was taken even further with the relationship between her and her friend Jonah, another feature of the narrative that hit home for a more permanent impact on the player experience.
Your Friends Count
Her friend Jonah was her anchor throughout the game, an intricate marker for her shifting moral compass. Players will instantly get the feel that he is very much a catalyst for her humanity but there were moments through my four hours that saw them actually be that for each other. There were moments where Jonah would slip, become consumed with the past, and Croft was there to pull him out. The same could be said with those moments where her ruthless streak began to colour paramount choices - and he was there to pull her back from the ledge.
The game gave even an closer look at the dynamic between the two and at Jonah as a character within himself. There is even a very awkward flirting scene between him and an NPC and that moment of humanism was so perfectly reflected in Lara's barely veiled (jesting) judgement at her friend's flailing moves. But it's those moments that add up, make the story even greater. In that moment, I wasn't a player in a game - I was Jonah's friend. That's incredible story telling and it's what makes this third installment the best yet in the three-part origins arc for Lara Croft.
Not Everything Is Black And White
Very early on in the game, players will see Croft traversing through the Day of the Dead celebration in Cozumel as she tails the game's villain. The enemy, Dominguez, is a focus for her during my time with the earlier hours of the game though there was an interesting juxtaposition between her perception of him and some of his actions seen in-game. Whereas she spoke only of an 'evil,' there were many moments during the playthrough that he was compassionate, interactive, even with those unassociated with him. To me, this furthered that dualism that is at the very core of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, challenging the player's view of what's "good" and what's "evil." The lines are blurred on both sides, both fighting for knowledge and power of that knowledge.
But the game was so much more than its psychological appeal, the actual gameplay itself was a perfect pairing with the overall theme. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is far more interactive than the previous two titles. From exploring underwater with this ever present threat of death, drowning, and an underlying feeling of drowning, to scaling alongside a vine-covered wall to control the flow of battle. It is very obvious that this Lara has found her footing and that is absolutely reflecting in the actual gameplay mechanics. She is no longer struggling to survive, to understand her surroundings - now, she is her surroundings, she's in control.
The puzzles are an expected part of any Tomb Raider game but what made this installment special was how integrated they were. Usually, players will know - OK, this is a puzzle. With Shadow, the transition from cutscene, to combat, to puzzle solving was incredibly seamless which made for an overall immersive story. Many of these puzzles would also see Lara Croft off on her own once more, which felt very much like a respectful nod to her 90s roots.
The puzzle-based story missions were meaningful, incredible, while also offering players a chance to take on additional hardships such as the optional Challenge Tombs. Prove your worth and earn special loot, Shadow of the Tomb Raider offers something for every type of player seeking both challenge and an incredible narrative.
The puzzles also increase in difficulty as the player progresses, which is to be expected. That being said, with how integrated they are into the environment, the developers really made sure that fans of the series need to be innovative - to think outside the box. It's not just a 'place here, go here' scenario. When you think you've tried everything and there's nothing left, keep trying. The very set up is meant to give players a chance to lose themselves in the trials, in the world, and become one with the solution. It was frustrating at time but ... phew, was it rewarding.
The Journey Overall
The world is so expansive and offers much more freedom than previous titles. That being said, it wasn't overwhelming in the least and the stunning visuals presented throughout the game's progression made me as the player want to continue exploring without end because I couldn't wait to uncover the next breathtakingly beautiful scene.
Without giving any story spoilers away, Shadow of the Tomb Raider did a phenomenal job at keeping players engrossed in Lara's mission. Her experience mattered and her choices - at times - were haunting. With the familiar combat style of the previous two games and the expanded upon world-view of Croft herself, the third and final story is one that will appeal to the adventure seeking gamer. Fans of both the Tomb Raider series and Uncharted will find endless adventures to partake in, dangers to overcome, and philosophies to uncover.
I would recommend those interested in this title play the first two first - it would make her evolution that much more impactful, though the game did do a wonderful job at recapping her journey and the developers told me earlier this year that it's not absolutely imperative to have played Shadow's predecessors. Though they said it wasn't mandatory, I couldn't imagine playing this without prior knowledge of the overall framework, this is an incredible journey for this character with so many details hidden away in the narrative that add up to a much larger picture.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC players on September 14th.3comments
WWG Verdict: 4.5/5
To contact the reviewer, you can find her on Twitter @DirtyEffinHippy.