Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review
I loved Tomb Raider. I enjoyed Rise of the Tomb Raider. I was massively disappointed by Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider felt really odd. I'm not really sure how to explain it, but I'll try.
When I was originally writing this review I really felt like the game was short. In my mind I thought the game was only about 5 hours long, but when I reviewed my game logs I saw that I had played a bit more than 11 Hours.
In that 11 Hours and 15 Minutes I had completed about 59% of the total content in the game.
The game felt really short; not because it was a blast to play but because it was boring.
The story is a bit of a mess so I'll try to summarize it as best as I can. Shortly after the events of Rise of the Tomb Raider Lara and Jonah have dedicated themselves to stopping Trinity, the mysterious shadow organization revealed in the last game. Lara and Jonah follow a member of Trinity's High Council, Dominguez, to Mexico where it's revealed that Trinity is going after a magical dagger that can bring about a Cleansing and cause a permanent solar eclipse. Despite hearing the warnings about leaving the dagger alone she takes the dagger to stop Trinity from getting it. This brings about a cataclysm that destroys the town. During the cataclysm Lara loses the dagger to Dominguez.
Lara learns that there's a magical box that goes with the dagger and when the two are together it will bring about the permanent solar eclipse and will give the wielder the power of a god. Lara chases Dominguez to the jungle and a second cataclysmic storm brings down their plane. Lara and Jonah, who still hasn't gotten much character development beyond teleporting fat friend, crash in the jungle. During their trek through the jungle the conveniently stumble upon the rightful prince of a native tribe hidden in jungle. Lara saves the kid and they're welcomed to the peaceful hidden tribe of the Paititi (or something like that).
Only it just so happens that Paititi isn't peaceful right now, a civil war is raging between a group of cultists trying to control the power of a god and the people of Paititi. Guess who is the leader of the cultists. Yea, it's Dominguez, but wait it gets better. He's also the uncle of Prince. Leader of the High Table, Leader of the Cultists, Uncle to the Prince, this guy gets around.
Lara does helps the people of Paititi a bit and goes searching for the box. Some puzzle solving happens, a major bad guy gets introduced only to do nothing important with him and kill him off screen, then the bad guy gets the box and goes to become god. Lara pairs up the literal embodiment of the army of Hell and launches an assault against the Cult. The army of hell kills major badguy, and apparently the rest of the Trinity High Council off screen. Domiguez uses the dagger and the box and starts the ritual to become god, Lara arrives during the middle of the ritual, the player gets a severe case of deja vu, and the final boss fight begins. You win by shooting the shit out of him then stabbing him a few times, Lara absorbs the power of god, gets stabbed by the goddess of hell, loses the power of god, and lives the rest of her life attoning for her sins by helping Paititi.
As far as stories go this is fairly standard Tomb Raider stuff; a mythological story based on some real life locations and legends. A magical artifact that grants immeasurable power to it's wielder, etc etc. My big complaints with the story don't come from the actual plot as it was enjoyable enough. Instead they come from the way the game handles a lot of its overarching plot. I understand that Crystal Dynamics wanted this series to be a trilogy and as such this needed to wrap up the Trinity Arc started with the second game; however, the way they ended it was so underwhelming. In fact I didn't even realize the High Council was killed offscreen, I had to go back and read the wikipedia summary of the story (while I was looking up how to spell Paititi) before I noticed that even happened.
"While the Yaaxil (hell warriors) kill Rourke (Big Badguy I mentioned) and the Trinity High Council, Lara makes it to the temple summit."
That'd be like if James Bond eliminated Spectre off screen by killing one dude.....wait......
They're beautiful. Next!
I remember years ago (2013) when the Tomb Raider reboot came out. In one of the interviews Crystal Dynamics talked about all the work that went into making Lara. Specifically they talked about her hair. If you had the best GPUs in SLI you could actually get the physics engine to animate every strand of her hair. Each strand of hair had its own physics. That's the level of detail Crystal Dynamics put into the graphics of Tomb Raider back in 2013, and I'm pleased to say they've put the same level of effort into Shadow of the Tomb Raider as well. The game looks phenomenal. Lara is wonderfully detailed and the environments are marvelous to look at; however I feel like sometimes there's a bit of self aggrandizement.
The game will frequently wrest control of the camera away from the player to show you whatever beautiful vista the devs decided you need to look at. It became jarring when I'd be preparing for a jump or parkour only to cross an invisible threshold and have the camera controls ripped away from you.
It's such a minor thing to complain about but it's really immersion breaking when you are forced away from where you were looking to look at something else, and it happened a lot.
I'm not usually one to focus on audio in games. When the sound in a game is truly memorable I'll note it. Unfortunately the sound wasn't really memorable. It all sounded good, but it lacked the memorable heavy base and techno of Doom, or the Orchestral score of Darksiders 2.
The sound was great, it just wasn't super memorable.
I've always said that the most important thing in a game is the gameplay. In almost every aspect of gameplay Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a success. The core gameplay hasn't changed much in three games. There's plenty of parkour sections like Uncharted, stealth, combat, and puzzles. The core loop goes something like this; parkour to a new place -> solve a puzzle -> fight some enemies -> repeat. This gameplay loop gets mixed up a bit at times but never in any dramatic ways. Sometimes you're solving a puzzle through parkour, and sometimes you're fighting enemies with stealth and parkour.
My greatest issues with this game play loop come from two categories; the stealth was too difficult and parkour was broken frequently. I know what you're thinking; "This guy is complaining about difficulty. Just git gud scrub." and trust me I would be thinking that too if the difficulty was fair. I beat Metro 2033 on Ranger difficulty without killing anyone (and that game had broken stealth). I beat Dead Space on the hardest difficulty with only the plasma cutter. I played Deus Ex Human Revolution on the hardest difficulty without being detected.
When I say Shadow of the Tomb Raider has hard stealth I mean hard stealth. I would follow all the stealth game rules; wait in cover, observe the patterns, plan a path, strike and hide the bodies, only the game decided it didn't want to follow those rules itself. Through Lara's survival instincts you get a helpful indicator telling you if the enemy is observed or hidden. If they're hidden you can "kill them stealthily"; however, in my experience with the game this was utterly broken. I'd wait for the enemy to be marked as hidden then stealth kill them, only as soon as I stealth killed them all of the enemies would know you're there. Part of this issue comes from the fact that stealth happens in real time and takes close to 5 seconds for the kill. That may not seem like a lot of time but I assure you, 5 seconds locked in an animation with no way of moving is a long time in a video game where enemies move around quickly.
My other big complaint was on the Parkour. To put it simply I couldn't trust Lara to actually make the jumps she was supposed to and it killed me...frequently.
Part of this Parkour issue harkens back to the camera controls mentioned above. I remember one instance of the set piece parkour specifically for how frustrating the camera was. During the second flood you have to jump towards a light poll off to the center-left of the screen; however you can't jump to the left because the camera will rotate during the jump and you'll miss the poll, but you also can't jump straight forward because the camera doesn't rotate enough and you'll hit the poll but not the part you can grab.
This type of stuff happened all the time. Repel too low and you won't be able to jump high enough to reach the ledge, but repel to high and you'll get stuck in something protruding from the environment and not make the jump. When you look at a game like Uncharted, or even previous Tomb Raider games, you never doubted that the character would make a jump. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider I doubted almost every jump I made.
It's taken me several days to write this review and over that time my opinion has changes, but only slightly. I'm not quite as annoyed with the game as I was when I first beat it, but I don't think I'd play it again. I'll play the challenge Tombs because I haven't done all of them yet, but I'm not planning on repeating the story or doing the side quests. They just weren't that fun. It's a real shame too because I've played through Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider multiple times each.