I felt fairly confident in Shadow of the Tomb Raider as its release approached. I’d been a massive fan of the reboot trilogy so far, and was excited to get one more go with Crystal Dynamic’s version of Lara Croft.
When I heard development duty had passed to Eidos as Crystal Dynamics pursued other ventures, however, I started getting a little worried. Was Lara going to race across the finish line triumphant, or limp?
Shadow of the Tomb Raider kicks things off with a bang. Lara is obsessed with Trinity, the generically evil corporation she’s thwarted time and time again. But now this obsession has become destructive. She’s constantly trying to get ahead of them, so much so that she puts the lives of herself and those she loves in constant danger, and as Shadow kicks off in earnest she royally screws up and puts the world in jeopardy. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is one of those exciting narratives that’s willing to ask: what if you’re the bad guy?
This is the kind of narrative flip I love, so I tucked into Shadow’s story with high hopes. Sadly these interesting beginnings don’t really pay off over the course of the game. Lara slides effortlessly back into hero status and Trinity act evil enough to overshadow your initial faux pas, and Lara never really has to face up to the demons of her obsession. It’s glossed over to give us a storyline we’re much more used to – and sadly a lot more bored by.
Leaving their engine (and baby) in Eidos’ hands must have seemed like a decent idea to Crystal Dynamics. After all, the fantastic gameplay foundations were all there, backed up with a solid set of mechanics that could easily stretch over another game. But throughout Shadow of the Tomb Raider you get the feeling that Eidos never really understood what made the last couple of Tomb Raider games successful.
Don’t get me wrong, Shadow is still a competent game full of fun moments, but compared to its predecessors it feels like a step back – a cardinal sin when it comes to crafting a sequel. Much like the previous adventures, Lara journeys through exotic landscapes – lush jungles and menacing underground caverns – whilst upgrading her gear, taking out bad guys and exploring ancient civilizations and tackling their puzzling mechanisms. These bulletpoints are here and good fun on their own, but they feel like they’ve been put together wrong.
There was a flow in Rise of the Tomb Raider, for instance. You’d hit a new open area, clear out some bad guys as you traverse to your next destination, take down a couple of scary animals and craft better gear, potentially dive into an optional challenge tomb for a change of pace and some mental gymnastics (and some gymnastic gymnastics) and then finally arrive at the next story beat, replete with awesome set piece. Maybe I’m asking a lot for a similar pace to be upheld, but Shadow drops the ball so hard here that I can’t believe they couldn’t get a little closer to such a successful formula.
Combat is, by and large, non-existent (apart from in a few clearly marked shooting gallery moments) and the game really wants you to mud-up and stealth your way through most of the miserly guard outposts. The AI is dumbed down to such an extent and their paths so clearly timed for moments of safe stealth kills that the game kind of plays itself. It’s ‘gaming by numbers’, where you just press the right buttons at the right time and the right stuff happens.
- 1 2