I love to travel. You see great things, meet interesting people, and learn all sorts of strange and interesting things.
It can, however, be a dangerous endeavour if you don’t watch what you’re getting into. You may not be comfortable with the native language or run into an elusive group of people that murdered your father constantly standing in the way of your good time. You may even pick up some fancy memento that inadvertently brings about the end of the world. It’s good to see that Lara Croft deals with all the same problems in her newest outing, Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
So, I have to admit, I was a little cynical going into Lara’s most recent tomb raiding outing. Not because I disliked the previous games at all, I really have enjoyed the previous two games in this reboot. My issue here is mostly about the marketing. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is billed as the game where Lara matures so that she can become the tomb raider, just like how Rise of the Tomb Raider was to show us how Lara embraced her role as the tomb raider, and Tomb Raider showed us how Lara went from a scared college student to become the… well, you get the idea. If each game is essentially our dear Ms. Croft becoming the thing she became in the last game, it really neuters the previous narratives, and that just doesn’t feel that great. Furthermore, Lara’s method of maturing seems to be doing whatever she wants, then apologizing a lot about it to people who have no idea what this British lady is going on about.
So, the story is this: while tracking Trinity, the super preachy clandestine organization from the previous game, Lara learns that their leader really wants this cool knife for his nefarious plans. She proceeds to find it in an ancient tomb along with some cryptic riddles and religious iconography, staying a step ahead of Trinity the whole time. With the baddies closing in, Lara takes the knife without really paying much attention to the ominous riddles, to keep Trinity from getting it, or possibly for her cool knife collection. Chaos ensues; Lara rushes to escape the thoroughly raided tomb, gets into a gunfight here and there, and is eventually captured. Trinity takes the knife but seems very taken aback that Lara does not have the box. Through some standard evil villain monologuing we learn that with both the box and the knife one can remake the world. However, with just the knife, there’s going to be a whole lot of apocalypse coming.
If you hadn’t guessed yet, I’m not happy with the overall story of Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It’s flimsy at best and can be down-right problematic at other times. As an example, there’s a bit where Lara goes to look at a tomb near a local village and is given explicit instructions not to damage it. She, of course, decides that she should destroy a wall that was covering up a door, claiming that she wasn’t damaging it, but was restoring it. To be fair, the antagonists are basically a cartoonish interpretation of colonialist ideals, literally attempting to remake the world to conform to their way of life and murdering/blowing up everything along the way, but Lara isn’t much better as she smashes walls and poaches the wildlife to make outfits that verge of cultural appropriation.
There’s an option titled “immersion,” which makes NPCs speak their native language. I thought it sounded great and immediately turned it on, only to learn that major characters, be they Peruvian bar owners or the leaders of ancient lost tribes, continue to speak English. Lara, too continues to go on in the most British way imaginable, and even sounds a bit louder than other, less English speaking folk, leading to weird conversations where someone will go on about his rough day or love of beer in Portuguese and Lara will practically yell back in another language, like the worst tourist ever. It makes things simultaneously terrible and hilarious.
All of that aside, the game is lovely, filled with crumbling architecture among lush green forests teeming with life. At times, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a sight to behold, making the occasional graphical glitch even more obvious. Furthermore, long load times make fast travelling throughout the world frustrating, especially when you just want to go hit that hidden crypt you passed up an hour ago.
The actual gameplay is fun. Combat returns as it did in previous iterations, with Lara toting around an arsenal of upgradable weaponry, but the focus is on stealth here. Lara skulks on tree branches, dives through water, and even covers herself in mud to blend into her surroundings. She can certainly hold her own during a firefight, but lying in wait for the best opportunities to strike is rewarding and fun. It adds a little bit of new to a system that was already fun in the first place. Also back, are the challenge tombs, sprawling puzzle areas that utilize inventive ways to navigate obstacles and avoid insidious traps.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn’t do a lot new. It has some big problems as far as story and themes are concerned, but it remains a fun experience at the end of the day. If you’re already a fan of the series, you find more what you enjoyed before, but new players are better served in the previous entries.