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Hands-on review: Shadow of the Tomb Raider

17 Sep 2018

Lara Croft is back with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the third title of the rebooted action-adventure franchise.

Following on from 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, the English archaeologist and her Kiwi companion, Jonah, find themselves in Mexico on the trail of the mysterious organisation, Trinity. Whilst 2013’s Tomb Raider served to reintroduce us to a younger, greener Lara Croft, this third act has a more experience, confident Lara out to avenge her father’s death.

The gameplay is virtually identical to previous games, with players following Lara around the game in a third person view. But you can’t really blame, developer, Crystal Dynamics for sticking with a winning formula.

The story leads Lara from Mexico to the jungles of Peru, with some vast levels that offer up lots of opportunities for exploration. There are collectables and resources everywhere that need picking up so it is really worth scouring the environment for hidden areas. There are also a number of hub areas with additional missions that can be undertaken.   

The running, jumping and climbing and climbing - the exploration part of the game - hasn’t really changed since the rebooted Tomb Raider. The stealth mechanic, on the other hand, has been tweaked a bit. Lara can now cover herself in mud to avoid been spotted by enemies with thermal vision and to camouflage her against vegetation-cover walls.

The combat is OK, but not up to the standard of the Batman Arkham games or even the likes of last week’s Spider-Man game. Stealth is the best way of tackling enemies, by either dragging them in bushes or taking them out with arrows. Some fun is to be had using the new fear arrows, which get enemies to shoot each other in a similar way to the poison darts in the Assassin’s Creed games. Going in guns blazing usually ends up a bit of a mess.

As before, the game uses camp fires as node points for auto-saving progress and allowing the player to upgrade Lara’s abilities and equipment. The camps also serve as fast-travel points- useful for backtracking and picking up collectable that you missed on your first visit.

This time out I found the puzzles to be a little meatier that in the past. I’ve previously complained that the puzzles in these new Tomb Raider games lack the challenge of the original series. The optional challenge tombs (of which there were not nearly enough, if you ask me) are ingenious if still not quite on par with the headscratchers of old.

If you do long for the agonising frustration of the Lara’s earlier adventures, Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s customisable difficulty will sate your longing and then some. You can turn off, or down all those subliminal prompts in white paint that highlight where you can climb. You can also shut down all the wayfinding and highlights triggered by Lara’s survival instincts.

Whilst the environments look the business, the character models, Lara in particular, don’t seem as detailed this time. Don’t get me wrong, the game still looks good on Sony’s console. The visuals on PC, however, are a marked improvement over the console version with a lot more detail in Lara’s textures. Even her facial animations seemed better on PC. This is, of course, to be expected on machine costing in the order of five times the cost of a PS4. To be fair, though, the visuals on PC are not much of a step up since the last instalment. The PC version will be supporting the new Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 cards launching this week, offering gamers real-time ray tracking. 

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is really more of the same, which I’ve not got a problem with. Gameplay-wise, I would say it was the best of the three. Story-wise, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is probably the weakest.

The plot has its moments, but it’s the superb gameplay and level design that made it difficult game for me to put down.

For long-time fans, getting the game is a no brainer, buy it now. If you are new to the adventures of Lara Croft, however, you may want to start with 2013’s Tomb Raider and then move onto the sequel, before tackling this one.

Verdict: 8.5

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