For some reason, Lara Croft, despite still being a young adventurer, is bloody angry in this game, and it’s truly unpleasant if I’m honest. I love the Tomb Raider games (with the obvious exception of Angel of Darkness), and I really do enjoy how she and the game have been revived by the latest more open style trilogy in general.
The first one, Tomb Raider, was by far and away the most solid and original, despite being a little too low on actual tombs. The second, Rise of the Tomb Raider, was also good and even had great big tombs to explore but felt shallow and un-enticing for some reason.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is definitely my least favourite of the three, however beautiful it is, however good some of the puzzles and exploration is… the whole thing felt needlessly aggressive and violent all the while glossing over that under a thin veil of helping to save a tiny indigenous tribe in South America from the ‘evil’ Trinity and other forces (which, for the record, Lara unleashes).
.Angel of Death
I went out of my way for a large part of the game to play stealthily, until it became clear they didn’t want me to play that way. It was frustrating. Even though you could never knock out enemies in the other games, certainly in the first of these new games, the takedowns felt far less like a serial killer in their element.
That aside, I went in playing stealthily, but when I was absolutely forced out of the ability to do so on multiple occasions, I quit bothering. It ultimately felt pointless even having the mechanic there at all. Even the way animal hunting is portrayed feels savage and unnecessary. There are merchants, why does she need to keep hacking and killing animals?! It feels very wrong and like you’re enabling someone with severe bloodlust and anger issues get their kicks.
I one hundred percented this game, so I know of what I speak; the way that Lara talks about the world and the way in which you are pushed to explore and interact with it are diametrically opposed to one another entirely. Lara has absolute disregard for the ruins she is exploring or the damage she is doing around her while adventuring. However, throughout the various locations she relays a very different message in the voice overs she delivers when talking about artefacts you can find and in much of the dialogue she has with the locals and natives.
Lara is more than happy and eager to tear down statues, knock over pillars or make something explode to make her climb a little easier or smash open an ancient door. Basically, Lara started to feel much more like a less amusing version of Nathan Drake with a mercenary like feel than an upper-class classic explorer who is looking for answers and ancient clues and relics.
The biggest addition seemed to be the abundant use of changing water levels throughout the world. It was heavily overused in my opinion. They introduced water-based hazards which were frankly awfully implemented (the piranhas being the worst offender). It got to the point that as soon as I entered a tomb with a high point to reach and water on the ground level I would groan. Don’t get me wrong, it was nicely implemented, and the swimming is better than in a lot of 3rd person games, but it still isn’t, and I assert; never will be, as fun as parkour, climbing and swinging.
Speaking of which, however, the additions made to the climb and swing mechanics are nice and feel generally solid, even if it is occasionally a little glitchy. It felt good making some of those leaps of faith and slinging out your grapple at the last second then slamming into a wall or cliff face. Very fun and satisfying.
The set pieces they added for this game are epic, their obvious obsession with water was well used in one section which finds you leap, climb and swim as a flood tears around you and through a village tearing apart the ground, buildings and everything else in its path. It gets a little glitchy in places if you’re not as fast or directed as it wants you to be, but it is still very nicely implemented and feels genuinely awesome.
Overall, the base mechanics for traversing the world are there and feel good. They feel tight and well-engineered. The tombs felt expansive and different, and overall, the world was rich, vibrant and well crafted. Which is why it is a shame the game is let down by other factors.
The main hub of the tribe’s town is nice to look at but over designed. It is not a particularly fun place to navigate and makes little use of Lara’s skills to get around, which, is a shame. There are places to reach that do require them, but then general travel around the area lacks much more than running and vaulting and then stopping to look at that map because you’re confused again. The paths are often too narrow, there are few landmarks or memorable elements to orient yourself until you’re in them and too many buildings, inside and out, feel the same.
There 4 of these Hub locations in all, the biggest of them suffered heavily from this geographic confusion. However, while at each of them, many of the quests that were part of that location ultimately linked geographically back to the hub in various ways which I have to say was very nicely done.
The variations of each of these areas was also very pleasing, from the dense jungle of the first, to the slum like village, the tribal town and then a run-down Spanish colonial town. This helped keep things relatively fresh, and I have to say I felt much less upset destroying images and relics showing of Christian wealth and prosperity much less offensive; satisfying even.
Though this may be perfectly well crafted and adequate game, once again we see it isn’t the game it is meant to be. This isn’t Tomb Raider. Ultimately it feels like Uncharted with a girl as the protagonist and that is a crying shame.
I think it may be time to go back to the drawing board with Lara and her tomb raiding ways. Once again, we see that games like the Last of Us and successful open world games, like Assassin's Creed and even GTA have trodden too far into the territories of games they don’t belong just like they have here. Why the fuck does a game like Tomb Raider need Trinity or some evil force, or the obligatory emotional family connection that we have seen in the movies, why does it need such a deep narrative? Why do we even need to have an open world and survival elements? Don’t follow the leader… this should be a game about something different, just like it was when it first graced our eyes all the way back in 1996. Can’t it just go back to being about exploration? About solving riddles and puzzles… About discovery?
I for one would much rather see Lara drawing something different from her quiver, perhaps pencilling a picture of an endangered species in her notebook upon discovering one instead of habitually reaching for an arrow so that she may murder it and craft a handbag that fits more bullets.
It is time for a change of pace for Lara, and the series, one more time.
FYI - all images were taken with Shadow of the Tomb Raider's photo-mode