Let’s rile up the core gaming fanbase a little: despite the odd problem here and there like loot boxes, pre-order culture and crowdfunding, I think that games today are as good as they’ve ever been. We’ve got some real solid experiences and more coming out week or so. In my eyes, we’re living in the golden age of video games, as proven by fantastic titles like Assassin’s Creed: Origins, God of War and the fantastic series of Tomb Raider reboots. We’ve had a chance to check out the latest entry in that series, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and it turns out that it’s yet another fantastic adventure.
During yet another of her expeditions into long-abandoned ruins, Lara Croft drops the ball in a somewhat spectacular way. See, if an ominous prophecy says you probably shouldn’t steal this ancient Mayan dagger, maybe don’t steal it. When Lara does precisely that, she sets off a chain of events that might just be a coincidence…or might be the start of the apocalypse. It’s up to our erstwhile tomb raider to set things right – including taking the dagger back after it’s stolen by series baddies Trinity. The story is, as usual, Da Vinci Code/Indiana Jones silliness, but there’s nothing wrong with that, and if you come in expecting some summer blockbuster-style adventure then you’re bound to be pleased.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider, like Rise of the Tomb Raider before it, is essentially more of the Uncharted-style gameplay that’s made this reboot series such a great set of games since 2013. It’s a lighter, crisper take on the run, jump and shoot fundamentals that defined the original series of Tomb Raider titles. Lara isn’t quite as obstinate as she was in those games; generally, she’ll run where you tell her, jump where you’d like and it’ll all flow together beautifully. Wall-climbing plays a big role, of course, and Lara can now rappel down from high places, allowing for more opportunities for exploration.
This take on the concept isn’t without its flaws, of course, as it leads to situations where Lara may or may not be able to make a given jump seemingly based on how dramatic it would be. Likewise, the numerous underwater sections can be a little frustrating if you miss the odd air pocket or take a wrong turn. At least you’re rarely far from a checkpoint if it turns out something was a bit too far.
You’ll put your jumping skills to work throughout numerous locations and side areas. The side areas are the highlight of the experience, as was the case in both Rise and the 2013 reboot, and it’s worth getting a little excited every time you find one. The puzzles here tend to be well-designed and based in real-world logic, such as it is, so solving them is a treat – even early on, I appreciated the application of simple concepts like using a winch to raise a cart before releasing it to smash through a wall.
Of course, Tomb Raider’s not all about platforming and puzzles. Combat has also been a high point of the reboot series and it remains just as solid here. You can approach encounters in numerous ways, ranging from stealth to all-out guns-blazing Ramboism, and whatever you choose it’s probably going to feel pretty good and have some degree of support from the level design. Stealth kills have a nice, satisfying feel that encourages a careful approach…but at the same time, guns have a lovely kick and send enemies flying. Choose whatever you’d prefer and spend your ever-growing collection of skill points toward specializing Lara in that direction. You can, as always, upgrade your gear using crafting parts and salvage to suit your needs as well.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks positively fantastic, especially on PC. This isn’t a surprise as I was lucky to demo the game using NVIDIA’s latest gizmos at E3 this summer. Given the state of delayed drivers (and a lovely embargo) I can’t really go into just how fantastic it could look as we haven’t had the opportunity to test out that newfangled ray tracing support – yet. But such benchmarks are in the cards, and we’ll append this review once we’re able to.
Even without ray tracing, Shadow is a feast for the eyes. It ran fairly well on a high-spec PC, though more mid-level rigs might run into trouble. Console fans should expect similar results, especially on the beefier Xbox One X hardware, which likewise gets a 4K boost. From a sound perspective, well, it’s a summer blockbuster with everything you’d expect from the genre. Highlight voice performances are, of course, the leads Lara and Jonas, and it ends up being enjoyable to follow them throughout the game’s 20ish-hour run time.
The Tomb Raider reboot series has really proven to be one of the best examples of contemporary AAA gaming. It melds some of the best aspects of both films and video games into a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. While Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn’t really innovate much beyond what the first two games accomplished, it doesn’t need to – this is some solid entertainment and you’d do well to give it a shot.