I’m an unapologetic fan of the Tomb Raider series. Right from the first time I played the the series on my Playstation way back in 1996, I knew I had fallen for the Queen of adventure. Sure she’s had some ups and downs in her 22yr career but I’ve never missed a game. When she disappeared from the limelight for an extended period of time I missed her as did the rest of the gaming world. The Square Enix reboot of the franchise was EXACTLY what the doctor ordered. This year, she’s back on a new adventure in Shadow of the Tomb Raider which launches on Sept 14. Come along with me.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider takes Lara to the region of Central and South America as she’s set to take on the corporation Trinity who is hell bent on acquiring an ancient silver box and a key that, when combined, will allow the holder to remake the world as they see fit. Without getting too detailed into the spoiler territory, early in the game, Lara inadvertently sets off the events that will bring about the Apocalypse and now she’s on a mission to save the world from certain doom.
If you’ve played 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, then you know this game is gorgeous. The lush foliage, the various species of wildlife all react to you and what you do. Water looks wonderful and, covering Lara in mud so she can blend into her environment. It all looks so good. The sound in this game is spectacular. Especially when in the jungle. The sounds of the jungle just brings it to life. From the sounds of the Howler monkey’s to the poisonous frogs you get the feeling of being there in the jungle. Kudos to the sound engineers.
There are a few notable changes in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The first is the skill tree which has received a pretty significant update with a slew of new skills to choose in the 3 categories of Warrior, Seeker and Scavenging categories. The skills are unlocked when you complete tomb challenges, specific quests, story rewards or just leveling up. Much like previous games the player will amass the skill points and find base camps scattered throughout the world. Each skill costs a certain amount of points and some will be locked away until the adjacent skill is opened.
The base camps aren’t just for upgrading your skills or weapons. Here you can also craft new costumes or change into new ones. What’s interesting about the costumes is they provide a different level of abilities. For example, you might get a significant boost to your stealth ability making it harder for bad guys to detect your arrival or proximity. They also have some really cool throwbacks to the original games and if you completed the previous 2 in this iteration of the franchise, you’ll receive a few extras as well.
Another significant difference is the ability to buy costumes and other supplies from vendors in towns. Various vendors have a vastly different menu of items. The only similar items you’ll come across from town to town are the supplies and the ammunition. So make sure to pick up everything (especially gold pieces) and visit your local friendly vendor often. Each town will also have a few side quests for you to complete. Completion of these quests will unlock special skills in your tree.
When it comes to gameplay, Square Enix played it rather safe. The most significant changes to the gameplay are the ability to harvest poison from frogs which will send the bad guys into a frenzy shooting other members of his team(think the berserker darts in Assassin’s Creed), the ability to cover Lara in mud to allow her to better blend in with her surroundings. It’s pretty chilling just how awesome it is. Reminds me of the moment in the original Predator movie when Arnie covers himself in mud and attacks the Predator. It works and looks great. Which brings me to a somewhat spoilery moment but there was this great sequence in the game that literally sent chills down my spine. It happened about 3/4 of the way through the game and it was pure magic. Lara came off as the Angel of Death and it’s stuck with me. I’ve replayed that moment in my head over and over and it is without a doubt the coolest moment in the entire series.
This now brings me to a few things that bugged me a bit. For starters, the AI was even on the harder difficulty was a bit watered down. I literally sauntered up to a bad guy who was standing to the side and dispatched him with one of his buddies well within earshot and he was none the wiser. Another thing I found to be a bit odd, and it’s really not a big thing but jumping long distances at times looked damn near impossible but the game allowed it and it felt like it permitted the jump to be made with success. It’s a small thing I know and I realize it’s been part of the series but there were a few moments that really felt a little extra convenient.
The game took me roughly 20 hours start to finish with 70% total completion. And immediately I jumped right back into a new game with the Game+ setting that gives you the ability to play a second time though with all your unlocked items in tact. Shadow of the Tomb Raider was more than satisfying for me. From the locales in the game, to the sound right down to the final end game I know I was smiling the entire time. I’m hopeful that something I saw in the game was a bit of foreshadowing as to where the future of the series is headed and am really happy to say that despite the fact that SqureEnix played it pretty safe on this one, I still feel that this is a winning title well deserving of your time.