BUT TOMB RAIDER LARA’S LATEST OUTING IS SOMETHING OF A MIXED BAG
SHADOW OF THE TOMB RAIDER Xbox One, PS4, PC ★★★★★
THE word iconic is bandied around so much these days, it’s almost lost all meaning. But when it comes to describing Lara Croft, the character that defined gaming for a generation, I’m hard pushed to find another adjective.
With the passage of time, it’s easy to forget just how groundbreaking the first Tomb Raider game was.
When it landed in 1996, its 3D graphics and gameplay were revolutionary, creating a template for action-adventure games for years to come.
But nearly 20 years on, the gaming industry had drastically changed, and Tomb Raider was in danger of becoming a nostalgic footnote.
While Lara is one of the most recognisable gaming characters, nothing had ever been done to flesh her out – very little was actually known about the woman behind the raider.
So in 2013, the franchise was rebooted with Tomb Raider, a game which sought to reconstruct Lara’s origin story, and followed the explorer in her early days. Puzzling was an afterthought in this game, the focus was more on action. It failed to do the character any justice.
That was addressed in 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider – and the final part of the trilogy, Shadow of the Tomb Raider has just landed.
This is Lara as we’ve always known her – tough, smart, and battleworn.
It may have been three years since her last outing, but Shadow is set merely months after the events of Rise – with Lara venturing through
Mesoamerica and South America to the hidden city Paititi, in a battle to stop a Mayan apocalypse that she herself has put in motion.
This final piece of the story has been developed by Eidos Montréal, which pulls no punches in putting our hero through the grinder. Within seconds of the game starting, Lara is thrust into the midst of a plane crash, before being jammed into an underground crevice which sees her hacking at rocks and her own legs, with a blade, to free herself.
Stealth plays a huge part in this game, seeing Lara evolve into a silent predator who picks off her foes from the shadows with a bow and arrow.
Oddly, that feels far more satisfying than simply pointing a gun and spraying bullets.
When you have a long standing
personal history with a character, it’s difficult not to bring your own preconceptions to the table when it comes to that character’s personality.
There are parts in this game when Lara strayed so far from how I see her, it felt jarring. She is so obsessed with her work she’s detached from the problems her raiding causes others – although her humanity is allowed to shine through in places.
The level of violence she rains down on what are essentially villagers is horrendous is places – impaling them with her pickaxe, or emerging, covered in mud like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator, to cut them down.
New additions to the gameplay mean there are some quite claustrophobic underwater sections which, with the addition of air
pockets, means you can stay submerged for longer.
Lara’s new overhang and rappel abilities give her a diverse set of movement options, which allow for much more inventive – and vertical – level designs.
Crafting starts as a fun endeavour, until you realise materials are so plentiful there’s little point to it – likewise the game’s skilltree is one of the most pointless I’ve ever encountered.
Combat takes a back seat in favour of puzzle-solving, which is especially satisfying. If you decide to tackle some of the more difficult tombs you’ll be pleased with just how challenging they can be.
Visually the game is stunning. The lush, green vistas, wide open skies and beautifully realised relics combine to create an inviting world you want to explore. The plot though is inconsistent, with holes so large you could drive a bus through them.
Ultimately Shadow is a mixed bag of a game, but not a bad one.
Is it the most satisfying ending for Lara’s trilogy? No, but what the story lacks in terms of polish, the puzzling and platforming make up for in spades – although I’d have liked a bit more content to encourage exploration after the main story ended.
■ Buy it: £41.99, cdkeys.com
Tomb with a view: This time combat takes a back seat to puzzle solving for Lara Croft
Take a breath: Air pockets mean you can stay submerged for longer What’s new, pussycat? Stealth plays a huge part in Shadow