Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Temples of doom abound in Lara’s last quest (for now)
HAIR HAS COME A LONG WAY in videogames since the blue-topped goons of Wing Commander II. While it still clings in shrub-like patches, it moves and reacts with a degree of naturalism—even if it now protrudes over Lara Croft’s forehead like the rearward part of a duck.
Lara’s appearance has been tinkered with again. She remains a reasonably naturalistic early-20s woman, as seen previously in the trilogy, but distinct from her appearance in the recent movie. Her body count is mind-boggling, and she must surely be on some sort of mostwanted list for the number of antiquities she’s stolen, but her slight figure, noticeably shorter than the heavily armed men who hunt her down, is an effective device for gaining the player’s sympathy.
But it’s not enough. Shadow has done little to fix the problems of the previous two games. For all its similarities to 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, it still feels like a series in search of an identity, with a cold, unapproachable lead. We tend to look at it as an exploration and puzzle game with combat bits, as it’s at its best when Lara is leaping and flipping across chasms, or clinging by her fingernails to crumbling walls. Happily, Shadow has dialed the combat back in favor of jumping and pushing things, but it’s not without its failures. Early on, there’s a section with moving platforms in which Lara needs to swing from street lamps. Many times she crashed to her death, having not even attempted to grab the lamp, until we managed to jump from just the right spot.
The plot is still the sort of nonsense that might be declared unrealistic by even Assassin’s Creed’s developers, but there is a hint of an interesting direction when Lara’s obsession with beating the shadowy organization Trinity gets the better of her, and she accidentally unleashes a South American apocalypse. A charming flashback with a devastating ending takes us to the root of Lara’s daddy issues, and there are other flashbacks in the form of outfits and even character models from earlier TR games.
There are sections in which you’re not sure if you’re in control, a symptom of the often HUD less presentation that sees cutscenes segue into gameplay with no clear border. Then there was a technical problem that saw the game drop into silence, despite the menu screen having a full complement of music and jungle noises. We put on the subtitles and kept going, but it feels strange playing a game with nothing but the ringing in your ears for company, the controller rumbling in our hands, as we quietly machine-gun a bad guy. It’s not a recommended experience, and it’s not fair to the game, as the jungle soundscape is highly atmospheric.
Graphically, the Peruvian setting is remarkable, all keenly realized plants, jaguars, and howler monkeys, and Lara explores it clad in highly detailed cloth textures. Her friend, Jonah—although how good a friend she is to him is debatable, as she replies to his asking if she’s OK with “Help me with this”—is as devoted as ever, and seems similarly skilled at stealthy killing. But despite its sharp looks, a morose, guilt-ridden Lara makes for a gruff game. Even the ability to give her a smile in the photo mode can’t lift it out of its doldrums.
Photo mode lets you pause the action and spin the camera around.
Being a dark game, splashes of light are all the more welcome.
This T- rex skeleton is surely a call back to previous games.
Lara’s expression can be changed for photos, causing much hilarity.