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.

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