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Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Release Date: Sept. 14, 2018


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PS4 Review - 'Shadow of the Tomb Raider'

by Redmond Carolipio on Sept. 10, 2018 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara must master a deadly jungle, overcome terrifying tombs, and persevere through her darkest hour.

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Lara Croft, like many of our gaming heroes, has mostly existed under an umbrella of moral infallibility. Her adventures over a generation of games have always been under the pretense that she is on the right side of things, and what she is doing must be necessary in the name of all that is just and right.

It 's what makes one of the first major moments of Shadow of the Tomb Raider so compelling. In it, we guide Lara through another one of her signature running, jumping and climbing stunt sequences, this time to avoid flood waters that are churning through a small town in Mexico and washing away villagers in its wake. As Lara climbs on the side of a building to get to higher ground, she sees a little boy who's not too far away and clinging to a broken pipe for dear life.

Lara starts working her way toward him. He calls for his mom or anyone who can help. It 's not enough. The boy loses his grip and falls to his doom in the swirling, churning waters below. A tense, highly emotional argument between Lara and her best friend, Jonah, follows the boy 's fall. It 's a dialogue that highlights the personality cornerstones of both characters: Jonah 's level-headed, balanced mix of dedication and humanity, and Lara 's singular drive and obsessive focus to stop her enemies. We see that focus in unchecked overdrive as Lara and Jonah yell at each other. We can tell by the look on her face and the struggle in her voice that she 's coming to grips that the boy 's death, the flood, the destroyed village, all of it — might actually be her fault. There 's a hole in the moral umbrella; Lara screwed up.

The evolution and exploration of Lara 's character and skills as she nears her final form is the ribbon that ties together the entire Shadow of the Tomb Raider experience, and the experience is done well enough for this to feel like a true trilogy-ender, one that puts the finishing touches on a Lara who 's come a long way from the girl players saw hanging upside-down and freaking out in the 2010 reboot.

This time, Lara is in South America, tracking down the supposed leader of Trinity (the big, bad organization from the previous two games) as she searches for a powerful Mayan artifact that can, in her words, "remake the world. " After an unfortunate plane crash, Lara finds herself in the jungle, eventually introducing us to many of her newfound combat abilities. We 'll get to more pieces of the narrative later on, because every hint you 've heard of an evolved and more experienced Lara Croft is best seen when things get dicey and she has to fight her way through trouble.

Gone is the callow survivor from 2010 who was nearly paralyzed with shock after her first kill, when she parked a bullet in the skull of a mercenary who tried to assault her on a haunted island. Lara Croft in 2018 is a skilled and efficient death dealer in the right hands, seemingly trained by prime John Rambo and some summer school classes with Agent 47 or the League of Assassins. I found the stealth combat in Shadow to be oddly captivating, using Lara 's abilities to cover herself in mud and hide in jungle foliage to either sneak past or take out people with chilling brutality. In a subtle sound detail, you can hear the draw of her combat knife whenever someone draws near. One press of the button, and you 'll see her stab hearts, cut throats, or use her climbing ax to pull in people for a deathblow. She can drop from trees for a kill, climb up and kill someone from below, park in a tree and execute a brutally complex move where she shoots a rope arrow, jumps off the branch, and strings up the enemy target in one movement.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of Shadow's combat is the ability to break cover (either willingly or accidentally) and then re-enter it during a skirmish. I felt an intricate command of the rules of engagement — especially in situations with large swaths of armed foes. I introduced hit-and-run tactics, taking out a few with a well-thrown crafted bomb, a molotov cocktail, or dropping in for an instant kill, only to run, "mud up " and hide to plan my next attack while the confused remnants of the enemy walked around and looked for me. It 's reminiscent of the Batman: Arkham system, but more intimate as Lara takes cover in bushes and muddy walls instead of atop a stone gargoyle while looking down at the prey. Gunplay and skill upgrades work generally the same, with Lara earning skill points that she can administer to a catalogue of themed abilities that include stronger counterattacks or a greater lung capacity when swimming underwater. The latter is very important, as Shadow of the Tomb Raider showcases the trilogy 's deepest efforts to make you to accidentally turn Lara into a corpse.

Combat aside, the true lifeblood of Shadow lies in its sheer depth of experiences, blending in open-world concepts while introducing a few elements that pack extra dynamism on Lara 's already full portfolio of climbing, hanging, jumping, running, and puzzle-solving exploits. For instance, Lara 's always been able to climb up and down stuff, but now she can rappel and dangle off cliffs, mountainsides or other passages. She can use the rappel to slide down the rope to a safe landing, or initiate the ability to swing to a precariously placed entranceway. The game likes to put some of these elements into combinations, where you 'd have to climb down, rappel, and then time a swing to yet another wall, where you have to remember to whip out your pickax to catch yourself. Spoiler alert: You 're probably going to miss a few of these and die.

The game 's puzzle work is much deeper and complex than in years past, but mistakes now have a fatal edge — a pit of snakes, clamps that hold you down in place for oncoming spikes, things like that. Then there 's the swimming, which adds a different layer of tension to Lara 's adventuring in both the main story and side-quests. Early on, Lara will find herself swimming underwater for her life, navigating through dead bodies, finding pockets of trapped air, and using the ability to swim faster (one of the trigger buttons) to the surface. Swimming in action games has always been a slightly harrowing experience because of that natural feeling of your chest-tightening as the screen begins to darken. Shadow does a fantastic job of capitalizing on that.

You 're going to encounter all of these elements as you progress through the main story, but if all of them constitute the lifeblood of the game, then I should mention the game 's heart: a massive, undiscovered city of people called Paititi. Discovered within the first third of the game, it 's the sun around which the main story orbits, but it 's also the title's attempt at a true open-world miniverse, and it's loaded mostly with side-quests, crypts and tombs where players can get lost. While most side-quests serve as little more than quick chores (and there are some of those here), many of the optional quests in Paititi and the game can have reams of story and narrative within them that shed light on parts of Lara 's personality. This is the kind of stuff that helps players build a connection to the character as you see them in everyday conversation and action. It worked with Geralt of Rivia in the Witcher series, it worked with Kratos and Atreus in God of War, and it also works with Lara. She can come off tunnel-visioned and laser-focused in the cinematics, but she 's also likeable and grounded among the citizens of Paititi. It 's here when you realize the game is less about Lara accessing all of the dark corners of her psyche, but rather her finding out what her actual place is while confronting long-buried things about her past.

Her personality isn 't the only thing that 's expanded in the game. The "challenge tombs " are back, but much different than in previous titles. Accessing a challenge tomb in Shadow is now an adventure unto itself. Instead of simply walking into a corridor and finding the tomb, Lara might have to climb, jump and swim for the opportunity to die under a volley of various traps or struggle with intricate puzzles that involve things like sunbeams. In a healthy nod to the old-school Tomb Raider games, Lara even has to swim underwater for a while to find specific levers to pull. Ask an older gamer. They 'll know what I mean.

I dare not give away too much of the story, only to say it contains performances that carry a strength and gravity that weren 't as present in the previous Crystal Dynamics games. Character development away from Lara was lacking in the previous two, so it was great to hear more about Jonah 's backstory, Lara opening up about her parents, the plights and struggles of the citizens of Paititi through the words of their badass queen, Unuratu. I even bought the words of Dominguez, the Trinity leader, because of the conviction behind them, even though I found him falling a little too easily into the "true believer " trope.

If I have one issue, it 's that the path of the main story feels a little short and a little too neatly tied up at the end — if you simply choose to mash through it. I feel like you have some room to let things breathe at the end of a trilogy, and I didn 't feel like the story did enough of that as I progressed. With that said, it feels like the best way to play Shadow of the Tomb Raider is to embrace all of it and take some time to sink into the world Crystal Dynamics has crafted so that Lara 's journey feels more filling. That 's when her journey and everything she does feels a little more ... right.

Score: 9.0/10

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