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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


Xbox One Review - 'Shadow of the Tomb Raider'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 20, 2018 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

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

Buy Shadow of the Tomb Raider

In 2013, the Tomb Raider reboot changed a good deal of what players and fans knew about the series. Environmental puzzles and platforming were de-emphasized in favor of freshening up the combat. Lara's still wealthy, but all of that came with the baggage of a less-than-happy past. In turn, Lara was transformed from a confident adventure hunter to someone coming to grips with having to kill anything, let alone a person. The  reboot was fresh and exciting, sort of a counter-homage to Uncharted but with more serious undertones and wrapped up with compelling gameplay that resonated with players. The sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider added more puzzles but improved on the combat without dropping in overall quality. Shadow of the Tomb Raider completes the transformation into a classic Tomb Raider experience but throws in a few more combat tweaks and some unexpected story points.

To enjoy the story, you have to at least have some familiarity with the tale from the previous two titles. The game starts with Lara entering a tomb and encountering a riddle that may finally lead them to the objects that the Trinity organization has been seeking. While trying to solve the riddle later that night, both Lara and her friend Jonah tail the supposed head of the organization to see what their next plan is. One tomb later, Lara picks up a knife that somehow triggers the Mayan version of the apocalypse. After seeing the destruction caused by a flood she triggered, she's determined to find the last artifact to stop the apocalypse and Trinity's plan to destroy and reshape the world.

The idea of blaming oneself for a calamity isn't a new thing, so players aren't surprised to see this development after the flooding of Cozumel and the ensuing destruction. However, the constant introspection and self-doubt are present throughout the campaign. It's further punctuated once you reach the city of Paititi and the inhabitants either pity your profession or hate you for coming to a foreign area and taking away part of the culture and history. The series has never done that to this degree, and it does a great job of fleshing out the hero so it makes her more vulnerable and obsessive at times. The doubt and pity don't overshadow the game, so you're not constantly hit over the head with how bad you're making everything, even though it's ultimately in the name of the greater good. At the very least, its presence makes for a more interesting tale. If you're looking for some kind of resolution to this, you'll find the answer to be unfulfilling.

With the previous game improving upon the combat, it isn't a surprise to see some attention placed on that mechanic in Shadow. Lara's proficiency with some firearms and her bow hasn't changed, but it's comforting to know that you have those advanced skills from the get-go instead of having to work to re-learn them. You learn a few new things, like being able to string up enemies with a bow and rope rather quickly, but for the most part, the combat will be familiar to those who played the older games. Interestingly, the game doubles up on the combat during the last few moments, almost turning the game into a pure shooter and Lara into something like an '80s action hero.

Stealth, on the other hand, is where you'll see some new and interesting tricks. You still have the ability to take out enemies from behind and use your ax or knife for a quiet stab, but now, you can do that while hiding underwater. You can also blend in with walls that have lots of foliage, and leaping from thick-vined walls for a kill never gets old. You also have the ability to cover yourself in mud, and while that won't help you hide when people have seen you do it or when they have night vision goggles to spot you, the extra tool in your stealth arsenal is welcome. The mud mechanic also highlights the game's renewed focus on letting you jump in and out of stealth with relative ease. For example, you could emerge from a wall of vines, stab a few people, run away to a mud pit to cover up, and sneak along less densely vegetated walls near enemies who have lost your position. This feels good no matter how many times you accomplish it.

While fighting and sneaking are well used in Shadow, you actually won't do a good deal of that for most of the game. Instead, the title has placed more of a focus on platforming and puzzles this time. For platforming, this means lots of wall-climbing, rope swing manipulations, and death-defying leaps. Rappelling from overhanging walls is a new mechanic, and it works well in conjunction with the ax throw and tightropes as traversal opportunities, the latter of which still provides a bit of tension when it's used. Swimming is also a bigger part of the game now, and the portions are larger in scope to provide more panic opportunities as you struggle to reach the next air space while your vision blurs and sound gets muffled as you drown. Meanwhile, the puzzles range from small ones located in one space to larger things that have you darting between large spaces as you consider how the counterweights and pulleys work. There aren't too many head-scratchers here, but you'll feel satisfied once you figure out some of the more taxing ones and see that their solutions are quite logical.

Tying all of this together is the hub world of Paititi, and it's easy to believe Square Enix's claim that it's the largest hub world in the series thus far. While the size of the town and the immediate surrounding areas are impressive, it's the number of things included that makes it feel so alive. You still have places where you can craft items and people who'll give you side-quests, but the most impressive part comes from the number of people who will converse with you. Some of the stuff said is idle talk, but there are plenty of lines where they're talking directly at you or about you, and the mixed feelings you get from these people help shape Lara even more, providing more depth to the character via some pretty simple means.

If taken within the context of the time periods in which they were released, most of the entries in the Tomb Raider series have stood as good examples of the graphical and sound presentation of the time. Shadow is no different, as it excels in both the audio and video departments. For the former, the highlights come from the superb voice acting, the score, and ambiance. The music does a good job of inspiring awe in sweeping shots of the various tombs and vistas while also putting forth a feeling of dread when you get close to drowning or get into a big disaster set piece. With the music off, you're treated to a rich cornucopia of jungle wildlife calls, foliage rustling, and town chatter that immerses you into a very lived-in world.

Graphically, the character models retain some excellent texture work and lip sync, but the environments will steal your attention. The richness of the jungles never fails to impress thanks to the foliage fidelity and shadows. The tombs sport some excellent lighting, and the texture work provides a rich amount of depth for each surface, from the carved stones to the plain rocks weathered by the elements. Just like the last game, it runs fine on the basic Xbox One, while the Xbox One X has the option to prioritize a near-4K look or supersampling if you don't own a 4K set and frame rate, a nice choice for those who would rather have increased responsiveness over better looks.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider isn't going to make you a convert to the series if you've ignored the last few games. Eidos-Montreal doesn't really do anything that makes it too different from the worlds crafted by Crystal Dynamics' previous two titles. With that said, the tweaks they added, along with the new environment you get to play in, are outstanding thanks to how good the mechanics are on their own and in concert with one another.  The tweaked gameplay mechanics, along with a bigger emphasis on platforming and puzzle-solving, make this a perfect ending chapter for the recent trilogy, and series fans will certainly be pleased with how Shadow turns out.

Score: 8.5/10

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