When Lara Croft came back on the scene in 2013 in the Tomb Riader reboot it took the gaming world by storm.
We got to see a venerable young girl marooned on an island, and the events that started to shape her into the Tomb Raiding woman she became.
It was a title about growth, about survival and about family. You felt like you had to protect her, keep her safe.
Well 5 years later, and now Lara is a full grown woman, and no longer needs protecting, if anything she may need a bit of counseling to help her get over the murdering predator she has become.
Now before I get into the review, there is one thing I did that made Shadow an infinitely better game. The developer added in something I have never seen in a game before.
3 levels of difficulty sliders.
You have one for combat, one for environment and one for puzzles.
What these do if pretty slick. The environmental slide will turn off hints of when to press X button or whatever, but more importantly it turns off the traversal highlights present in so many of today’s games.
Gone are the white painted lines along the path you need to climb. Instead you have to logically look over the area you are in and find the path to travel. This adds way more fun and challenge to the game.
On top of that the puzzle slider turns of Lara’s dialog to help you along. There are no tips for how to solve environmental puzzles, no hand holding at all. Which is a welcome change as well, as it seems most modern adventure games pretty much let you turn on autopilot and just go through the motions.
Sadly though Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a mixed bag.
On the surface, you have one of the best adventure games ever made with the new difficulty mode. But below that you have a bit of a technical mess with a terribly disjointed and at times nonsensical story.
The combat here is completely geared towards stealth and bow use. So much so tha tthe gun combat feels terrible. The aiming is slow, the bullets do not do enough damage, and the ammo is almost non-existent in the game.
You can totally tell the developers wanted you to sneak around and snipe people with the bow, but someone higher up insisted they put in other weapons.
When you play the game like they force you to do, it is damn good, but as with all stealthy games, make one mistake and all hell breaks loose, and in this case, you almost always die due to bad combat mechanics.
The stealth thankfully is very good though. You can cover yourself in mud to hid in the bushes better and not be seen by infra-red googled enemies.
You can punch from trees like a panther, or string up your enemies in tress like a spider.
It is a great system when it works.
The real mess though comes with the story, or really how it is presented. I will give you a non-spoiler idea of one terrible spot.
After a level you meet up with your 2 companions just as a helicopter is leaving damaged, Lara comments she is going to chase after it. She turns to run down the mountainside, and just as she does, as lava and mudslide come crashing down the mountain behind her. She rushes through a village that is getting wiped out, coming to a crashing conclusion as she dives off a waterfall. Where he friend from the top of the mountain picks her up in a boat.
Well…. Your “friend” that you ran away from 10kms away would have been covered in lava and mud as the slide was 5 ft behind you when you set chase to the chopper. And somehow, he magically teleports down to a boat.
It is as if Edios had these great action set pieces they wanted to show off, but had no clue how to include them organically.
Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider did a great job of this, but then again those games were much more solo. This title keeps you friend in tow for a lot of the game, him showing up at the end of tombs and villages to add some humanity to Lara.
But in reality he is this magical pawn that can jump anyone on the chessboard and never get hurt, just to further the plot.
All things taken into account, Shadow of the Tomb Raider was a good game, but it had the potential of being a truly great game.
The puzzles and traversal were the best I have seen this generation, but the story presentation and technical issues mar an otherwise perfect title.
An unfortunate 7/10. A must play for fans of the series, but newcomers may be let down by the jarring stroy and the odd plot devices.