Game Review : Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Game Review : Shadow of the Tomb RaiderShadow of the Tomb Raider Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Bookshop.org
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four-stars

Experience Lara Croft’s defining moment as she becomes the Tomb Raider. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara must master a deadly jungle, overcome terrifying tombs, and persevere through her darkest hour. As she races to save the world from a Maya apocalypse, Lara will ultimately be forged into the Tomb Raider she is destined to be.

I really adore this game. I never expected to like it almost as much as Tomb Raider 2013, but I truly did. It certainly is much better than its predecessor, Rise of the Tomb Raider, in which the strongest part of the game was the DLC, Croft Manor. Lara Croft is more compelling than ever in this entry—facing with her strongest enemy yet—herself.

 


In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara struggles against herself more than she tussles with Trinity, whom she often swats like flies with her trusty climbing axes. After learning that she set off the apocalypse by trying to prevent Trinity from getting their hands on a Mayan dagger, Lara grapples with whether or not she is becoming as bad as the very enemy she has not only fought against for years, but also killed her father and robbed her of her happy childhood.

 

This emotional turmoil reaches a climax when Lara, believing that Trinity’s Commander Rourke has killed her best friend, Jonah, goes on a cold-blooded, calculated killing spree. Emerging from the fiery water and slowly stalking towards her prey, she cuts a very similar figure to Final Fantasy VII’s Sephiroth, and evokes very much the same awe and fear. It is no surprise that Commander Rourke flees the scene when she is  hunting him, as in the process she blows up the entire abandoned oil warehouse, a helicopter, and all of his men.

 

Lara is shocked to find Jonah alive, as I was. It seemed like his death would serve as the perfect catalyst for Lara’s final transformation into “the Tomb Raider she was always meant to be” something that the reboot trilogy was supposed to be about, but never quite manages to transform her into her classic iteration, something I realized, later on, is a good thing. Instead, she cries to him that she’s “making everything worse,” and he reassures her that she’s not, strangely in direct conflict with what he said earlier in the game about not everything being about her, and probes her with the question of the riddle to get her back on ancient-puzzle-solving feet again.

 

Though I have enjoyed every bit of Lara’s development with her family and with Jonah throughout the reboot trilogy, it seemed like it would have been more fitting if Lara had brushed herself off this time. Sure, the backstory of her fighting against Trinity to get revenge for her father and finish what he started is very human and complex, but something that probably should have been left behind in the third installment. After all, Rise of the Tomb Raider ended with her saying, “goodbye, Dad.”

 

That being said, the way her family issues were finally put to rest at the very end of the game was both fitting and disappointing. I loved how Lara, View Spoiler » Not only is Lara strong physically, but she is immensely emotionally strong, even after being tested more than ever in this installment.

 

My only complaint with this goodbye and her decision to “be among the living” is that we see Lara back in the Croft Manor post credits, surrounded by memorabilia of her parents. We see the White Queen, a symbol of her mother, the painting she made of her and her mother in Egypt with a dinosaur, and her mother’s own paintings in the same room. It is definitely a mixed message—surrounding oneself with these items, and I’m still not sure what the game is getting at by it—perhaps that Lara had finally made peace with her parents’ deaths. I think it would have been more fitting to see Lara journeying home with Jonah or finally placing that call back to Sam and making some kind of plans for the future, instead of surrounding herself with the items of the dead.

 

For those reasons, as well as the hint of a future title in it, I much preferred the alternative ending that was patched from the game. (Sidenote: I’d really like to know why it was removed.) In this ending, Lara is in her father’s study once again, and unlike in the canon ending, the room is not painted in bright, sunny colors. Lara still looks happy though, and receives a mysterious letter from Jacqueline Natla, a main antagonist from former Tomb Raider games.

 

The skills and herbs are very complimentary.

Despite this and other often-accidental contradictions in the emotional story, the game itself is exciting. I found that the addition of the herbs—focus, perception, endurance, and healing—were kind of arbitrary in a playthrough on Normal mode. I did not use any of these herbs at all except healing. But on Deadly Obsession mode, the herbs became an extremely vital part of my survival. With Survival Instinct turned off, each herb had a new level of importance that finally made sense. Perception became more necessary than ever—without it I could not find my enemies, hunt, or gather. And with health regeneration a thing of the past, endurance was a lifesaver, allowing me to take more hits without dying. With much stronger enemies, focus—with its time-slowing-down ability while aiming was a huge help—allowing me to put more arrows into foes before they could return fire. What’s more, is the skills are complimentary to these herbs, increasing their effectiveness and use. Truly my playthrough on Deadly Obsession mode led me to believe that Survival Instinct should not have been a thing at all in this game.

 


It is certainly a lot more intimidating to explore everything that Lara does sans Instinct. Half the time I did not know whether I was preparing to leap to the intended wall or whether I was going to swim into a dead end and drown. Without Instinct, and without the ability to use perception herbs under water, swimming becomes a lot more deadly activity—complete with hidden piranhas and eels. In fact, many of the climbs, sometimes through ritual-sacrificed corpse ridden tunnels, and up overhangs with crumbling walls and rocks, make me so anxious that I often had to stop and take a deep breath, or to itch my nose out of anxiety.

 

Lara among the Yaaxil.

Add to the fact that Lara delves into murky waters and dark tombs, and then throw in supernatural beings called the Yaaxil, with long claws, unearthly speeds, and hissing, guttural speeches—and it’s wild, death-defying, and frightening ride. The game also manages to intersperse these high action moments with slower ones, like Unaratu’s rebellion in Paititi, which left me bored to be honest. Also, I was continually confused at everyone in Paititi’s ability to speak English.

 

Unaratu, the Queen of Paititi

Confusion aside, I feel like every time I turned around, I was rescuing a member of the Hidden City. First, I rescued Etzli, Unaratu’s son from a trap laid by the cult of Kukulkan (aka Trinity’s presence in Paititi), and then I rescued him again, only for his mother to be captured in the attempt, and requiring a rescue herself. Imagine my frustration when View Spoiler »

 

Paititi, the Hidden City

Despite my frustration with View Spoiler », and the overall storyline of Paititi, I love exploring the ancient city. The game’s graphics really bring the civilization and its culture to life and fully immerse the player in it. I also love that Lara takes up View Spoiler » It was touching to hear Jonah’s words replaying in her mind, “I like this world. It’s—it’s not perfect—but everything I love now is in it,” but it would’ve been masterfully gut-wrenching had he actually died earlier on in the game.

 


Regardless of the small things that the game does not get quite right—like Jonah’s continued survival, Lara’s surrounding of herself with memories and items of the dead despite claiming to want to exist among the living, and the inclusion of insight—the game ultimately succeeds at what it sets out to do. Lara finds herself—not as the classic dual-wielding, witty, Lara Croft of the classic, but as the Tomb Raider reboot Lara was always supposed to be—an empathetic, strong, feeling, capable, morale, and bad ass woman with a tragic past, who is not afraid to strike down those who threaten the safety of her friends, family, and the world. But most importantly she makes mistakes—obsessing like her father to the point she almost gets herself killed, focusing too much on the past, and often failing to see what’s right in front of her. In short, she is a complex, fully-dimensional female character who can be all these things and more at once in a world where we are often given flat, helpless women who need a man to save them.

 

In Lara we trust.

Reboot Lara is a first and foremost a friend, a daughter, an archaeologist, an adventure, and an explorer—but she is not the selfish, grasping, greedy world shaker that is Trinity—nor is she exactly the same thrill-seeking, sexy, back flipping, treasure hunting Croft of old. Instead, she is the ultimate version of this reboot trilogy’s raider of tombs—and in my mind, a much more human and believable one. I can only hope that reboot Lara’s story will continue in future installments, as I feel more attached to the character than I ever have in any of her other iterations. Lara Croft is truly near and dear to my heart and I can’t wait to see where her journey takes her next.

four-stars
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Game Review : Shadow of the Tomb Raider - Blogging with Dragons

Posted October 5, 2018 in Games

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