Shadow Of The Tomb Raider review: her greatest adventure yet?

Lara Croft’s origin story gets a fitting conclusion that isn’t afraid to dig deep into the grit

When Crystal Dynamics decided to reboot Tomb Raider in 2013, it did so intending to bring the exploits of gaming’s greatest archaeologist up to date with 21st century thrills and spectacle. It succeeded then, and again once more with 2015’s Rise Of The Tomb Raider. For this final chapter in Lara’s origin trilogy, however, Eidos Montreal is the one tasked with bringing the story successfully over the finish line, leaving many intrigued whether the Deus Ex developer had what it takes. The truth is we needn’t have worried. Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is an admirable concluding chapter to this arc – one which isn’t afraid to embrace Lara’s darker side during her final fight against Trinity.

Set roughly two years after her last run in with the ancient military organisation, Lara’s latest adventure opens with a quick stint in Mexico, before moving to the dense jungles of Peru in search of (you guessed it!) a mysterious artefact. Visually, the new setting is a nice change-up to the bitter Siberian snows Lara faced during her last outing, giving players the chance to plunder everything from underground ancient ruins to forgotten hidden cities previously untouched by man. Environments like this also serve to tie in more with the harsher themes Shadow Of The Tomb Raider overall does a good job of exploring.

This time around Lara is forced to reconcile with the fact that she may be the cause of the various terrors she crosses paths with, rather than the person working in the best interests of innocents. This willingness to question the morality of its own protagonist is an unusual, but welcome change of pace for a genre that so commonly leans into pulp and campy action. It’s what Shadow Of The Tomb Raider brings new to the rope-swinging, animal-hunting table. A good example of this is her ongoing relationship with trusty companion Jonah, who for the first time, feels like a person of consequence instead of a liability. Here he grounds her, and this tale of ancient societies and dark magic is made all the better because of it.

Reflective of this more serious tone are the fresh tools Eidos Montreal has added to Lara’s arsenal. Her trusty bow, survival senses, and multipurpose pickaxe all make a return, but there’s much more emphasis on stealth than ever before. In previous games you’ve always been able to take down soldiers from behind or quietly get the drop on them from above, but now Lara can get a much better angle on her enemies thanks to the introduction of mud and grass walls.

Ad – content continues below

Appearing during certain sequences throughout the campaign, Lara can now cover herself in dirt, making it increasingly difficult for foes – including those wearing thermal goggles – to spot her. This works well to give you more freedom when choosing how to dispatch the game’s many Trinity-laden areas, empowering you with the feeling that you are the ultimate hunter, not the hunted as you once were in prior instalments. If anything, it would’ve been nice to see these segments crop up a bit more. It’s too much fun to sneak along a mud wall, clamber up to an adjacent tree, then string up adversaries using a well-placed rope arrow.

When not directly making the lives of mercenaries miserable during the story or any one of the game’s handful of side missions, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider doesn’t do much to shake up the healthy mix of traversal, puzzle-solving, and combat. In this respect the folks at Eidos Montreal has very much taken an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach, making small tweaks to Lara’s tactical toolset that don’t so much change the game as they do finesse it. All weapons and gear can be upgraded just as before to create a better and more badass Lara, but it’s still satisfying to return to a place previously locked off to unearth what lurks behind.

If you’re lucky, what you’ll stumble upon will be one of the nine optional challenge tombs scattered throughout the map. These small, contained tests of logic, puzzle and skill return once more to yet again be a highlight, if only due to the slow change of pace each dictates compared to the high-stakes set pieces provided by the main campaign. There’s just something about entering a freshly exhumed tomb and working out step-by-step how to resolve the riddle before you. This is what Tomb Raider does best at its core. And though most won’t have you scratching your head for too long, all nine still act as the icing on an otherwise well-prepared (mud)cake.

If indeed you do find yourself stumped, however, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider has got you covered. Difficulty of puzzles, traversal and combat can all be adjusted individually to either easy, normal, hard, or the aptly-named Deadly Obsession. When tweaked each make for a uniquely tailored experience, aiding players who might find themselves struggling with a certain aspect. Dropping puzzles from normal to easy, for example, will see Lara illustrate her thoughts aloud in a little more depth, with survival sense highlighting the objective in blue rather than the intentionally vague yellow. Features like this help make the game a fully adaptable experience, and assure that any chin-stroking challenge tombs and other puzzles never stunt progress to a screeching halt.

While the challenge tombs remain enjoyable, some may view Shadow Of The Tomb Raider’s handling of multiplayer less positively – there is none. It could be a wise decision considering Tomb Raider 2013’s severely undercooked PVP offering, but the survival-focused cooperative Expeditions mode featured in Rise had potential. It would have been nice to see Eidos Montreal refine what was a genuinely thoughtful take on the modern Tomb Raider formula likely overlooked by most – but, perhaps therein lies the problem. Though this doesn’t detract from the core Lara adventure, it does mean Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is less of a value proposition compared to previous entries.

Shadow Of The Tomb Raider might not surprise from a gameplay perspective, but why mess with a formula when it works so well? The freedom to experiment more with stealth is a nice one, but these instances are too few and far between to be considered truly revolutionary. Where Lara’s latest outing does innovate is in how it continues to develop the personal roots initially planted in the previous chapter, coming to the fore as the famed treasure hunter finds herself forced to solve the biggest puzzle yet: herself.

Ad – content continues below

Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is out 14 September


4 out of 5