Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review (PS4)

Lara Croft is one the most important and influential female icons of the gaming universe.

And she’s been through a hell of a lot to get to that point. Since the 1990s, Lara has changed drastically, but she still manages to inspire not just women, but many of the different people that choose to take control of her on her grand adventures. The newest title from the Tomb Raider reboot series, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, allows players to take control of Lara once again, this time in Mexico followed by Peru as she comes even closer to becoming the hardened badass tomb raider that we know and love from the original series.

Same Lara, Different Day

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is based roughly one year after the conclusion of Rise of the Tomb Raider. Not much has changed for Lara in the past year. She’s still fighting against the militant organisation known as Trinity as it searches far and wide for ancient artefacts in its ultimate quest for world domination. She’s still dragging along Jonah Maiava, one of her closest friends – who seems to strangely change ethnicities every year as they clearly can’t pick a final character design for him. And Lara’s still biting off more than she can chew when it comes to haphazardly making decisions that lead to huge disasters.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is going to feel very familiar to players because it is. There’s a few new things here and there, but there isn’t anything super innovative to make you really go  “Wow!” Sure, there are a few new additions, such as new stealth mechanics and customisable outfits, but there’s nothing that really changes the game significantly. Shadow of the Tomb Raider still does lots of great things, don’t get me wrong. But the  trailers promised a new rougher, tougher, mature Lara, and instead we got the same Lara as before just in different clothes.

Do These Pixels Make Me Look Fat?

While on the subject of brand new clothes, Lara’s outfit customisation this time around adds a little bit of dress-up fun in between exploring. Completing side quests and activities will occasionally reward you with  items of clothing that Lara can equip. Each item has its own qualities that give her certain bonus abilities, such as increased stealth or faster health regeneration. There are also complete outfits, including past iterations of Lara. That’s right, you can walk around as tiny-waisted, short-shorts and rounded-sunglasses late-90s Lara when you unlock that particular outfit. Sure, Lara’s mouth doesn’t move and her expression never changes, but it didn’t do anything to ruin my immersion, I swear.

Sometimes you’ll have no choice but to change your clothes during the game as some outfits be significant to the story, but you can always change back to your favourite later on. You were able to change clothes in Rise of the Tomb Raider but not quite to this degree, so it’s definitely an interesting feature – especially considering all of the different attributes Lara receives by equipping them.

Whaddya Buying?

Players will be surprised to find out that combat is actually fairly sparse in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Instead, you’re given much more freedom to wander and find all of the secret things the game has to offer without being constantly bombarded by bad guys. I found quite a few secret crypts just by taking my time and exploring in between the main story line.

Exploring is fun, and there’s a lot to be discovered in Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s world, but I did sometimes find it difficult to tell where I was meant to be going while climbing some of the terrain. There was one particular moment towards the end of the game where I watched Lara being impaled on a pipe  sticking out of a rock on a loop over about 20 attempts until I figured out which direction I was meant to be going. It can be frustrating, but it doesn’t happen nearly enough to warrant a serious complaint. Just keep trying and eventually, sometimes with a leap of faith, you’ll end up in the right place.

Along with wandering around and discovering crypts, players will see the return of challenges in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The challenges involve finding underwater treasure chests in a nearby lake or knocking down totems hanging from villagers houses. Rude, if you ask me.

New to the game is the addition of vendors, where you can buy and sell items. The vendors, I’ll be honest, seemed completely useless; all of the materials I needed to complete the game I’d picked up myself in the wild. Upon discovering the first town where Lara is able to gather side quests and wander, I sold a few gems and moved on. The trader had nothing I wanted to purchase. When I reached the second open world area, I sold a few more gems and bought a lock pick. I used that lock pick to open one single solitary chest and never found another chest that the lock pick worked in for the rest of the game. Perhaps on a harder difficulty, where materials in the wild may show up less often, the vendors might be valuable, but on normal difficulty I rarely wanted for anything.

Once, Twice, Three Times I Give Up

Just because combat is less prevalent  this time around, that isn’t to say you won’t have your fair share of interactions with Trinity. The difference is that in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, those combat sequences simply aren’t the focal point of each chapter. Trinity also isn’t too focused on taking out Lara  this time; instead they’re more worried about, oh, just the small matter of the world’s impending doom. With a few new features added though, the bouts of combat you do face go a little more smoothly.

One of my favourite parts of Shadow of the Tomb Raider is how well done the stealth elements are. As a rule, I am terrible with stealth in games, but here, I didn’t have too difficult a time getting used to it. Being able to hide in grass/bushes, covering Lara in mud and hiding in trees make the stealth sections pretty enjoyable. Lara can also use her survival instincts which highlight important items in her immediate vicinity. It can be used to see when enemies are in line of sight of each other, so you can wait until the perfect moment to take them down.

The controls for Lara’s climbing, jumping, rolling and swinging are, as ever, a bit clunky, which did cause some self sabotaging moments with enemies. When you try to roll from a bush to a wall with vegetation, all the while trying to remain concealed, Lara might suddenly stop midway through and reveal her location. These are rare circumstances that could easily be user error, but aggravating nonetheless. While Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s stealth has improved two-fold, other areas of combat, such as the bow and arrow and gun play, remain the same as they were in the first two games.

Some Good, Some Bad

Looking back, the biggest problem I have with Shadow of the Tomb Raider is its lack of innovation. When a new game in a series comes out, I expect it to be new, different, and exciting; not just more of the same with a few tweaks. In the end, it felt more like a very long Rise of the Tomb Raider DLC rather than a completely new game.

Regardless, playing through Shadow of the Tomb Raider was still a really lovely experience from start to finish. The lack of innovation from the previous two instalments left me a little disappointed, but there’s still plenty to love. The game is absolutely gorgeous. I love its characters, and the settings are mind boggling. The stealth is smooth as butter and the numerous side quests, secret tombs and crypts offer a good challenge without ever being impossible. Additionally, the history that goes along with the storyline is really intriguing. And, not going to lie, some of the creepy things in the game are going to give me nightmares for many moons to come.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider leaves a little to be desired as the final instalment in this reboot series, but the trilogy all together is a strong and fantastic series. It’s worth picking up and playing if, for no other reason, than to share in Lara’s incredible adventures one more time.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. This review is based on the PS4 version of the game.