Real Talk By: Zombie Zac
In Lara’s latest adventure she heads out into the jungle, inadvertently starts off the apocalypse, brutally murders a ton of people, figures out elaborate ancient physics-based puzzles, goes big game hunting, buys heavy weaponry from fruit vendors and still finds time to take a dip under a few waterfalls. I had to laugh at how bizarre this adventure was from top to bottom; Lara literally triggers a natural disaster wiping out an entire civilization at the start of the game and yet 30 minutes later she’s picking up dusty chalices and broken bowls and droning on like that history teacher in middle school that nobody could pay attention to. Lara, how do you know all this bullshit when you seemingly spend all your time murdering, climbing walls and pulling levers?
And that’s the most astonishing thing here— Lara is able to mentally compartmentalize her mass killings and her random anthropologist encyclopedic knowledge; she is more knowledgeable than Indy, Drake, the entire crew of Antique Roadshow and Google combined, while being more cold, calculating and nihilistic than Patrick Bateman, while still appearing like a normal human. Since Shadow of the Tomb Raider marks the end of the reboot trilogy, can we get some Lara games that are a bit more realistic? Like, one where she goes to Museums and just laughs at all their garbage? I can see her walking home and bumping into people on the street, and then for the fun of it, painting herself in city sludge and hiding behind a trash can waiting for a big yellow Y to appear above the head of an innocent passerby.
There’s a story about some evil corporation called Trinity that’s been running through these games that I can’t keep straight even though it’s pretty straightforward. Think of the quintessential 80’s militaristic rogue group with unlimited resources that is always one step ahead of the protagonist, complete with the emblematic leader who buys into some weird mumbo jumbo and makes long speeches. They have no idea how many people Lara kills though and they constantly miss when shooting at her and always let her go when they have her, so I guess Lara is, beyond being a sociopath serial killer historian, a very lucky lady too. There’s some tie-in with this guy in Trinity and her dad’s death and through some flashbacks we see her life as a child (where she’s literally preparing herself to raid tombs in her backyard) and we understand that for Lara, stopping this guy and Trinity is maybe less about saving the Earth and more about her own narcissistic revenge story.
Stepping away from the psychology for a brief moment, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a very competent game that’s very easy to pickup and enjoy. The graphics are effective in conveying both indoor, smokey tombs and outdoor, bright sunny jungles and the soundtrack is dark and brooding. Swimming is back, a first for the rebooted series, and there’s lots of creepy, nearly out-of-breath segments to make you feel appropriately claustrophobic. In fact, Lara is constantly right on the edge of death. Whether it’s from drowning, impalement, fire, traps, poison, or bullets, Lara is living a treacherous life. In the tradition of the series, and paying homage to so many 1970’s Italian horror films set in the Amazon, these death sequences are shown in their gory details. It’s appropriately pulpy, a pitch-perfect freak out moment for what largely plays out as a great drive-in B-Movie. Nathan Drake is for babies.
The game isn’t perfect though. Some of the NPC’s look dated, and the lip syncing sucks when it’s not a cutscene. There’s some weird bugs (and my game crashed a couple times), and it can pause in a few places for some awkward loading. The skills you can unlock are not all created equal, as some I avoided the entire game because they seemed useless. I think some gameplay elements are under-utilized, like using the shotgun or fire arrows to break down certain obstacles, and some expanded on too late. The odd thing about the greatest moments are that they are sort of optional— the challenge tombs and crypts are the highlights here and aren’t even necessary to beat the game. I found myself being introduced to an area, being led right to it’s natural conclusion, and then having to loop back around to see all the things I had missed.
In spite of those issues, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the best it has been since Lara came back on the scene in 2013. It has everything you would want in an adventure game, with plenty of lore for those that want it, plenty of collectables for completionists, and a great balance between stealth and action gameplay. Lara is engaging (read: terrifying) and while tonally the story is all over the place, it’s a fun, schlocky ride. The action too succeeds; it never feels like a shooting gallery, like Uncharted can, and it gives the player a multitude of ways to approach each scenario. It’s a streamlined, well-oiled experience that displays the best of what Tomb Raider has been about. While outrageous, Lara’s adventure still manages to be a bit touching in the end, and as silly as it all is, is a hell of a spectacle.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider gets
4 out of 5
+Fun action, and exploration (and swimming!)
+Lara is engaging, and insane
+Great tomb puzzles
-The story is weightless
-NPC’s are dated looking
-Under-utilized gameplay elements
-Some bugs and odd loading times