Lara is back to save the world yet again; this time, she's putting everything she has into preventing a Mayan apocalypse.
In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara's goal is to stop the destruction of the world as predicted by the Mayans. However, she believes that she's to blame for the whole thing and must face her inner demons with help from her close buddy Jonah as they fight to survive landslides, tidal waves, and earthquakes. In order to prevent Trinity from getting hold of the silver box that has the power to reshape the world, Lara must go through extreme challenges that will scare and astound you and even often have you sitting on the edge of your seat wondering when she gets to take her next breath as she struggles through extremely narrow waterlogged caves while fighting her way to the surface. One minute, a jaguar is gritting its teeth with blood running down its face as it pounces on you then the next, you're trying to time jumps and use the grapple hook perfectly as you climb wreckage that's washing away in a torrential landslide.
Playing with death seems to be a theme for Shadow of the Tomb Raider and it does a great job of hitting home how Lara is giving her absolute all to undo what she started. Overall, it made me root for the adventurer even more than in any previous game.
Even the Shadow of the Tomb Raider's main menu will bring back memories of the much earlier titles in the series that more often than not took place in the depths of the jungle. You spend almost all of your time in the flourishing wildlife of the Peruvian rainforest which is great for unleashing Lara's more resourceful side but it does get a little samey, especially when compared to previous games as they usually varied up the setting a few times throughout each adventure. As to be expected, there's an awesome amount of detail in the jungle and in the many animals that live in it such as monkeys, jaguars, birds, and even capybaras. I particularly enjoyed climbing and swinging from tree to tree because of the cool new take-down attacks when you come across Trinity lackeys.
Swimming plays a larger role here than in the average Tomb Raider. This time, you face predators that force you to make paths through long seaweed lest you get eaten by a pack of hungry piranhas. Again, this reminded me of previous Tomb Raider games that had the same kind of challenge. In fact, Shadow of the Tomb Raider seems to make a solid effort to remind players of Lara's previous adventures. Along with the jungle setting and deadly piranhas, you spend quite a lot of time in tree foliage, walking through rudimentary villages, wading through deep mud, and pulling levers only to hurry to the next piece of a puzzle. I thoroughly enjoyed these aspects; so much so that I feel like bringing out my older Tomb Raider games and playing every single one all over again for the third or fourth time. Perhaps that was Square Enix's intention seeing as they stated that Shadow of the Tomb Raider marks the end of Lara's beginning.
Most of the areas that aren't in the jungle take place in underground caves and tombs that went a little too far for me in terms of gruesomeness. There's a surprising amount of skulls and bones covered in flesh and blood and on multiple occasions, Lara has to crawl through it while using pieces of dead bodies to climb her way out of a crevice. If it was just bones, it might be easier to stomach but the fact that they're half decomposed makes it so much harder to look at. It reminded me of some of the scenes in the 2013 Tomb Raider title that I didn't even like back then when the graphics made them look less disturbing and detailed.
Lara must use her resourcefulness in order to survive multiple parts of her journey and avoid perishing from either the wild animals or Trinity soldiers that seem to always be hot on her trail. She carves a knife from parts of a plane wreckage, smears mud on her skin to disguise herself against muddy walls, and disables generators to knock out lights that help her stealthily take out enemies. I've always preferred taking out enemies quietly in the more recent Tomb Raider games as it presents more of a challenge so thankfully, Shadow of the Tomb Raider doubles down on the variety of ways that you can accomplish this.
Hiding in foliage on a wall or in tall grass then taking out enemies that cross your path after making sure no one will see you is a thrill and a challenge. If you want to do this from up high, you can hide in the trees and shoot a poisonous arrow that can confuse a foe thus causing them to shoot at their allies then kill themselves. You can also shoot an arrow with a rope attached and string up an enemy in the tree and hide them in the canopy. This type of gameplay really sets Tomb Raider apart from the Uncharted series by making gunning down enemies a choice and thus creating more of a challenge to get the bad guys out of your way. You also unlock additional skills as you make your way through the jungle that keep layering on gameplay depth.
Between the jungle and underground segments, Lara gets to know the villagers of multiple towns along her journey. The largest one has many hours of gameplay packed in and so much variety that it's impressive for an action adventure game; heck, even for the average RPG. Talking to residents will unlock side-quests and completing them will give you items or uncover something new on the map.
Similar collectibles are back from the previous game and they're just as fun to find seeing as you have to uncover them on your map first then figure out exactly how to reach each of them. Although I already finished the main storyline, I intend to get 100% in Shadow of the Tomb Raider just like I did the previous game because it's extremely rewarding to do so. The challenge tombs that I have completed so far have been just as tough (if not, more so) than the ones in Rise of the Tomb Raider and they're definitely just as a fun.
Before wrapping this up, I should mention that merchants are new in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. With them, you can sell items that you collected and gold dug from rock walls in exchange for new weapons, upgrades, and resources. It's not completely necessary to take advantage of this but it feels good to know you have the best version of a given gun, crossbow, or knife.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is definitely darker than its predecessor but that doesn't hurt its awe-inspiring setting, fun stealthy combat, oodles of rewarding collectibles, and suspenseful action that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
- + Tons of collectibles including new animals to hunt will keep you playing for hours
- + Tense stealth-based action sequences
- + Awesome and familiar jungle visuals
- - Although it's expansive, the whole campaign is set in just one area
- - Some gruesome segments go a bit too far