Game Review: Shadow of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the third entry in the new, rebooted series of Tomb Raider. Released on September 14th 2018 it continues the narrative set up in the Tomb Raider game from 2013 and Rise of the Tomb Raider in 2016.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is all about Lara Croft reaching the apex of her journey to be the adventurer that made her debut way back in 1997. You can read our review of Rise of the Tomb Raider here.

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The story picks up shortly after the events of Rise of the Tomb Raider and sees Lara still trying to combat the threat of Trinity. Alongside her friend Jonah, they end up tracking Trinity to Mexico where they uncover a Mayan dagger in the tomb. This dagger comes with a lot of warnings about a Mayan apocalypse but Lara, in her desperation to stop Trinity, takes the dagger. Unfortunately, this triggers the start of an event called ‘The Cleansing’ that will end in the death of the sun.

Lara finds all of this out when she meets Dominguez, head of Trinity’s High Council. He tells her that she has started the apocalypse and takes the dagger. His plan is to use it in conjunction with a Mayan box that will stop the end of the world and allow him to remake it in his own image.

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He leaves Lara to die as a tsunami washes over the town resulting in a fast-paced action sequence. Lara survives and is torn apart by the damage she has caused. However, thanks to Jonah she is able to refocus and makes the decision to beat Trinity to the box, stop the cataclysmic event and defeat the group once and for all.

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Set in the jungles of South America, Lara has to traverse the deadly environment, ancient tombs and Trinity to reach her destiny.

There are a few faults with the story such as the hit and miss pacing but those who have followed Lara’s journey so far will find it a mostly satisfactory conclusion. Even if its climactic scenes are a bit lacklustre. Fantastic voice acting and motion capture brings characters to life and while there are few secondary ones that really get to shine, the ones that do standout for all the right reasons. Dominguez in particular is a fantastic villain, the kind that you can almost relate too.

Visually the game can be stunning and there is an incredible amount of detail. The jungles feel deep and dangerous, the hazardous climbs feel like Lara is clinging on for dear life and the tombs reek of ancient smells.

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Unfortunately, Shadow of the Tomb Raider has problems. Ones that get harder and harder to ignore the further you delve into the game.

The hidden city of Paititi is the games main hub. A massive city removed from modern times. It bustles with life and it’s here almost all elements of the game can be discovered. It’s also where Shadow of the Tomb Raider plays its strongest hand…exploration. The locations surrounding Paititi are varied and often fascinating. Finding hidden puzzle tombs, talking with characters, completing side missions…it all adds depth and brings things to life. Paititi is certainly the best location to come out of all three games so far and the overall story arc of its people is interesting.

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It is very easy to lose yourself in hours of exploration without going near the main quest line.

However, familiarity is the name of the game here and it’s all about finding hidden items, unlocking skills and finding new outfits/weapons.

Challenge tombs make their return and Shadow of the Tomb Raider has some of the most varied and puzzling seen so far. One such one sees Lara exploring a crumbling Spanish Galleon hidden deep within a cave. A truly inventive experience that leaves you feeling like you accomplished something once you unlock its secrets.

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Always hidden away, these aren’t a requirement even if they unlock skills for Lara but to get the most out of the game players should seek them out.

Lara’s upgrades are split into three categories; combat, exploration and resource gathering. As you level up, you’ll get points which can then be spent on skills in one of the three categories. Most offer substantial upgrades such as Lara being able to hold her breath for longer under water or being able to shoot three arrows at once. However, the resource gathering path feels quite pointless this time and it’s the one area you’ll find yourself investing in the least simply because of an over-abundance of items in the world. Never once did I run out of arrow creating resources or healing plants. In fact, they’re so in abundance I sold more at merchants than anything else.

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While exploration is at the heart of Shadow of the Tomb Raider there are times when Lara will have to get her hands dirty. Disappointingly these are very few are far between considering they’re almost always fun thanks to the new stealth mechanic that sees Lara cover herself in mud to hide from enemies. While machine guns, shotguns and handguns make up Lara’s arsenal, it’s far more fun to play each encounter the stealthy way. Planning out your attacks while hiding in bushes or against walls blending in thanks to the mud.

There are only a few occasions where full-on gunplay is required and most of that comes at the game’s finale.

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As cool as all of this is, and it really is…it’s so familiar. So much so that it’s easy to forget that you’re playing the latest game in this series. There is no innovation here at all. Sure, it’s not broke so why fix it but it’s beginning to feel a bit stale now. Exploration, combat, resource gathering, the controls, the scripted action sequences…we’ve seen it done before and it’s no better here.

The biggest disappointment in the game comes from the final confrontation and boss battle. The build to this event is great, a real feeling of finality and a real feeling of all out war. Sadly, it culminates in an easy and fairly bland boss encounter. 5 minutes later, the credits are rolling and you’ll find yourself saying…is that it?

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Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a very good game. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. However, its niggling issues are harder to ignore here because of the overly familiar gameplay. The story has pacing issues and there should have been more combat encounters. All of that aside though it’s a fine finish to this Lara Croft story. We will be eagerly awaiting what comes next for the Tomb Raider.

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Shadow of the Tomb Raider
  • The Final Score - 8/10
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