Lara Croft emerges from a murky pond and mercilessly slaughters a mercenary with her knife. The fear she felt during the events of 2013’s Tomb Raider and its sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, has been replaced with deadly confidence, and her name is now spoken like the stuff of legend. She has completed her transformation into the ultimate adventurer, warrior, and archaeologist, and even the collective efforts of a secret society hell-bent on altering the entire planet can’t stop her.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider isn’t interested in putting the training wheels back on Lara Croft. That means you’re in for one hell of a ride.
Finishing what we started
Picking up after the events of the previous game, Shadow of the Tomb Raider finds Lara and adventuring partner Jonah Maiava in pursuit of Trinity, the organization Lara has fought against since the first game. Initially searching for a relic capable of “reshaping” the world in Mexico, Lara soon discovers removing it from its resting place has triggered a Maya apocalypse. Only with a second relic can she hope to save the planet from destruction, and her mission takes her to the jungles of Peru in search of answers.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider wastes no time introducing its characters, or the events of previous games, instead pushing that to optional leaflets and letters. With so many plot threads to keep track of, the story can feel overwhelming – but the alternative would’ve been re-telling Lara’s origin story again, and with two games focused on her growing pains, the decision to hit the ground running was a smart one.
You must decide if you want to continue on or take a break to tackle whatever puzzle the tomb holds.
Even if you aren’t familiar with Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s characters, their personalities quickly make them distinguishable. Jonah’s enormous frame helps him take down multiple enemies at once, but he mostly acts as a logical foil to Croft’s aggressive tendencies. It’s a relationship that has evolved over the course of the trilogy, and offers the opportunity to cut out pointless dialogue.
We already know Jonah is cautious, and that Lara will do whatever she was planning on doing regardless of his assessment, so the game doesn’t hammer it into the player’s head with redundant banter. There’s just enough to drive the point home, and no more.
We reviewed the game on an Xbox One X with 4K resolution and HDR enabled, and the results were impressive. The game makes excellent use of motion capture technogly, which ensures quiet moments have proper emotional weight. However, when talking to random passerby in the game’s hub areas, some less advanced animations fail to impress.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider most important character, however, is the world itself. Peru and the city of Paititi are filled to the brim with secrets, hidden tombs, rare animals, and treasure, most of which you’ll be teased with while traveling along the critical path. In the middle of a mission, Lara can stumble across a tomb entrance. You must decide if you want to continue on or take a 30 minute break to tackle whatever puzzle the tomb holds.
One minute you’re solving a slow water wheel puzzle, and the next you’re leaping from crumbling buildings in an earthquake.
Most tombs are optional, so you can beat the game without much tomb raiding, but you’d miss an important part of the game. Eidos Montreal has put tremendous time and attention into every puzzle and obstacle. Tombs often become enormous, multi-stage levels, despite looking like holes in the cave wall from the outside. They give you the opportunity to show your prowess, as Croft must use her climbing axes, ziplines, and rope to traverse seemingly impossible obstacles.
With few exceptions, completing the challenges is a reward in itself, as they use emergent gameplay to teach you techniques for solving them without you realizing it. Even swimming puzzles don’t feel tedious, as Shadow of the Tomb Raider soon takes the action back to dry land. A few puzzles did have solutions the left us scratching our heads, but we only stumbled a handful of times over the whole game.
The danger Lara faces goes beyond spike-covered traps and endless pits of death. With Trinity hot on her trail, Lara must defend herself using firearms, homemade explosives, and her trusty bow. The franchise’s combat has never felt better.
You can easily aim and fire off a burst of bullets, or put an arrow through an enemy’s skull. Using scavenged resources and skills, you can further enhance your performance, even launching three arrows into the heads of your enemies with a single shot of your bow. It makes little sense, but it fits with the larger-than-life tone the series has fully embraced.
Exciting from the title screen to the closing credits, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a tremendous thrill ride.
Altenratively, you can use the stealth tactics Shadow of the Tomb Raider provides. Lara is an efficient predator who rivals Agent 47 or Sam Fisher, capable of quickly leaping out of cover to perform multi-enemy stealth kills, or hanging an unsuspecting baddie from a tree branch without his friends, just a few steps ahead, noticing his demise. You can decide if you want to pass undetected, or if you want to set up a brutal ambush that takes out every target with a Molotov cocktail.
These moments of pure adrenaline become more prevalent as the game races toward its conclusion, though they’re broken up by disaster-filled escape sequences that see Shadow of the Tomb Raider at its absolute best. One minute you’re solving a slow water wheel puzzle, and the next you’re leaping from crumbling buildings in an earthquake. These segments are scripted, but they test your ability to think on your feet and, if you fail, lead to the grisely death the series is known for.
It’s impossible to discuss Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s greatest elements without mentioning its predecessors, because Lara’s latest adventure feels very similar. Latching onto porous rock with a climbing axe feels identical to Rise of the Tomb Raider, as does the basic flow of moving between smaller hub areas and the surrounding wilderness. Lara’s last adventure was a phenomenal game, so it’s still great, but don’t expect too many surprises.
Pay more, explore more
For those interested in Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s tombs, you can gain access to additional content by purchasing the season pass, which also comes with the “Croft” edition of the game. However, you don’t have to worry about microtransactions sullying the experience.Our Take
Exciting from the title screen to the closing credits, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a tremendous thrill ride. It’s the definitive final chapter for story threads we’ve been following since 2013’s game, but also leaves the door open for more adventures in the future. We’ve got our fingers crossed that this isn’t Lara’s last hurrah. It doesn’t matter where she travels. Lara is going to be involved in some precarious predicaments, and we want to be there with her.
Is there a better alternative?
No. The Tomb Raider games have perfected an action-stealth-puzzle hybrid that’s become less popular as open-world games rose to dominate gaming, so not many competitors scratch the same itch. However, those who haven’t played 2013’s reboot or Rise of the Tomb Raider will want to pick it up first.
How long will it last?
After completing the main story, multiple side missions, and challenge tombs, our time clocked in at 15 hours. A New Game Plus mode is also available, and finding all the secrets could easily double that time.
Should you buy it?
Yes. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a blockbuster game done right.