When Square Enix rebooted Tomb Raider back in 2013, the long-running series got a new lease on life. This new Lara Croft was younger and less experienced, and the series placed more emphasis on open world exploration and combat and less on puzzle-intensive tombs. And it worked. The reboot was a hit with fans and critics alike, even though that first game played much like a shameless snuff film at times. Rise of the Tomb Raider saw Lara growing into the adventurer she is destined to become, and the shift to the snowy landscapes of Siberia helped create one of the best Tomb Raider experiences ever. Now, the trilogy comes to a close with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and the young, naive Lara Croft has grown into smart, seasoned warrior who will stop at nothing to achieve her goals.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s story opens with a rather tense scenario that sees Lara and her long time partner, Jonah, in the middle of a plane crash. We flash back a few days to Cozumel, Mexico, and Lara is stalking senior Trinity members to find out what they’ve been up to since their last confrontation in Siberia. Stealth plays an important role in this opening — as it will throughout the game — and Lara soon finds herself in a mysterious temple, seeking an important artifact before Trinity can get their hands on it.
As she solves the various puzzles to allow her to access to the temple’s treasure, she learns of a Mayan legend predicting the end of the world, which involves various cataclysms that cap off with an eclipse of the sun, which will put the world in perpetual shadow. In classic Tomb Raider fashion, Lara gets the treasure and inadvertently sets off the events of the Mayan apocalypse.
Shortly after, the setting shifts to Peru, where the remainder of the game plays out. It’s rather fitting that developers Edios Montreal and Crystal Dynamics chose this setting, since it’s the same jungle where the world first met Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Lara will come face to face with many traps, but nothing come close to the perfectly (and suspiciously) round boulder that Indy faced in that classic film. The jungle is littered with nine Challenge Tombs and various crypts for Lara to explore and solve, which, as in the last two games, serve as optional quests to the main story, which clocks in at around 25 to 30 hours. The tombs are truly challenging, as Lara has to deal with deadly mechanisms and traps, as well as the wildlife, like piranha, moray eels, and a vicious tribe of protectors that will haunt your dreams as you play.
Eidos Montreal, which took over main development duties from Crystal Dynamics this time around, has put a major emphasis on stealth, especially when Lara confronts the military forces of Trinity. Reminiscent of Predator, the player can rub themselves in mud and blend into walls and vegetation, allowing Lara to stealthily kill her enemies. This added challenge is a welcome addition to the random gun fights that broke out in 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider. The stealth aspects might very well be my favorite part of the game, as figuring out how to dispatch enemies without alerting others and using all the tools and tricks at my disposal elevated Shadow of the Tomb Raider into a game more in line with Metal Gear Solid and even Assassin’s Creed.
In addition to stay one step ahead of Trinity, Lara can hunt animals and collect various materials for crafting items, weapons and outfits. Jaguars are a particularly tough hunt, but the XP rewards are well worth the challenge. XP unlocks skill points, which, in turn, unlock new skills and abilities. Various towns and villages serve as hubs for Lara to upgrade and refocus, and the legendary city of Paititi plays a huge role in the story.
In fact, once the player gets to “the lost city,” the game begins to slow down, almost to a crawl, while Lara is fed a smorgasbord of exposition. This part of Shadow of the Tomb Raider halts the action and thrill of exploring for almost 10 hours of play time, which includes seeking out all the tombs, crypts, and additional challenges scattered around the city. Luckily, the action picks back up to a rousing conclusion in the third act of the game, and this begins with what is, without a doubt, my favorite scene from any Tomb Raider game ever. Don’t worry, you’ll know what it is when you reach it, as you too will be covered with goosebumps as it unfolds.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks absolutely stunning. The 4K and HDR implementation on Xbox One X is a feast for the eyes. The character models, especially of Lara herself, have never looked this good. This is the best looking Tomb Raider game ever, without a doubt, and the artists at Eidos Montreal have really outdone themselves in how they brought the jungle setting to life. It looks and feels like a living, breathing character, and it’s simply incredible. Long after I’ve moved on to other games, I will forever remember my time in this jungle based on its excellent presentation and design.
Square Enix plans to offer post-launch support for Shadow of the Tomb Raider in the form of additional Challenge Tombs and story quests, which will come as DLC (there is a season pass option for those who want to save a bit of money). There’s also a photo sharing feature where players can take photos in-game and share on social media. Also, players are rewarded with a legacy gift if they’ve played the previous games, with all previously earned outfits are available. There’s nothing like running through the sweltering jungles of Peru dressed in a fur lined parka.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider ends the story of Lara Croft — at least this version of her. As a young, inexperienced adventurer, we watched her as she was thrust into a harrowing experience on the Japanese island of Yamatai. We saw her evolve into a tough, inquisitive and resilient adventurer in Siberia. And now, in the jungles of South America, Lara has become the predatory force of nature that fans have been expecting. It’s been a hell of an adventure, with plenty of ups and downs, but in the end, this reboot has delivered in spades, and arguably, Lara Croft has never been better. The prey has become the predator.
This review is based on the Xbox One X version of the game. A copy was provided by Square Enix.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider ends the series reboot, and it serves as a wonderful final chapter, bringing back all of the things that made the franchise a hit, while adding so much more.