Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2018)

The Tomb Raider series is always one that holds a special place in my heart, from playing parts of the first one whenever renting it, or buying the second one on PC all the way up to the modern area reboots. This last one in the trilogy was passed of from Crystal Dynamics to Eidos Montreal and… It shows. Badly.

This game isn’t inherently bad. In fact I’d say the overwhelming majority of it is just as good as the others, but it has some missteps that really bring down the experience and makes this unnecessary sequel feel like an afterthought. Let's start off positive though. The game is gorgeous, back in 2013 with the reboot, this was basically THE game to use as a benchmark, 2015’s was the same thing, and now 2018’s comes with the new generation of graphics cards too. It is a breathtaking game in visuals, the light shafts, the facial animations and photo mode all make this game stand out. The cutscenes also have a beautiful look to them as all the characters feel real and well animated. The acting from Lara is still the voice I hear in my head now when I think of Tomb Raider, and I feel like it might be harder to go back to the older voices.

The emotion that is portrayed in the cutscenes too needs to be called out. Very rarely in Video Games does the acting make me feel something. Lara having a sense of responsibility and turmoil comes across as genuine. Sure there are goofy moments, but this is a much more serious and completive Lara Croft that goes back to the  serious of 2013’s reboot. Her actions have consequences.

The gameplay is exactly like the other games in the series. Running, hunting, jumping, tons of climbing, swimming and murdering lots and lots of people. There is a wierd disconnect that I had with this game, unlike other games like Uncharted, where Lara is forced to kill tons of random people. She comes off as such a sweet innocent explorer and the next moment she is straight up stabbing people in the spine. Its normal for Video Games, but for some reason, it doesn’t work for me here. Nathan Drake is a smug jerk who military is out for him, he shoots people but it’s fine, his life's in danger. Here, Lara is in the same situation and it feels …. Off. Maybe because the first game really drove home the “Taking a life is difficult” and here we are two games later, and she is mowing down all sorts of people, private military, guards of a ancient civilization…. It just doesn’t feel right. Luckily though there isn’t actually much combat in this game at all. I probably had 3 main real areas where you are taking people out, playing on normal I died once during combat. It was just too easy, by the time I thought about changing the difficulty the combat area was already finished and I was in another area. The other times were just all missteps or falling off a platform into spikes or a river or something.

The Animals play a huge role early in the game, and then are never seen again. Which is sad because being hunted by a Jaguar sounds awesome, and it is. Then you kill it and are off to the next location. There very rarely feels like a real sense of danger. Just “setups” where you know what is going to come next.

Deaths in the game are brutal, gruesome and sometimes laugh out loud comical. There is just something about her falling into a spike pit randomly, or missing a timed ledge grab, only to plummet and impale herself onto a pole. It feels like a horror movie, where the death is horrible, but you can’t look away.

The beginning of the game has some of the coolest locations in all of the games. A Day of The Dead festival where basically the Apocalypse happens and you are then running through a flooding village, that makes me feel like a theme park ride. This type of stuff happens a couple other times in the game, but honestly not enough. It’s so fun, but very linear and then ends, dropping you back into cutscenes or open world exploration. The open ended nature of the game doesn’t fit real well either. Every part of the game is so disconnected its a pain to travel. The maps aren’t big, just long or wide, not both. The animations getting through a tight spot are just long enough where I don’t want to have to go through it again just to go explore. One or two large open spaces would have been fine, but it just is all over the place.

For the most part though, the levels in the game are so disjointed and uninteresting. You go from Day of the Dead, to Jungle, to Mayan civilization to Caves to Abandon church and then back to the boring Mayan civilization. The cool parts (i.e. Day of the dead, jungle, and abandon church) are all very small 20 min areas. Even some tombs like a Pirate Ship are small enough to leave you wanting much much more of that. Instead you spend the majority of the game in back area of the jungle where an ancient mayan civilization lives that hasn’t been touched by man (or so it is presented anyways). Yet everyone speaks to the outsider in english and isn’t concerned with her at all. But you aren’t allowed to use guns, because that would cause panic… I guess. Again, it just seems weird. There are areas  in the game where you aren’t allowed to use a gun. Even though you are totally away from everyone.

The story here is actually pretty compelling, Lara is still chasing after artifacts and “Trinity”, the other globe trotting private military is searching for the same stuff. Lara finds it first and then Trinity shows up right after her.