The following is a script from the youtube video available below as well. Please watch the video or read the script as you see fit.
Hello and welcome to my review of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, developed by Eidos Montreal, and published by Square Enix.
This is the third Tomb Raider game since the reboot of the franchise in 2013 creating a new trilogy, but this is also the first game in the new series that wasn’t made by the original creators of the reboot, Crystal Dynamics, so will this live to the high bar of this series so far?
So I need to disclose something. You guys thought I was done with these, and I don’t go out of my way to look for them, but this is part of working for 12 years in the games industry. I know the Lead Producer of Rise of the Tomb Raider. I also know at least one other person currently at Crystal Dynamics, though I don’t believe he worked on this franchise. That being said, it doesn’t have a strong affect on my review of the game as you’ll see, but I do wish to be upfront so you can best judge my review.
With that paperwork out of the way, thanks for watching this, consider subscribing if you like what you see and hear.
So to start, we need to talk about the graphics. This is a harder game to talk about because the issues I had with the graphics were not constant. I played the game on Ultra on my Geforce GTX 2070, and this is about as good as I think the game can look without external modifications.
I couldn’t use HDR, but it would be dishonest to only look at the top tier graphics and conclude a game looks great when a majority of people might not see it in that same way. This game DOES support HDR though so if you’re looking for that it will work.
The problems with the graphics though aren’t going to be solved there. Lara’s hair at times is odd. There’s a grainy pixelated feel to just her hair that I couldn’t dial in. The game offers a new technology called PureHair, at least I’ve never heard of it before, but using low or high settings for it and it didn’t look natural.
While the game did look beautiful at times, it didn’t always feel fluid. There’s an unrealistic feel to pieces of the game that couldn’t suck me in and make me forget I was playing a game. Other games have done this, it’s just not something that Shadow of the Tomb Raider ever really can get past with its visuals.
The biggest problem with this game though is the animations. I kept noticing very small flaws with the animations that I had to ignore. The way the character lands, if on anything other than a jump to the same height feels off, as I’ll try to show on the screen. I believe it’s trying to use a procedural generation to figure out where the feet should be but it feels like it glitches for a quick section.
The grappling hook swing animation as well felt off, and just didn’t click for me. It took me over 75 percent of the game to finally figure it out. When the swing’s animation begins it stops the momentum of the player to attach to a new arch and swing in the new direction. The problem though is the momentum of the player is almost always in a forward vector and to stop it for even a second or two to get the player into an arch for the gameplay feels off. At least if you’re paying attention.
Finally, the mud in the game looks atrocious. I played with this a bit because I couldn’t believe that there was almost a lag in the mud marks. I played with this far more than I should just because of that oddness.
Now, I do want to say this sounds like nitpicking because in a lot of ways it is. Mud that you sink into rarely appears in the game. I only remember two places. The landing animations mostly work. The grappling animations just felt off and didn’t bother me until I noticed the momentum change, but I still think these are problems that could have been solved and weren’t. It leads me to wonder what level of polish was done to this game.
Let’s talk about the story, which also has some issues. The game starts with Lara Croft raiding a tomb and grabbing an artifact, a small knife which coincides with a tremor happening. Here’s the thing. That’s an interesting moment, but then a doctor says that Lara caused the Apocalypse and now he’s going to save the world. Turns out he’s a villain, and the only one who seems to says this. Lara doesn’t come up with the idea on her own, this is just thrust at the player as a hard fact from an unreliable source, and it’s accepted.
Besides, this is our new villain, a man so forgettable I don’t remember his name. It’s Dominguez because this is Youtube and I can take time to look it up. But immediately at the beginning, while he takes the knife and tells Lara about the Apocalypse she caused, we also find out he’s the bad guy. The mysterious and enigmatic Trinity, filled with knight mercenaries from Rise of the Tomb Raider is gone. It’s just Doctor Dominguez’s group now. It’s still Trinity, but it’s not as interesting as we know the leader, and they don’t do anything else with this.
This isn’t the only thing from the previous games that feel wiped. I don’t remember much of Rise of the Tomb Raider, but neither does Shadow of the Tomb Raider. This is the story, and everything that has happened in the previous two games doesn’t seem to matter much.
But all of this isn’t that important, at least not to Shadow of the Tomb Raider. This plot thread is talked about a bit and then forgotten. Dominguez does show up, but the idea that Lara is torn because she caused the Apocalypse is forgotten until the final moments of the game, the last hour. She whines about it for the rest of the opening level and that’s it.
This is a common theme. Early on Lara fights a Jaguar who growls at her face and decides not to kill her, how convenient. Why? It’s just given up. So many story points are like this, they are just things that happened. Jorge, Lara’s friend meets a woman who is interested in him and flirts, and… then she disappears for about 3 hours and then assists again. But during that time I completely forgot who she was.
It doesn’t help that for a good portion of this game Lara is alone. She doesn’t develop a story or narrative during that time, but instead just has to push on silently. Not even mumbling to herself. Several new enemies appear during this section of the game and have no explanation. They attack you, so they must die. This is a perfect time for Lara to talk about the feeling that she has to kill, except she doesn’t even bring it up here.
Later on at least one of the two groups that Lara decides to murder gets a back story long after their conflict. The player gets an understanding of who they are. Kind of. I mean there’s information but it comes after they were a part of the story, and long before they appear again.
There’s even a flashback that just comes at the wrong point, after about two levels of the game. This is perhaps the most interesting part of the story. We’re seeing Lara as a little girl exploring her childhood home, Croft Manor. Great. Problem is, this slows down the gameplay.
This section would have been perfect as a tutorial at the opening of the game, and even use it as a bridge between the two games. It’s not and instead just changes the pace of the gameplay without a major payoff other than reminding that Lara’s father died mysteriously. Which we already knew from the previous games, it’s one of the few memorable things.
There are a few other problems at the end of the game, but we’ll avoid them due to spoilers. Just realize that this is a game that has the heart of a good game, maybe enough good ideas for more than one game. But it never sticks with any of these storylines long enough. Lara causes an Apocalypse, we won’t talk about that until when the narrative decides to, much much much later. Jonah has a girlfriend, which … five hours later, has her introduce us to a single person. That’s her arc. It’s just not done well.
Which brings us to the gameplay. And the one thing I consistently remember of the previous two games is that raiding tombs was enjoyable but both games didn’t get enough tombs to raid. While there were simple puzzles in the challenge tombs, they were some of the best parts of those games.
Well, Shadow of the Tomb Raider has many more tombs to raid and new challenges. There’s even an all-new difficulty system that has options to make the game harder by hiding hints in the path Lara is supposed to travel or the puzzles themselves. Just having the option to make Lara quiet while solving a challenge is appreciated. Having easier settings is fine, but giving players a better challenge is worth applause.
Though many tombs are a little simple. There’s even a story puzzle where the final step after figuring out a gotcha puzzle is Jonah radioing in the last piece. A few puzzles turn into just story sequences or puzzles solved in a cutscene which is disappointing, but the challenge tombs in the content off the main path will challenge players.
The game does also tries to help players too quickly at times while moving between platforms. The game often throws up suggestions in the world to remind people to use the “grapple axe” to swing from a location almost every time it is necessary as if it expects players to forget that they had it. Perhaps this was found out during playtesting or it was an unnatural motion, but it pops up too quickly each time.
The grapple axe feels like an all-new feature, and for the entire game this seemed like the new toy in the franchise, but it was in Rise of the Tomb Raider. There’s really nothing new in the gameplay of Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Alright, mostly nothing. There is the idea of towns and being able to walk around and explore a town or hub getting little hints about collectibles and finding new things to do through speaking with people. This seems to be the new big feature of the Shadow of the Tomb Raider, but it also was the section that I tried to rush through as fast as possible. Towns and hubs are fine, but they end up slowing down the narrative rather than making the narrative work better. They become a roadblock that you can either explore or just rush through.
Towns do have minor side missions but these tend to also be busy work to get through to get some minor reward. There’s only a couple of side missions but after two I was set and ready just to get further on with the game and its lackluster story.
There’s also a return to stealth combat, which is probably Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s strongest point. Being able to sneak up on enemies and take them down works often, and while there’s a decent challenge to the stealth combat, ultimately stealth doesn’t matter.
Even if you perfectly stealth two or three areas, the game will eventually drop in troops who know where you are located because there’s always going to be a gunplay section. Players can’t avoid it and it’s when Shadow of the Tomb Raider becomes the most average game possible. It’s like some executive said, “ It’s a major video game so we need to focus on the shooting.”
The thing is, Tomb Raider, as a series, isn’t a “gun game”, it’s not not a gun game, they’ve always had guns and pickaxes and bows and arrows, and more, but it’s more about the exploration of tombs, the climbing around the environment and more. When Shadow of the Tomb Raider ends up focusing on the gun combat it feels almost like they ran out of interesting and unique ideas and just needed to have some combat to appease people or something?
Finally, there are collectibles in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. A lot of them. There are many times that the player will enter a room, ping the room with their sense to find out what’s important and see three or four collectibles at the same time. Then they can run over to each, hit the interact key and then they can proceed with the game.
If you’re a completionist, beware, there’s a lot of here, but while each object has a little backstory and a flavor text, many collectibles are just writing about some topic. Whether they be Trinity’s procedures or a handkerchief from an explorer. If you love flavor text, these will satisfy you, but for most people, it’s just yet another object you can or have to go collect.
Overall, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a disappointment. It’s not a bad game, there’s a lot of solid work, and good attempts. If it was a new franchise or a stand-alone adventure not starring Lara Croft, this might be recommended. It has good moments, but seeing as this is the third, and possibly final game of the Tomb Raider’s reboot arc, a task it doesn’t even try to take up with it focusing only on its personal story, and that it brings nothing new to the gameplay table except bigger open areas where you can talk to far more people, I can’t find anything that would make me want to recommend Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Ultimately I have to give Shadow of the Tomb Raider a
If you’re a fan of the series, I think you should be able to understand that this is the weakest of the three, but it’s so significantly weaker than the first two games that I have serious problems with this entry. I love the new Tomb Raider series, and I like some of the ideas that float around Shadow of the Tomb Raider, but it seemed afraid to stick with any of those new ideas and just becomes a total mixture of random thoughts, many we’ve seen before, in this game or others, and almost all have been done better.
So that’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider. With that said, it’s about December 15th as I write this, the middle of December, and I’m going to call this the last game of my 2019 season. It’s time to look at the best and worst of this year’s reviews. We’ll talk about that next time,
Besides, I want to focus on something a little different so I might be doing a series of games next year which I’ll announce with the awards. If you’re interested in finding out what’s coming next or the best and worst I’ve played this year. Consider subscribing and if you haven’t yet, ring that bell to get notifications. I’d appreciate it. We’ve broken 500 and let’s just keep growing.
Since I just reviewed a disappointing sequel, I’m going to pop up two others for you to check out. Just Cause 4, and Middle-Earth Shadow of War. They really are disappointing sequels. Check them out to find out why.
Until then I’m Kinglink and thanks for watching.