Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the last chapter of the trilogy, started in 2013 by Crystal Dynamics, which tells the origins of Lara Croft. The title has been entrusted, this time, at Eidos Montreal, a production company known for having developed Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mankind Divided. My curiosity about the game arose precisely following this change of developer. As a great admirer of the work done by Eidos Montreal with the saga of Deus Ex, I was curious to find out how the software had applied its experience to a historical intellectual property like that of Tomb Rider, having also the arduous task of concluding satisfactorily a trilogy that has successfully restarted the franchise.
Will Eidos Montreal be able to pick up the baton left by Crystal Dynamics, or will the last race of the new Lara Croft end with a disastrous tumble?
Lara ... every time the same story!
The story of Shadow of the Tomb Raider starts, as is natural to expect, with a treasure hunt. Our heroine Lara Croft is in Mexico and is following the traces of the Trinity, the secret society responsible for the death of her father. What the Trinity is looking for is a "key" that, if inserted into the correct "lock", is said to be able to give divine powers to the owner. Lara succeeds in anticipating the Trinity and recovers the artifact, but in doing so it triggers a series of calamities that presage a Mayan apocalypse, which threatens to obscure the sun forever. Lara will therefore be forced to remedy the damage caused and stop the imminent end of the world. New research will begin, this time in the direction of the jungle of Peru.
The early hours of Shadow of the Tomb Raider are quite dense from the narrative point of view. Particular attention is focused on the character of Lara who, face to face with the consequences of his recklessness, is prey to guilt. In these early stages of the game, movies and linear sequences are frequently used to introduce the characters of the story, specify their motivations and deepen the relationships that bind them to each other.
In general, the narrative of the title does its duty without overdoing it. The events follow one another in a rather linear and predictable, new characters more or less interesting cross the road with Lara without impressing too much. The story told remains, however, consistent and consistent from the thematic point of view throughout its duration and is sufficiently intriguing to encourage the player to move forward to see the conclusion. The resolution of the events takes place in an undoubtedly spectacular way and manages to reach a climax that, however, is "deflated" due to excessive banality. A more courageous and controversial ending could, in our opinion, elevate the narrative. The concluding bars of Shadow of the Tomb Raider doInstead, diminish the story of the title in anonymity.
But is it also played in this video game?
The focal point of the Tomb Raider series has never been, however, the narrative compartment. Overcome the first story-driven beats, even Shadow of the Tomb Raider focuses mainly on gameplay, divided into its three distinct phases: exploration, enigmas and combat.
The exploratory part and the resolution of puzzles will take up most of your playing time in this new chapter of the series. The main story will provide a good excuse to get the player to travel in forgotten places of worship and underground ruins, in search of the artifact that will stop the Apocalypse. The rhythm of the events is excellent, considering the alternation between sections of exploration, climbing, fighting, solving riddles and, very rarely, spectacular script scenes (the so-called "set pieces"). New mechanics and instruments are constantly introduced throughout the main quest, making the gaming experience varied and stimulating from start to finish.
Still in terms of "rhythm" and exploratory phases, the climbing sections are generally fluid and almost never confusing. The camera, the level design and the various environmental clues will always be able to direct us towards our next objective, towards the next wall to climb or the next jump to make. The argument is valid above all at higher levels of difficulty (of exploration) where the "white paint", which clearly indicates which surfaces are interactive, is removed. I highly recommend disabling this option, since it is completely superfluous and, in my opinion, counterproductive with a view to getting more into the world created by Eidos.
Inside of Shadow of the Tomb Raider the real exploration will consist mainly in these phases of "light" climbing and platforming and in the collection of resources and collectibles scattered across the vast and detailed macro-areas, interconnected and rich in secret passages. Not only forests but also inhabited centers that act as nerve centers, or "hubs", where it will be possible to shop for merchants and undertake a handful of secondary missions. A particular applause goes to the design of the secret city of Paititi, truly impressive for detail and attention to detail. That of Paititi is a vertical map, intricate in its design, which brings to mind the design of Prague inside Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, another city beautifully reproduced by Eidos Montreal.
The excellent level design does not stop, however, at the secret city alone. Spearhead of this Shadow of the Tomb Raider are the "challenge graves", underground structures in which we can meet while wandering around the game macro-areas. These tombs are majestic, disturbing and impressive in their operation. Inside them you will find the most interesting puzzles of this new chapter. Enigmas that, although not too complex to solve (once all the elements of the puzzle have been identified, it will suffice to simply activate them in the correct order to arrive at the solution), especially because of their scenic effect.
The graves of the challenge are, therefore, secondary content that is absolutely worth exploring. To these are added the crypts, which unlike the tombs do not present complex puzzles, but are usually challenges of survival from traps and other environmental impediments. The secondary missions, on the other hand, are rather repetitive. They often ask us to go back and forth within more or less vast areas to talk with various NPCs in a passive way, with very little chance of real interaction.
Combat within Shadow of the Tomb Raider plays a more marginal role than can be expected. In the first two thirds of the adventure combat encounters are few and far between. The rhythm becomes more action-oriented in the last of the three acts of adventure.
Combat situations are well differentiated: the enemies faced range from ferocious animals to elite soldiers, all in possession of an aggressive artificial intelligence. Most combat arenas can be dealt with stealthily or by shooting wildly, or by using a mixture of the two tactics, because, new to the series, it will be possible to return hidden after being detected by the enemies. Arenas are also complex enough to allow a variety of different approaches.
The thing that most does turn up the nose in the combat system of Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the little care placed in the field of body-to-body animations and in the feedback of hits on enemies. It seems that, despite the general technical evolution of the series, the animations remained at 5 years ago, and these animations in particular have not aged well ...
The stealthy approach therefore remains the most satisfactory of the two options. Use mud to camouflage, concatenate stealth eliminations from trees, bushes or with bow and arrows it will make you feel the predator alpha of the Peruvian jungle.
Still remaining in the combat theme, the "death instruments" available are the classic bows, assault rifles, shotguns and pistols, all customizable and upgradable by spending resources collected around the world. On the defensive level we will have, instead, a wide choice of alternative costumes, which in addition to changing the appearance of our heroine will also grant some marginal importance bonuses (for example: greater resistance to melee damage).
In addition to the classic firearms we can rely on resources that can be manufactured on the spot, such as molotov and smoke bombs, and upgrades and special items that can be unlocked via the skill tree.
An experience rich in experience points
Virtually every action we perform in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, whether it's killing innocent animals or opening treasure containers, it makes us gain experience points and skill points. Skill points can be spent in the three different branches of the tree (warrior, looter, explorer) to improve our fighting, furtive, exploratory skills and to have a greater range of tools at our disposal. These skills will always be a plus, never necessary to complete the game or to access hidden content. They are usually an extra option in the player's hand, like the bait arrows that attract and eliminate enemies, or an annoyance less to think about, like the ability that does not lose Lara's balance when hanging from more difficult protrusions.
It is natural to ask ourselves how necessary a system of experience of this kind was, with dozens of skills that, although useful, remain optional. Personally, I would rather have preferred a progressive and forced unlocking system. Despite being a more rigid system, he would have ensured that every skill was meaningful and was exploited in solving specific puzzles, or to deal with particular enemies. The solution presented in Shadows of the Tomb Raider is certainly the easiest one to implement (because it has virtually no impact on the balance of the game and its design) and at the same time is the most "accessible". Anyone, regardless of their choice of skill, will be able to exhaust the content offered by the title. In my opinion, it remains a controversial choice. We hope that, in a possible next chapter of the saga, Eidos Montreal (or whoever) will find a more elegant solution, which will be able to integrate the skill tree with the other game elements in a more convincing way.
Accessible, but at what cost?
In the name of the aforementioned accessibility the title had to accept this and other compromises.
First of all, the platforming system is practically automated. The player is not required any kind of precision in the input of the commands; the climbing phases are extremely linear and are often reduced to simple quick-time events "masked" by fully interactive sections.
The tutorials are, then, omnipresent from the beginning to the end of the adventure. Screen messages, which can not be disabled, will tell us what to do and which keys to press at regular intervals, even during the final mission ... The worst type of these messages is, however, what "spoil" the presence of the graves of the nearby challenge. Every sense of discovery is canceled when the game draws our attention to tell us: "There is a grave of the challenge in the vicinity !!!" ... Thank you for ruining my surprise ...
The game contents arefinally "standardized ": each tomb will have, to complete the puzzle, a slab that unlocks an ability (of dubious utility); each crypt will have a sarcophagus containing a piece of equipment to be crafted; every monolith (practically a treasure map to be deciphered) will lead to a container of standard and rather disappointing resources.
This problem is combined with the above mentioned "optionality" of the skills, but also of the different alternative customs and the entire crafting system. It therefore goes to create a bigger problem: the exploration within Shadow of the Tomb Raider is not properly remunerated.
You will havetherefore, be content to explore for the simple pleasure of seeing new content and facing new challenges. It is good that "the expectation of pleasure is pleasure itself" and that "the important thing is not the destination, but the journey", but if we arrived at the destination there had been something more significant, the general experience would undoubtedly have helped. Maybe in a crypt it would be possible to find an instrument that would have allowed access to a Tomb also blocked. Or maybe in a tomb the "slab" would have turned out to be, in reality, a trap. A few surprises and some unexpected elements, from time to time, could have made the game more memorable.
We conclude on a positive note, speaking of the graphic and sound sector. The world of Shadow of the Tomb Raider is wonderful to see and discover. Breathtaking landscapes are behind every corner and the level of detail is truly impressive. Both the wilder landscapes and the urban environments are a real wonder for the eyes and ears. Even the musical accompaniment is valuable, with background songs that follow the action in its crescendo and exalt it effectively in the most appropriate moments.
With Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Eidos Montreal has managed to continue the good work done by Crystal Dynamics, adding to its well-rounded formula its experience in the field of level design and its meticulous attention to detail. The title is pleasant and interesting throughout its duration, and even at the end of the main story left us with the desire to continue exploring and, perhaps, restart this latest Lara adventure in New Game + mode (which promises to add new skills and equipment based on our favorite style of play).
The margins for improvement are, nevertheless, quite large. All the sacrifices that this new Tomb Raider makes in the name of accessibility and "hand holding" (guided platforming, oppressive tutorials, skill tree and superfluous personalization elements, standardized contents) affect an adventure that, had it been left behind more in the hands of the player, it could have been far more special.