REVIEW – The trilogy of the survivor has returned us lately to a Lara Croft in top form. However, it is time to close it. In the analysis of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, you will find our opinion on the debut of EIDOS Montreal in one of the series of the moment. It’s the time for the truth.
When the restart of Tomb Raider was announced in 2013, many raised their eyebrows. It was not my case. I do not intend to turn this into an exaltation of my good judgment because I usually count more mistakes than successes, but at that time a more adult treatment of the character and a major change in the formula seemed to me a success.
Video games such as Tomb Raider Underworld or spin-off Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light had been essential triumphs, but without mentioning a saga that showed symptoms of exhaustion, it did see that a turn could bring it back to the top. Crystal Dynamics knew how to reinvent itself and managed to turn the tables. The rest is history and served to start the trilogy of the survivor memorably and continue with the also outstanding Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Now that the Californian studio is focused on its adaptation to the video games of The Avengers, which still has no release date and of which we do not know much, Lara Croft was orphaned. EIDOS Montreal came to the rescue, a studio capable of doing great things and that has specialized in recent times to recover brands of the past. With Deus Ex: Human Revolution did an outstanding job to return to the present the Warren Spector brand, while Thief, was perhaps a less successful game and a bit further away from the originals of Looking Glass Studio. What they have in their hands this time? A new test of fire for his talent, and an ambitious leap into action in the third person mode after the FPS games before.
So Lara Croft faces her ultimate adventure, and this time she does it without the support of the studio that had brought her back to glory. One more element that makes it exciting to discover this Shadow of the Tomb Raider that is, in short, a brooch for this narrative arc that follows the classic scheme of the three acts … and that concludes now.
Push her to the limit
Some people were surprised at how quickly Lara Croft understood in the 2013 Tomb Raider that the only chance he had of leaving that island was killing. It seemed logical to me: I understood it within the standards of the genre, and I also found it relatively understandable within the image I have always had of the character. It is curious that in so many action and adventure brands that present a hero with whom we want to sympathize, the rigours of video games turn them into genocide; I’m also thinking about the Uncharted saga, for example. However, Shadow of the Tomb Raider does one thing very well to get away from the adventures of Nathan Drake, and that is that it gives a serious tone to the issue that does not have the carefree hero of Sony.
On the one hand, the new game allows us to see a heroine who has already reached its climax in her progression to become a killing machine but also gives us the reverse. She is a human being who asks herself if what he does makes sense and, sometimes, she falls apart when she looks back and observes her trail of deaths. Of course, it should be clear that it is rather something that remains implicit, not something that is clear throughout the adventure.
EIDOS Montreal has done well not to lecture us about the violence, it would be quite hypocritical if we took a look at the deaths counter at the end of the campaign, but it has been right to show us that human side of Lara Croft that would have been unthinkable more than five years ago, and that little by little has been cooking successfully. At the end of a massacre, a hug to the partner who was believed to be disappearing is accompanied by an uncontainable torrent of tears, a mute “you do not know what I had to do to get here” that overwhelms. Sometimes silence is more effective in telling us something without falling into a paternalism that would be out of place in this story.
She lives to the limit, is a being that fears not to live up to expectations, that several times hesitates and does not know which way to go, and even that allows nostalgic outbursts like those of missing their parents in the heat of a bonfire. Why do I tell you all this? Because the development of the protagonist is, for my taste, the best that the adventure leaves us; and the sequences in which she falters and becomes vulnerable are the ones that have most moved me throughout the campaign.
Around this new dose of depth for his personality we find the classic adventure of the Tomb Raider saga. A new twist to the Journey of the Heroine, which has virtually all the elements of classical myth, including that supernatural component of which I will not tell you anything but, which impress a lot.
A more interesting villain
The Mayan apocalypse, a legend projected in our century, is the great catastrophe to be avoided; and it is surrounded by the classic villain without scruples that, this time, is something more interesting than many enemies of the series. Why? In his head, he considers that he is doing the right thing, and it is something that always seems exciting to me. As I told you, the best thing about the campaign was everything related to Lara Croft, but that is very personal. Maybe you love the palace intrigues and the conspiracies surrounding the main story that, perhaps have left me a bit colder. However, what we surely agree on is that everything related to natural disasters has not been taken too much advantage. They barely make an appearance at some specific moments of the adventure and give the feeling that they could have been squeezed much more with spectacular results.
The campaign can be overcome in about 15 hours if we get down to business and focus on the main missions, but that would be to miss much of what an adventure offers that can double the time we dedicate if we turn to unravel all its secrets. Crystal Dynamics set up five years ago at the beginning of the trilogy that it was going to be based on presenting small open worlds in which to move freely and undertake different distractions and discover secrets or tombs. Shadow of the Tomb Raider has been developed under the supervision of these so that the bases are respected, and some other nuances are added. For example, that each large area is built around a city where we can trade, talk to the locals or even get secondary missions from these hands. These are simple and relatively routine commissions, nothing of great interest, but it is good to see that new elements are introduced in the formula of the franchise. So we can finish the story with a value of around 50% of the game, so make your own calculations about how long it can take you to get 100%. There is a lot to do in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
More lethal than ever
I do not forget at any time that the Tomb Raider saga has always been adventures and action, in a very balanced cocktail, but some of the great novelties of the new release are mainly focused on the clashes, so it seems appropriate to start there. In the pure and hard shootings, there are rather few novelties. The base of action in the third person with a strong emphasis on the covers devised by Crystal Dynamics in 2013 is used, and some slight touches are given here and there to try to refine the formula. If you have played the previous games, you know exactly what to expect, and if you have not done it, the way to deal with them is quite common and without major complications.
Where they have opted to introduce more news about stealth, which does provide some curious ideas. For example, one of the most striking is the use of mud to try to go unnoticed. When we see a puddle, we can press a button and Lara, automatically, will be smeared to make it more difficult to see it. A great detail, which fits very well with the possibility that is added to hide in the hedges, and is to hide in the vines of the walls so they can not see us standing. More opportunities to face each situation, and thus, an enemy base or a group of soldiers on patrol become a tiny and satisfying sandbox in which to entangle with the behaviour of adversaries, trying out tactics, in different ways.
The shadows of that Tomb Raider
The problem? There are not too many. In the main missions, you can feel that there is a fairly light amount of confrontations. There are a few at the beginning and many others at the end, but in all the knot of the story mode, they shine in almost total absence. I think there are enough good ideas about stealth as to have exploited them more with a greater number of confrontations with enemies, exploring new ideas or a greater variety of situations.
For example, there is hardly one or two confrontations that allow us to finish our enemies in silence in a scenario with a certain verticality, also only one or two with water. With what I liked to dive to reach different points of a base and besiege opponents from below! In this sense, I have a certain sense of opportunity that has been lost to raise the game a little more, with more ingenuity and more situations.
It is almost at the end when they give us the arrows that are capable of driving the enemies crazy and causing them to shoot, and in the final stretch of the adventure, even some opponents wear special thermal glasses that can detect us between the vegetation. The adventure is over, and one is left with the feeling that he wanted to enjoy more of some of the things that come almost to the end, both for Lara’s team and for their opponents. The answer? The game very clearly wants us to finish it more than once, in fact, it unlocks a new game +with succulent extras, so no problem. I am only finishing a video game several times on a few occasions, but here I am left wanting more and to put myself to the test, not in vain. I played through the game with Hard difficulty mode, so why not try the “insane” one in a second pass?
Thirst for Adventures
Of course, what really matters in a Tomb Raider is everything that surrounds the action scenes themselves and, in that sense, there is also good news. The acrobatics continue adding possibilities game to game. Here there is a greater emphasis on the mobility of Lara, and there are alternatives to explore as interesting as abseiling or alternating vertical climbing with the use of ice axes on dangerous surfaces horizontally and upside down. A challenge to match the heroine.
In some moments, the most satisfactory, the game comes up and begins to combine some manoeuvres with others in really spectacular sequences. Parts in which you have to climb, then link several cliff jumps with the hook and end with a soft descent in rappel to a surface several meters below. It is true that sometimes the use of the hook button in the air has seemed somewhat capricious in the tensest and most challenging moments, but when all the elements are put together in the same scene and join with each other, some genuinely shocking moments.
I also liked everything related to water; nothing was taken advantage of in the last deliveries. The diving offers a fantastic opportunity to study diversity to provide maps, and although it is not credible the time you can spend underwater without drowning Lara, there are some interesting resources like water bubbles for air or dangerous piranhas.
Use your head or this tomb will be your tomb!
The other important element of Shadow of the Tomb Raider is that of the puzzles, which are more or less in line with what was seen in the last instalments. The level of difficulty (divided and detailed precisely in action, platforms and puzzles) reduces the number of clues we will receive, but in general, they are all based on the use of some millenary tool to continue our journey. Some of the most ingenious is linked to the Tombs, which are still one of the most attractive points of the game and contain some fabulous, and most have some system or more or less witty mechanics, based on physics, pulleys or other resources of logic
There is also an experience-tree that can be confusing the first time we see it, and when we try to unlock our initial abilities, but it is actually simpler than it appears. Virtually everything we do in Shadow of the Tomb Raider gives us experience points, so it becomes a good incentive to do accessory activities to unlock more spectacular things. Once again, the New Game + mode comes into play to take advantage of all of them and to keep progressing, on a second occasion that we are encouraged to overcome the video game.
For the rest, the issue of the manufacture of equipment and weapons improvement is still present. Everything that we can gather from the stage will help us to progress in our adventure, although I already advance you that we must use the highest levels of difficulty so that we do not accumulate the materials in the inventory, or the intelligently implemented trade so that about us The sale with the stores of each town can allow us to obtain very interesting things for our character.
A New Generation of Tomb Raider
I was very interested, always from the visual point of view, to see the first Tomb Raider developed exclusively for this generation of machines. Because you have to remember that Rise of the Tomb Raider also came out for Xbox 360, and in some respects, it is a notorious and applauded jump, and in others, it leaves the feeling that the title should have given more than itself.
The best, without a doubt, are the stages and their lighting. Most look fantastic, and it is easy to make some impressive panoramas and fans have much meat to explode with the always attractive Photo Mode, able to achieve some very impressive shots. However, for each very powerful area, there is another something more neglected. There is a lot of jungle corridor without a hint of personality and without a great deal of detail, especially in the initial third of the adventure, and only some areas (especially some tomb) achieve the levels of personality and identity whose peaks we have seen in previous episodes.
Neither is it a spectacular game in technical execution. It surprises the finish of the faces in the cinematics, with expressiveness and an incredible level of detail and mime, but that makes the comparison with Lara and the rest of the characters in the in-game parts even harder. The modelling of the character’s body is good, and its animations are outstanding, but both in enemies and in herself there is an alarming lack of precision in aspects such as the face. We have been assured that we will correct with a patch on the day of the launch elements such as the fact that the hair begins to do “weird things” when we have more than a couple of hours of departure, but there are more things to add to that patch. There are some bugs, most of them not very relevant, but they are somewhat bulky.
As for the sound, there is also some contrast, although a much more rounded and better experience. The effects are up to what we expect from a production of these characteristics, while the music leaves me some more doubt. Betting on the viscerality and the tribal, with the abundant presence of percussion and enough economy of instruments, something that can make them look a lot like each other. Nevertheless, the biggest problem is that the scores are much shorter than what I’m used to listening to in a game with these characteristics and this can make them sound repetitive.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is based on the foundations set by Crystal Dynamics and extends them in some directions to, without exploring new horizons, to achieve something more in-depth than we already knew. So the debut of EIDOS Montreal is not a revolution, much less, but a game of action and adventures really remarkable. It has things to improve, of course, and it lacks something of the spark of Crystal Dynamics; however, it is an exciting start to this company, and a good closing for the trilogy of the survivor adventure of Lara Croft.
+ The base of Tomb Raider is still fantastic and fun with a sense of exploration and discovery added
+ See Lara Croft more to the limit than ever, and with a very personal side exposed
+ Many hours of good quality entertainment
– Visually it is loaded with contrasts and irregularities
– It has lacked a month of optimization and polishing
– With a little more spark and better balance could have been outstanding
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eidos Montréal, (Crystal Dynamics)
Release date: September 12, 2018