Oh boy. Where do I even start on this one. Let me just say that I’ve been a hugely vocal supporter of these Tomb Raider reboot games. 2013’s Tomb Raider really impressed me as it took the traditionally dog shit Tomb Raider series and turned it into something really enjoyable. Yeah, it was basically just an Uncharted knockoff, which is a real snake eating its own tail situation, but it was a really good knockoff. It turned Lara Croft from a wolf murdering asshole into a sympathetic and strong female protagonist. She had a major character arc that was developed well and had a decent payoff. Lara is clearly traumatized by the events around her and the fact that she has to kill to survive and reconciles that with her desire to save her friends.
2016’s Rise of the Tomb Raider stepped up the visuals and added a few minor gameplay upgrades that really fleshed out the idea. It really felt like the developer cared about making a quality product. The experience in each was well worth the price of admission.
Then came 2018’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It already had a bad start as the series had been taken away from Crystal Dynamics, the developer of both prior games, and farmed out to Edios Montreal, best known for developing the Deus Ex reboot games. Playing SotTR it was abundantly clear that Edios Montreal did not have the same care for the series as CrystalD.
Very little is added to the formula and series staples, particularly the climbing, are noticeably worse. You have to be in exactly the spot where the developers intended you to clamber from otherwise Lara won’t grab the next handhold, animations are very sloppily transitioned between one and another, level layouts are often confusing and hard to navigate with logical paths made inaccessible simply because the developer wants you to go a specific path, and puzzles might as well not exist for how little thought went into designing them. It was a genuine struggle to finish this game. Every other hour I would get frustrated and walk away only to come back out of some sick loyalty to the first two games.
There are a few cool things though. For one there is a hilariously bad photo mode that lets you put different expressions on Lara’s face revealing her true psychopathic nature. On a more serious note the Immersive Language option is very cool. It had characters speak in their native tongue rather than english. It’s a very neat addition that I hope more games replicate. The only downside to it is that it makes it all the more absurd when English ass white girl Lara Croft somehow tricks Mayan guards into thinking she is one of them by giving them a password in English. They just are like ‘Well shit. She knows that password even though she is clearly British and White and the person we are currently hunting. Let her through into our incredibly important prison temple.”
Even if you were to accept the complete downgrade of all the core gameplay systems in Shadow, the assassination of Lara’s character is borderline unacceptable. Lara is simply the worst. She is self involved, self important, self centered, and almost completely unaware of how negatively she impacts the world around her. There is one point where after callously slaughtering a dozen men with a machine gun, Lara breaks down crying and exclaims “I’m making everything worse!” It is one of among several points at which I thought the story might finally come around and acknowledge the awful direction it had been taking, but no. Right after she figures out a clue to some dumb riddle and is right back to destroying the world.
Literally by the way. The whole plot of the game revolves around an ancient Mayan doomsday prophecy that Lara sets in motion by stealing a magic dagger… Man Fuck this game.