'Shadow of the Tomb Raider' Review: Good Intentions Are Marred by Bad Choices

7.5/10 (Xbox)

Shadow of the Tomb Raider officially bridges the gap between the classic Lara Croft from decades ago and the rebooted one from 2013. With 2013's Tomb Raider, Croft was a naive young woman, fighting back after being thrown into terrible circumstances. Fast forward to Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and it's Croft that is causing the terrible circumstances (albeit accidentally) as she realizes who she is and what her place is in the world.

Lara grows into the woman we've known for 20 years at the end of Shadow of the Tomb Raider Square Enix

Of course, because this is a Tomb Raider game, the only way for Lara to come to terms with herself is by uncovering long-lost civilizations and tapping into the power of ancient myths. This time, the adventure takes Lara and her best friend Jonah to South America in a race against an evil organization to recover powerful artifacts.

If you've played a recent Tomb Raider game before, you'll know the drill here. The majority of gameplay is spent jumping from cliff to cliff, climbing around rock walls and diving underwater to explore all sorts of abandoned tombs, crypts and ancient cities.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is at its best when the platforming gets intense Square Enix

Platforming, when it works properly, is pretty amazing. Controlling Lara as she jumps, swings, climbs and rappels around environments is a ton of fun, and you can get into a pretty good flow once you know how to do everything.

However, when the platforming isn't working great, expect to be incredibly frustrated. It's one thing to die when you make a mistake, or don't time your actions properly. It's another when you do everything right, and still die. Often I'd find myself jumping to my death, only to reload and discover I was going the right way and making the right jumps. Sometimes the game just decides you don't make a certain jump.

What's worse is the physics-breaking jumps you're required to make. I would frequently be looking around for where to go next, seeing a ledge that looked too far away to make it with a single jump. However, after failing at finding a better route, I'd attempt the jump only to be seemingly floated over to the ledge. Normally I would have missed the jump, but I guess these are fine. Don't even get me started on the jumps you make while dangling from your climbing axes.

Large social hubs serve as a place for Lara to stock up on supplies or get new side missions Square Enix

When not exploring, Lara often finds herself in combat situations. These situations come in two varieties: stealth combat and guns. When it sticks to stealth, combat in Shadow of the Tomb Raider can be pretty satisfying. On the normal difficulty, it's fairly easy to remain undetected while prowling around areas, picking enemies off one-by-one. It's definitely satisfying to see these big, armored baddies being taken out so easily with a knife to the throat.

Once gameplay shifts to more action-focused gunplay, combat loses some of its fun. Guns are easy enough to control, but Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn't really do anything special or unique with its shooting mechanics. It just feels like I'm playing a watered down third-person shooter.

Most combat encounters can be completed while entirely in stealth. In fact, getting discovered in combat often results in death, since Lara doesn't have much health. Thankfully, getting caught isn't the end of an encounter, as Lara is capable of finding a new hiding spot away from the eyes of enemies, and stealth combat can be resumed.

Talking to locals is the best way to figure out what to do next Square Enix

Narratively, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is also a mixed bag. It's rewarding to see Lara tackle the demons that remain inside her, especially the ones surrounding the death of her father. It's also an interesting twist, with Lara being the cause for many of the terrible things that happen over the course of the game. Overall, the story is interesting, despite us knowing how it ends (which is a problem all prequels have).

There are some specific story moments that really break any immersion you might have in the game and its world. The biggest ones involve problems that have plagued similar stories for years, but Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn't do much to address: the concept of a civilization sheltered from the outside world for centuries speaking fluent English. There's also a moment later in the game where Lara goes undercover in a disguise that doesn't completely conceal her identity, and she remains unknown to enemies around her despite being a white, British woman. It seems that might stick out a little in South America, especially when enemies have been alerted to be on the lookout for her.

Ultimately, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a game that's technically sound, but lacks cohesion. The story makes sure you know the details about ancient made-up myths, but glosses over huge plot holes. The platforming is great until you start dying over and over for doing what ultimately is the correct thing. The combat feels engaging and satisfying, until Lara steps out of the shadows and grabs a gun. If Shadow of the Tomb Raider could have trimmed the fat and cleaned up the controls slightly, this could have been a great game. Unfortunately, it's just a pretty good game with some glaring problems.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is available Sept. 14 for PS4, Xbox One and PC.

So what do you think? Are you excited to see the final chapter in Lara Croft's prequel trilogy? What other upcoming games are you interested in? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.