Shadow of the Tomb Raider

In the finale of the TR reboot trilogy, FBT must stop Lara from becoming the Tomb Raider.

I had such high-hopes for SotTR. This is the game that launches Lara into hotpants and become the adventurer we know. But instead of building on Rise, Shadow puts the petulant, blameless brat through more pain and suffering; and this time she deserves it.

In Peru, Lara steals an ancient dagger which held the continent in place. Escaping the Tsunami she caused, which destroys the region and kills thousands, Lara loses the dagger to Trinity, a poundland Templars, who reveal we’re in an Assassin’s Creed game.

Unless the dagger can be reunited with a box that can contain its power, more disasters will follow; worse, joining them during an Eclipse will allow the holder to reform the world as they see fit. Lara, looking to blame someone else for this catastrophe, heads into the jungle with her Samwise, Jonah, to stop the Templar/Trinity lot and discovers hidden civilisations that reveal the location of the Precursor Apple - I mean ‘box’. Really, we’re hunting for a box? Exciting. I just can’t get thrilled when Lara yells “we must find the box!”

The second game ended so well, with Lara having proven her father’s theories were correct and using his library of artefacts to plan her next tomb raid, with Trinity as a sub-plot thorn in her side. Instead, thanks to her discovering Trinity killed her old man to stop him proving his theories, SotTR turns Lara into an avenging angel spoiling Trinity’s world domination plans; as if the plot wasn’t ripped from AC’s rejection pile, the gamplay is too. Assassin Lara sneaks, uses eagle vision, has berserk arrows, can hide in the undergrowth, attack enemies from above or below, use rope traps ... It’s now a sneak-shooter.

The TR reboot series might have always been this way but it’s become derivative. It’s just an Assassin vs Templar scrap for some previous civilisation’s power to control or free the world and when we’re not doing that, we’re in an RPG; I’ll ignore the impending apocalypse to help this local kid find his missing dice? There’s one side mission where we’re on the track of a mythical beast. Turns out we’re playing Brotherhood of the Wolf, but without Monica Bellucci or actually resolving who put a monster costume on a big cat, and we even make like Nancy Drew and solve a murder. Can’t this wait?! Beats the rage-inducing nonsense of shooting Dreamcatchers while my best friend is being sacrificed but come on, focus.

We’ve got non-aggressive NPCs living in huge hubs which are filled with traders, side missions and objects to find and craft - Trinity all but disappear for large sections and while we occasionally tangle with a rival tribe to the one Lara befriends, and re-enact the movie The Decent when she heads into cave systems filled with an underground rat-like race that come off like something from Lord of the Rings, we’re generally in a jungle-based Far Cry. Tomb Raider was once a series that other games aped. Now it’s copying all the games it inspired.

SotTR is mostly just Lara taking out her blood-thirst on capybaras for skins; she’ll even murder passing Llamas - she’s killing cute things now! A local asks if she saw the condor, a rare sight which his people take as a sign of good luck. What does Lara do? Shoot it. But, she has to get her Trinity hate out somehow.

Lara hates Trinity; while I don’t miss her panic-attacks when faced with danger, her gleeful gutting of anyone she comes across is unnerving. This is not a bookworm forced into an extreme situation, this is someone to whom killing is as worrying as an overdue library book. She enjoys it. The adventuring is secondary, almost incidental. At one point she discovers a pal has been murdered and just becomes death, slowly rising out of flames to kill an unarmed and injured Trinity dock worker like Keyser Soze in a ponytail. She even kills any forward momentum.

SotTR thinks it’s put Lara on a Heart of Darkness kinda vibe, but that doesn’t remotely happen. She can’t be a mud-covered harridan, slaughtering Trinity in rage-fuelled rampages and then be all concerned for the natives who’s village got destroyed by an earthquake (and who caused that?) Instead of going Kurtz, cut-scene Lara is all upset she’s been blamed for the end of the world while we just grind for XP in an empty, none-threatening environment. Lara should become animalistic, a savage, covered in Trinity blood; Jonah should be scared not up for hugging it out. You can’t imply Lara is losing herself if there’s nothing playable to lose yourself too.

The problem is SotTR doesn’t really know what kind of game it is. Open world shooter, adventure game, RPG, character study; the one thing it doesn’t want to be is a Tomb Raider. That concept is long gone now, and when we do best a tomb or crypt, which admittedly are all top-notch moments, we don’t even see the prize anymore. They are literally just skill-unlocks, and the skill tree looks like a game of mah-jong and is just as boring. Prey (2017) had a great skill-tree that impacted how your character literally evolved and that’s how Lara, lost in the jungle, should go – a savage or a survivor, dangerous or ingenious? Instead, now I get to unlock a perk that gives me two skins when I kill a rabbit.

Which leads onto another annoyance. The game might be epically big but Lara’s freedom is tightly linear. Every time Lara develops a new style, such as using crampons to clamber on tomb roofs or rappelling down walls, that only happens in scripted places. They don’t open up new approaches, let you control the battlefield or make your own choices. It’s the same open world we’ve played twice already, just upside down. No player ingenuity allowed.

During one tomb raid I find a Spanish galleon in a cave. And not one reference to Chunk. But the real kick in the one-eyed Willy is Lara goes through the most extraordinary process to get in the captain’s cabin when she could have just SHOT THE GLASS in the door. This happens so often, you can see a solution or think of an opportunity but the game won’t let you take it. It’s too busy coming up with other ‘wtf?’ moments.

At one stage Lara suggests she join a rival tribe which Trinity has infiltrated to rescue someone - by going in disguise, dressed as one of them. They’re all Dwayne Johnson looking mofos, but they think this five-foot-nothing runt with an English accent is one of them cos she has a mask on? Why can’t we sneak it? Whenever we’re in a village we have to stick to local outfits to blend in, but often you’ll trigger a cut-scene and be stuck in some ceremonial dress fighting waves; a key part of the game is crafting outfits to suit the different environments - two minutes ago I was in an outfit that deflected arrows and now I’m facing 20-odd arrow-wielding Dwayne Johnsons wearing a cute dress? Don’t want to offend local traditions do we. Early on, Lara bests a jaguar, then it’s big momma rocks up to do an Alien 3 knock-off and leaves. What, she’s pregnant with a Jaguar? It recognises a fellow alpha? Knows she holds the key to saving the world? Never liked that kitten anyway? Can't you go five minutes without ripping something else off? Make sense damnit! W.T.F?

Lara continues to be more trouble than she’s worth. She gets a kid kidnapped, then leads a rescue to save him but gets the tribe’s leader kidnapped in the process then gets them killed. At some stage we just have to accept Lara is not helping. She’s not very good at raiding tombs either. By now she should be good at this but for some reason SotTR thinks gristly and repetitive deaths are what we signed up for. It’s like playing Manic Miner.

She’ll make insane scripted leaps but when you try to step over a small gap, she falls and gets eaten alive by wolves. Over and over. It’s supposed to be fun trying to solve a tomb not punishing. It just becomes annoying to miss by a pixel, get mauled, then wait for the load screen, then try again … and the amount of times she jumps the wrong way ... that’s one part of Assassin’s Creed you didn’t have to rip off. She crashes into rocks, gets skewered, incinerated, drowned, and even eaten by piranha – it’s tiring and loses impact when the fricking ledge is Right. Fricking. There. You made it in the cut-scene, now you break your leg? Good.

And when she’s not dying, blaming or crying, she’s still muttering gems like ‘I don’t think anything could prepare me for this place’ – so, not an undead Queen, or the holy grail as you recently experienced? You’ve seen undiscovered civilisations before Lara. Admittedly, this one does verge on the offensive with their sacrifices and cultural appropriations, but come on Lara, we’ve seen some shit. You can’t be jaded and astonished.

At one point Lara has a flashback to being a precocious brat child. In the grounds of Croft Manor we mini-Lara through her dad’s own tomb hidden behind a puzzle in his study. Why?! Why did dad build this? Is this supposed to have inspired her entire character? Dafuq? And why are we doing this? We don’t learn anything about Lara we didn’t already know and – oh, of course. The dagger we're chasing can reshape reality can't it. This is to remind us of happier times so when she gets the dagger we’re like ‘ohh will she forsake everyone to bring back dad? Is that how far she’s fallen?’ of course not, because her descent is unbelievable. Get on with it. Instead, it ends on an annoying boss fight where Lara forgives herself to resist the dagger's power. Hold up. Firstly, you caused this, and second, you killed hundreds of Trinity soldiers – and some were outright cold-blooded murders, and destroyed a civilisation (and Peru), and you just needed to let go of the hate? I can’t.

Man this is a shitty game. But, just like the original TR reboot, it’s a great game too. The jungle isn’t nearly as dangerous as it should be but it’s astonishing to run around in; there’s not one dud tomb or crypt, nothing that doesn’t stagger in its beauty or design. I’d just rather be here with someone else – we’re on an end of the world mission underpinned by Lara’s obsession with stopping Trinity but we’re playing an RPG as a linear game set in an open-world. Every single element would make a cracking game but they all cancel each other out. And in the middle is the wrong Lara. That’s not to say reboot Lara isn’t an interesting character, or that she finds herself in amazing places and interesting situations, it's that she’s just pulled in too many directions that are all dead ends.

For example, the mini Lara level undermines the entire reboot – put this 8 year old in TR and we’d have aced it in minutes; millennial Lara acted like that girl in Blair Witch project with snot hanging out her nose. If a child seems like the best version of our hero we’re in trouble.

There’s a fantastic moment towards the end where Lara meets an old Tomb Raider, and they discuss the thrill of finding a tomb, of unlocking its secrets, of the magnitude of standing somewhere no one living has – that’s Lara in fifty years, that's the game we’re supposed to be playing! Right there! That’s the character we’re supposed to be! SorTR made me want to be a child or an old man rather than a curvy hottie.

Worst of all, it ends with Lara announcing she’s finished raiding tombs. You f’ing what? We never raided one! This entire reboot trilogy was us playing Henry Jones instead of Indiana.

Yes, we’ve come a long way from Lara’s jiggle physics but three games and 60+ hours later and we never got to be the Tomb Raider; this isn’t the Lara that took down a T-Rex with dual pistols; when it ends on that very reference, you don’t make the connection to the Original. We never became the Tomb Raider.

2018 | Developer; Eidos Montréal | Publisher, Square Enix

Platforms; Win, XO, PS4