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One Last Crypt: ‘Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition’

Years ago I was having trouble with the Venice level of Tomb Raider 2. I simply could not figure out where I had to go next. I asked a friend who hadn’t played it, but was wise in the way of video games. He told me to look for that which was different; essentially, he said, it’s too hard to program in things that aren’t going to be used, so if there’s a bridge or a walkway or a real-looking window (as opposed to a fake one), it’s important, it wouldn’t be there otherwise. I followed the advice, advanced, and eventually beat the game.

I think that to a large extent, video games have moved away from such practices. If you sit there playing some sort of open world title, you’re going to come across stuff that really just happens to be there; things that are irrelevant except for the flavor they add to the game.

One franchise that hasn’t moved in this direction is, perhaps surprisingly, Tomb Raider. It remains true to this day that you can find the right way to travel in a Tomb Raider game simply by finding odd little nooks and crevices, the designers probably wouldn’t put them there otherwise and certainly wouldn’t allow you to get too close if they are not relevant.

The third in the reimagined Tomb Raider series (starting with the 2013 game), Shadow of the Tomb Raider, is now out in its “definitive edition,” which comes with all the DLC that was released on the way (seven different bits and pieces). It is at least as enjoyable as 2013’s Tomb Raider and the follow-up, Rise of the Tomb Raider, so if those two were to your taste but you haven’t played this one, you definitely should be looking for it this holiday season.

That said, there is nothing terribly new or different about the game. Sure, there are tweaks here and there, but it is another adventure in the world of Lara Croft. There are crypts and caves and (yes) tombs and cliffs and bad guys. You go around with a knife, bow and arrow, various guns, etc. You kill or you get killed and the generous autosave system usually will allow you start from nearly where you left off should you find yourself in the “get killed” category.

And, all the time, the game guides you. Ledges you can jump to are marked as such, walls you can climb are easily identifiable, things you can swing on are obvious and the regular difficulty level with sometimes pop up instructions telling you how to do the various jumps and swings if you forget or don’t understand what the game wants you to do. There are a few moments where there are multiple paths available, but by and large, the game makes it clear where you are to go and doesn’t let you deviate from that course.

Combat is enjoyable, with plenty of leveling up that can be done both in terms of Lara’s skills and add-ons/upgrades to the weapons, although this addition does offer up DLC weapons from the outset which may confer a little bit of an advantage to the player. Even so, the new skills are welcome as they come along and definitely provide a sense of progress.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the game are the plethora of side quests that it offers. Some of these definitely entail revisiting locations, but they also give a greater depth of story, often tying in to the people with which Lara is interacting. There is, in short, a ton to do, even if the game drives the story and player in a singular direction with more purpose than an open world title.

Additionally, the “challenge tombs,” whether DLC or otherwise, are great fun. The puzzles they present are just tricky enough to cause you to have to stop and think about what you’re doing and how things connect without ever making them too perplexing.

The graphics are good, but certainly not out of this world, particularly in regards to Lara’s hair, which never feels quite right. The environments are pretty enough and the outfits and faces detailed enough that it all works, but there are few moments that will cause a player to stand up and take notice.

I do not mean with any of the above to damn this game with faint praise. Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition may have faults, but it is highly engrossing and, most importantly, satisfying. The story is silly and over the top, but it helps propel the game forward and is just involving enough that the player will want to see Lara give the baddies their just deserts.

This title is pitched as the end of the Lara Croft origin story that’s been told over the course of these last three titles, but that would be a shame. I haven’t always been a huge fan of the way things have been executed, but the games still stand above so many imitators, even all these years later.

About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.

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