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Shadow Of The Tomb Raider [2018 -- Eidos Montréal]

Started by Starfox, Jun 16, 2023, 12:33 AM

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Originally published October 08, 2019

Before I go any further, I need to precise here that unlike Tomb Raider 2013 and Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow of the Tomb Raider was not developed by Crystal Dynamics (which was relegated to consultant role for this game).... Unfortunately, that shows.

When it comes to platformers puzzles games, there are two schools of design, and I will start with the one used in Tomb Raider 2013 and Rise of The Tomb Raider (Although this last one had a couple of areas clearly pertaining to the second school of design). This first school goes like this: let's design the world first then fit puzzles inside the confines of the world created allowing minor changes to better fit the whole but with this idea in mind: DO NOT DESTROY THE WORLD YOU CREATED.

And then there's sadly the "other" school of design, the fast one, the one you use because it is easier this way: let's design the puzzles first and in this case one can make them as complicated and convoluted as one wants and then build the world around. And if the world doesn't fit well, too bad... who cares?

The problem here is "immersion", you know one of the wonderful things that allows you to stick with the story and characters of a game until the end. School 1 (TR 2013): puzzles are inserted into the world so chances are your brain will not (or barely) register that something is wrong and will just accept the puzzles has part of the scenery -- even if it is sometimes stretched to the limits. School 2 (Shadow of The Tomb Raider and frankly most other Tomb Raider games) the areas around the puzzles -- especially the so called "challenge" tombs -- are so sketchy and quite frankly delirious and unreasonable that your brain automatically realize that what is in front is just a puzzle and the surrounding world the excuse for a box holding the puzzle.

Ironically Eidos claim at the beginning of the game to have had consultants, historians, cultural experts etc. in order to create a world as faithful and immersive as possible but then they immediately proceeded to the destruction of the immersion with inane tomb puzzles ranging from barely believable in their setting to outright idiotic.

That said, when the idiocy stops (meaning when you're not confronted to yet another inane puzzle tomb) the atmosphere and setting of the game are quite beautifully done, graphics are adequate so yes, the game is immersive as long as the immersion is not broken which is... well, mostly up to you. Because most of the immersion breaking moments occur outside of the main story, in the crypts and tombs no one forces you to explore (especially the DLC tomb challenges that one may acquire separately or -- in my case -- were included with a sale offer). The main story also has it's beautifully idiotic moments but, for the most part the immersion is relatively preserved.

Of course you may be a gamer attaching no importance whatsoever to immersion or being able tune out the idiotic elements of the scenery to just concentrate on the puzzle itself, in which case my previous remarks don't apply. Still, for me, this is by far the most problematic aspect of Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Immersion breakage (which is also the reason why I wasn't particularly fond of the old Tomb Raider games -- before 2013).

The story is banal enough... I'm not even sure I understood the interest of it (in regard to the two previous games). The story of Tomb Raider (2013) was setting the new Lara Croft character and her companions (from whom one, Jonah, would continue to follow her over the three games) and was also the occasion to have a very small glimpse of the enemy to come. The story of Rise of the Tomb Raider was a full blown confrontation between Lara and the Trinity organization and set itself as a continuation of the previous game. Shadow of the Tomb Raider however is about... well, destroying Trinity I guess, but the way it happens doesn't make a lot of sense, not if one considers that Trinity is an organization with an administrative council (Lara says so herself) and not just the one guy.

On a pure character level, Shadow of the Tomb Raider depicts a Lara Croft with serious psychological issues, obsessional and sometimes reckless behavior associated to bad decision making (which causes a whole village destruction at the beginning of the game). Say, not the kind of girl you'd fall in love with, really. Sure I get that there is a reason for the developer to put Lara in super excess mode but still it tends to annoy even Jonah whom ends up saying at one point "Not everything is about you!" And I 100% agreed with him at that point!! Well, if you play the game, you'll understand when that happens.

The gameplay here is a standard Tomb Raider gameplay (respective to the two previous games) with extended swimming capabilities (a lot of puzzles require exploring underwater) albeit without the rebreather from the previous game (hey why re-use an interesting piece of equipment when one can do it the hard way?). The ability of repelling has been added to the climbing moves. The special view that Lara could use in the previous game can still be used but generally reduced. For example you cannot anymore see surfaces on which you can have a grip. And if you increase the difficulty setting of the exploration, help disappear altogether (difficulty can be set separately for exploration, puzzles and combat). During exploration and climbing I've been sometimes confronted to sticky controls (both keyboard and controller). A same control can be used for different things and in some situations the game stop reacting seemingly wondering what is it you want to do. No need to say, that generally results in Lara's death. And you'll be attempting 5 times the same sequence of controls with the same result when suddenly the sixth time it will succeed and then encounter another series of epic fails a short time later at another point. In the two previous games when players died, they generally knew what they did wrong. In this game you can just die because the engine doesn't understand you; that's a little frustrating. I would recommend you to save frequently but since this game is based on checkpoints... Another amusing point during exploration is the flashlight. Lara has a flashlight: the player has no control over it. Sometime the thing triggers when there's enough light to see; others times it stays off even in almost pitch black areas. I don't know, maybe that's the conception of fun of the guys at Eidos Montréal.

Combat is just about... non existent. Which is too bad because some moves have been added. For example, you can now, standing on a tree branch, grab an enemy underneath and hang him up with your rope in a completely silent way. Unfortunately the combat in this game is so sparse and generally oriented in such a way that you can avoid it using stealth that in the whole game I had two or three big fights and I used the funny rope ability three or four times top (well, no five times as I triggered the achievement for this special move). Sure there are a whole lot of guns (handgun, SMG, rifles, assault rifle, shotguns) and even more bows that can all be upgraded several times for maximum effect but after a while you wonder what the point is exactly. They could have given the player the one gun and the one bow and do away with the upgrade system I'm not under the impression that the experience would have been altered dramatically. For that there should have been a great deal more fights than there is.  Short version, don't go in there expecting anything regarding combat as the two previous games, you'll be disappointed.

At one point in the story after longs hours with nothing else happening than exploration and tomb raiding one finally encounter enemies to fight and what does Eidos do? They strip Lara of all of her weapons (you know all the stuff you acquired and patiently upgraded in prevision of just such a rare moment) leaving her with a knife (allowing her a bow a while after) and no way to reacquire her finely tuned weapons before the time when she... doesn't need them anymore. No seriously Eidos... diamond stuff right there guys. But hey, those are the guys who developed the last Thief (so not a lot of combat) and who encouraged players with in game rewards to go through Deus Ex: Human Revolution and  Deus EX: Mankind Divided killing nobody or even better, ghosting it all (which they were already criticized for because The original Deus Ex was about doing what you wanted, not doing what the developers wanted.

There's finally a certain lack of originality in the design of some situations. For example there are two Run For Your Lifetm sequences one at the beginning of the game and another near the end that really seem only to differ by the fact that one is during nighttime and the other during daytime. You have the impression to do the same thing all over again and you're not impressed because of the sensation of déjà vu.

The ending is purely a copy past of the two previous games with different settings. Climb to the top of something nearly impossible to climb beating impossible odds then defeat the boss -- that is obviously cheating of course, because they wouldn't be "boss" otherwise.

All in all, Shadow of the Tomb Raider failed to impress me. Sometimes it proved to be enjoyable but more often than not riddled with annoyances (the simple fact that it took me nearly a year to finish this game -- no, it is that long -- is a testament to the level of annoyance I was confronted too, periodically forced to switch to other games just to get some relief). Still I grant an average score because of one fact: to me that particular game is a step back for the franchise which means that people who were not happy with the changes made to the puzzles in Tomb Raider in 2013 are finally able to rejoice... or not, difficult to know with fans.

Finally Shadow of the Tomb Raider left me with the feeling that we come to an end with this iteration of Lara Croft. After three games more of the same would obviously be too much. So... time for yet another reboot? Or to drop the Croft case entirely?

Guess what it means!