Shadow of the Tomb Raider presents itself as a deep and dark Lara Croft adventure, but what it ends up delivering is a disconnected story with not much to come back for past its looks.
Right from the start, I had a ton of issues with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. I was playing the game two days prior to the official launch and was experiencing constant stuttering and tons of crashing on my PC. I was running the Shadow of the Tomb Raider Nvidia drivers, but still couldn’t smooth out the game.
It wasn’t until I found on a Steam forum that the game’s stuttering was fixed for some users by switching to “exclusive fullscreen mode.” After doing this I was finally good to go.
The good news is this issue has been fixed with the launch of the game, but it did make for a very frustrating first impression for many other Steam players including myself.
But since I finally got my game going smoothly, it runs like a dream. Great FPS throughout the entire game, and only a few dips below 60 in hub areas on a GTX 1070 on max settings. And I sure am glad I get to use max settings here, because the game is beautiful to look at.
It’s evident how much went into Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s graphics. The game is gorgeous. Facial animations are on point, towns are full of lifelike people, and scenery looks like it was taken out of a picture book. It can’t be understated just how great Tomb Raider pulls off its atmospheres as well. Every location from cliffsides overlooking oceans dotted with islands to claustrophobia inducing caves filled with corpses portrays the feeling they intend to.
I was especially taken aback by just how creepy the game can get. Areas where Lara was forced to hunch over to walk through tight-bone filled caverns felt unnerving.
The tense nature of the caverns and temples you explore is furthered by the greatly atmospheric soundtrack. The music during slow portions of Lara’s adventure is spectacularly good at pushing the tone of the area forward. All the music is dynamic as well and adjusts to the tenseness of your situation. If you’re in an area full of guards the music will be slowed down as you are stealthed, but if the guards get a sense of you or discover you the music ramps up to match the action.
The stealth and action can be hit or miss though. While stealthed you can use your “survival sense” to see which enemies are safe to take down. Once you see an enemy you can press a button to take them out quietly. The issue here doesn’t lie within the basics, but in the upgrades to the system.
Eventually, you can upgrade the system to take out two enemies at once, one after the other. This sounds cool in theory but lead to a couple frustrating deaths and teleportation.
At times Lara would take a good 10 seconds killing the second enemy, leading to, of course, being executed via 100 or so bullets. On top of this Lara would teleport to the second enemy a lot of the times. I know it’s a minor complaint, but in a game that tries so hard to keep you immersed, it’s hard not to do a double take at the fact that Lara just teleported 15 feet across a pathway to assassinate someone.
Smoke bombs are another annoyance that I ended up avoiding entirely in my playthrough. They seem like they’re supposed to give Lara cover from her enemies or distract them by blocking their vision, but what you end up getting is something that hurts you more than your enemies.
Every single time I used a smoke bomb I lost complete vision of my enemies, but they sure did know where I was. Even if you aren’t inside of the smoke they will still be able to see you even though inside the smoke vision is completely restricted.
And while it did have the annoyances, for the most part stealth was fun. Coating Lara in mud and hiding in the muddy vines to drag enemies down via knife was exhilarating. The amount of use the environment has is another thing Shadow of the Tomb Raider does so well.
I would find myself experimenting with things to shoot to distract enemies, and almost every time I tried something it actually worked.
Action combat is solid as well. While it is strange to be able to take out an enemy with only two arrows, but it takes 4-6 bullets, it is fun to go full Rambo on a group of enemies every once in a while.
What really hurts Shadow of the Tomb Raider though is how unimportant the high stakes of the story seem to Lara.
Lara’s voice acting is atrocious for this high-caliber of a game. By the end of the game I found myself being annoyed every time I heard a line of Lara’s dialogue. Throughout almost every moment of the game she sounds like she doesn’t give a damn about anything.
There’s a point where Lara has to crawl through a long pit of rotting corpses and all she says is, “I guess I have no choice.” She says it so trivially too. And I get that she’s done a million other disgusting things through the series, so she’s “hardened” and whatever, but even if someone’s crawled through 1-million dead body pits they’re not going to say, “I guess I have no choice,” in the same tone as Mom asking you to take out the garbage.
This is a constant thorn in this game’s side, and it brings a lot of the game’s tense nature down when your main character doesn’t give a shit about anything when she’s not in a cutscene.
My biggest problem with Shadow of the Tomb Raider is that over this decently long campaign, I just didn’t have a lot of fun. Combat was a good, but other than that everything felt repetitive with no reward.
Some of you may love the story, I just personally didn’t. Sure, there were times where I was intrigued, but I never felt myself actively wanting more of Shadow of the Tomb Raider.