It’s not often the case that reboots succeed in surpassing the original so convincingly, but that’s exactly what happened to Square Enix’s reinvention of the Tomb Raider franchise. The overpowering feeling of nostalgia aside, even the most zealous fans of the previous games had to admit that this new-age Lara Croft reboot outdid its predecessors in almost every respect, granting us not only visually gorgeous games, stacked with interesting characters and visceral action but also more credible and likeable Lara, whom we finally started to perceive as a real person and not just as skilfully assembled collection of racy polygons. Of all the things that the new trilogy achieved, that’s perhaps its greatest triumph.
The previous two games gave us an origin story of an undoubtedly most iconic heroine in the entire history of video games. We witnessed her initial pains and struggles as she was coming to terms with her true nature and what she will actually be forced to become if she persists in her efforts against the Trinity and all others who threaten the lives of her friends and the fate of the world at large.
However, from the opening scenes of The Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara is already a far cry from that timid, nerdy girl obsessed with the continuation of her late father’s legacy and notions she still doesn’t fully comprehend. Even the introductory moments of the game, with Lara escaping certain death by a hair’s breadth and continuing with her self-delegated mission, crudely patching up her wounds with a duct tape, hint that this, much more than before, will be a harrowing experience. This is the game where Lara will finally face her own demons, ultimately realizing that if she wants to save the world, she’ll have to become the same – or even worse – than those she’s been desperately fighting.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider directly continues the previous game, a few months after her sub-zero Siberian experience. This time we find Lara in sunny Mexico, as she plays the well-rehearsed game of cat and mouse with the Order of Trinity, an age-old cult and paramilitary organization obsessed with supernatural relics and the absurd notion of reshaping the world in their own image. After investigating their activity around the Mexican island of Cozumel, Lara stumbles on the hidden Mayan temple where she finds an ancient artefact – an ornate ritual dagger with the cryptic inscription mentioning something about the Cleansing (with the capital C, to be sure). Of course, as any archaeologically inclined girl would do, Lara picked up the dagger. As it turned out, the Cleansing that the inscription was referring to was no less than a Mayan version of the apocalypse. The world is going to end in a series of catastrophes (way to go, Lara!), starting from a terrible tsunami that consumed almost entire island. With thousands of innocent lives on her guilty conscience, Lara is determined to make things right. Her journey will lead her through many locations, all the way to the ancient Incan city of Paititi which will act as a central hub for her numerous adventures in this game. Of course, Lara won’t be alone on this perilous journey – she will be accompanied by her old friend Jonah Maiava, a soft-hearted tough guy which will act as her unwavering support and tireless voice of reason.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is by no means a game that attempts to erase previous two parts in the series by creating completely new gameplay. The game, instead, takes what was good from its predecessors, and builds upon it, adding several new game mechanics, as well as a bunch of new, yet still largely familiar, skills, as a sign of recognition of the fact that game now takes place in the rainforests of Mesoamerica and South America. That means that most of the game, when you aren’t crawling through some of the exquisitely designed tombs, temples and other archaeological locations of interest, you’ll be prowling through lush jungle vegetation, eliminating unwary Trinity soldiers one by one with your bow and arrow or any other weapon of your choice. Those splashes of local color can be seen in many details. For instance, just like Dutch from the first Predator, Lara can smear mud all over her for the benefit of the added camouflage. Since it seems that stealth aspect is even more important than in previous two parts, you’ll finally be able to revert to stealth mode once you’ve been detected by the enemies, on the condition that you’ve managed to escape them into the relative safety. For the same reason, you’ll be able to craft new types of arrows, which will help you to manipulate your enemies with more ease.
Of course, no Tomb Raider game is complete without climbing, and once you’ve found a climbing axe (which is by far most versatile and useful tool in the entire series), you’ll be able to perform all kind of climbing acrobatics, including a couple of new ones. Since the game takes place in the humid rainforest environment, swimming is even of greater importance than before, and you’ll even get a few skills (Caiman’s Breath) that will help you stay submerged for longer periods of time.
The skills come in three main categories (Seeker, Scavenger and Warrior), there are plenty of them, and they will help you to mold Lara into a supremely lethal warrior. This process is one of the most interesting – and certainly most unsettling – things in the game. Each new skill she acquires will help transform Lara into an indomitable killing machine with a little regard for human life, a bloodthirsty animalistic predator who hangs her victims from the trees as a morbid sign of warning to others, slays enemies from her lurking-place, slashes their throats without a second thought and does ton of other unspeakable things as she relentlessly moves towards her ultimate goal. As she’s desperately trying to redeem herself, journeying ever deeper into the South American heart of darkness, Lara resembles a force of nature trapped in a body of a young girl in what at times seems more like something from the Apocalypse Now, than what you would normally expect from a Tomb Raider game.
All in all, Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics did a great job in wrapping things up and bringing the new Tomb Raider trilogy to a satisfactory close. Although there were admittedly some inconsistencies in the story itself, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is nonetheless a great title. The game is remarkable in many aspects, with simply breathtaking visuals, great action, splendid gameplay and spectacular, yet often unsettling, sceneries that look like they belong to some Indiana Jones movie. However, the most impressive thing of all is Lara’s psychological transformation. If you perceive this rebooted Tomb Rider trilogy as a coming of age story, this concluding game is a point when Lara finally grows up, and becomes what she’s always meant to be – a tomb raider.