For over 20 years now the Tomb Raider franchise has been one of the most prolific cornerstones in the gaming industry, from the initial 5 PS1 titles that moulded my gaming experience in my formative to………Angel of Darkness……..that was a thing…….to Anniversary, Legend, Underworld the awesome top-down games, Movies, Comics etc. Lara Croft has got around! And has been one of the most recognizable mascots and become one of the biggest Female role models in gaming since Samus Aran. So when the series took the gritty reboot route back in 2013, I and many others were sceptical but my doubts were dashed when we were introduced to a young, more vulnerable Lara Croft, desperate for survival and finding her way as a badass archaeologist. Naturally, it garnered a sequel ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’ an epic journey through the Siberian tundra featuring a more determined, experienced Ms. Croft. And now with the 3rd effort of this newly revamped series ‘Shadow of the Tomb Raider’, we find her back in another journey with intense gameplay, mind-boggling puzzles and some of the most well crafted, lush environments I’ve seen in a long time.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider begins two months after Rise of the Tomb Raider, and we find Lara and Jonah in yet more peril as their plane nose dives towards the Peruvian Jungle, a few days earlier they were tracking down Pedro Dominguez, the High Council leader of the protagonist faction Trinity in the Mexican village of Cozumel. After discovering clues to a hidden city, and a temple housing murals that refer to a Mayan apocalypse that would culminate in a permanent solar eclipse and a dagger that connects it all together, Lara ignores the warning signs and takes the artefact to keep it safe from Trinity and creates a cataclysmic flood that practically wipes out the entire village, and loses the dagger to Trinity. Following more of her father’s notes, Lara’s journey leads her to the Amazon and the hidden city, to end the calamities that are destroying the planet. The narrative is not Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s strongest point, the copy and paste formula that the series has been using for its story becomes more apparent than ever in this case and makes the whole affair kind of predictable, the use of medias res, Lara’s obsessions bringing tensions to her colleagues, the hidden cities, the deus ex machina that is Richard Croft’s findings all in a different climate. The one high point is the character progression of this new Lara Croft. The invincible, adaptable heroine we knew from our childhood has been replaced with Lara Croft the human being, one that makes mistakes, has fears and rises above them making a far more relatable character over the past 5 years.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a beautiful game, plain and simple. From its beginning sections continuing the franchises tutoring of different cultures by taking place in the eerie yet wholesome Mexican festival of Dia De Los Metros, before transitioning to the vast, sumptuous and precarious Peruvian Jungle, ripe with lush green foliage with light dancing through the leaves which is a beautifully added touch, breath-taking landscapes, wildlife both wonder some and terrifying and tombs, not to mention ruins, temples and tombs brimming with atmosphere, fire, brimstone, murals, gadgets and shrines and that have become synonymous with the grizzled veteran of gaming and holds up the visual quality nonetheless. The motion capture work also brings so much detail and essence to our character models as well, as the wonders of mo-cap always do, with emotion being portrayed with such subtlety and grace even if the lip-syncing can be a little off at times, but its one of those things that when you notice it becomes pretty tricky not to un-notice if you catch my drift. One note, in particular, is the evolution both physical and metaphorical of Lara’s appearance, by no longer oversexualizing her, and emphasizing more on her purpose rather than her body, Eidos-Montreal has not only created a more connectable character but also a more attractive one in the process. The sounds of the jungle, tombs, and the village also work as a wonderful replacement symphony with the odd bits of music carrying on the tried and true Tomb Raider trope of creating a shift between safety and danger.

Gameplay returns you to the somewhat secondary mission of surviving out in the wild, gathering wood, herbs meat and hides as well as discovering campfires where you can upgrade your gear and gain new abilities, it’s really nothing we haven’t seen before from this chapter of the overall Tomb Raider lore, you will also have your trusty bow and arrow that downs foes with impressive impact as well as your melee knife, pistols, rifles, shotguns that we have all become accustomed to wreaking havoc with. The added mechanic of covering yourself with mud for camouflage not only brings a nice dynamic into the process but brings the environment of this title into play nicely, and using hides of some of the beasts you’ve had to kill add their own abilities and perks and also show the other Jaguars you’re not one to be messed with you know what I’m sayin’!?!. The optional tombs also make a welcomed return providing your brain with an exceptional workout with each one being unique in their own way, and each task is worth overcoming for those extra perks. There are also more side missions you can undertake at your leisure but mostly consist of trekking from point A to point B and reaps very little payoff. You can also go off the beaten path to uncover extra artefacts, documents and explorers backpacks for all you completionists out there.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows.

Game code was provided by Square Enix.