Many years ago, Mexican film maker Guillermo Del Toro said something that almost released me. The director, as he confessed a small amount in Portland, uses a lot of books, movies and video games as the creator, but resists the pressure to complete them if he is just not interested. "If it does not involve me, I'll leave it. I do not do homework with my life." As someone who finds it even more difficult not to feel stressed by the duty to gather knowledge about everything related to art and entertainment, I found it refreshing . My life would be a lot more fun if there were certain things I did not force myself to do. For a second, I thought maybe I could do that. How liberating it would be.
But I'm sadly a media critic and I do not want to finish things. And this has never been more painful than with the time I spent on The Shadow of Tomb Raider the last chapter in Lara Croft's long history of origin. In this new adventure, Lara is searching for her old nemesis Trinity after a long-lost Mayan city in Peru, triggering an apocalypse in the process. To put things right, she must restore the ceremonial knife that started everything, and find herself engaged in a conflict that is much bigger than she might have understood.
The shadow of Tomb Raider is mostly competent. The output values are high, the graphics and the setting are beautifully rendered, the user interface is well organized and I experienced few technical issues (outside of some creepy face animations). When it comes to gameplay, the environmental games Lara meet when she explores ruins and gets over traps and extensive machines are sufficiently challenging and provide a satisfying sense of completion. Enemy encounters can approach either stealth or direct fire, although the latter could use a little polish, and both could use several hand-to-hand alternatives for close-up and a dedicated crouch button. But when you go, the game just keeps euphoric excitement to speed it up. The theaters in some of the Lara methods, especially when she fights an enemy with rope and falls him from a tree, is a pure dopamine height. And the moments when Lara climbs, swings and scales stone walls achieves an exciting flow that feels simply empowering; She is really best when the obstacles in the surroundings are just another part of the jungle gym.
But despite the tactile joy, I had trouble working with the motivation to play Shadow of the Tomb Raider keeps much less at the time that is necessary for a review. Some adventure games have a great game as I hit through any scary story, while others have a story that's so good it makes up for weak action sequences. If I'm lucky, play the game I play both. But The shadow of Tomb Raider seems to have the works. In the midst of his Far Cry-Uncharted crossover feeling, I struggled to find what makes it different, especially or appealing.
Part of it is that I do not care about Lara Croft. Despite all her adventures, she does not hit me like a person who really lived. While the series has explored some painful moments for Lara (including a segment of Shadow of the Tomb Raider that reveals a deeply traumatic childhood background), it never seems to cultivate an identity or personality I can really get my hands on. For a character whose original appeal ranks so much on 3D, it is strenuous that she is still stuck in the first dimension. It feels like they try too hard to give us no reason not to like her.
It's not that I need to like Lara to be interested in her. But as someone with a rather colorful personality, Lara is boring. She is one of the most autonomous women in video game history, and in one way or another manages to have all of a toasted marshmallow, permeates a strange air of affection, even when she hurts, climbs and skips all her surroundings. She has no major emotional problems, she is nice to be around, and I suspect she does not even get upset. Lara Croft is a pint of gourmet vanilla bean Haagen Daaz to my half gallon of Western Family Neapolitan. And I hate her for it.
As far as the overall narrative content of the game is concerned, I believe that many of my concerns were already taken up in my previous piece, which I originally wrote with a (perhaps unattended) preview because I had not seen end product. I do not necessarily expect the game to find a self-awareness outside of the slim part that it had already shown in the demos I had recorded and the recordings I have seen (although the original restart in 2012 was their creative director receptive when I talked to him about some of the their design decisions with Lara), but I'm still disappointed to say in that connection that it lived up to my low expectations. The disclaimer that requested that my article actually appear in the opening moments The shadow of Tomb Raider and meet it once, my first impression remains the same.
The shadow of Tomb Raider was created by a diverse and talented team consisting of several sexes, backgrounds, ethnicities, religious beliefs and personalities. Although the game is not based on actual events and represents a fiction work, it was developed in conjunction with a historian and culture consultants. This variety and partnership were both instrumental in creating the world you are experiencing.
This is a section that does not see me as a sincere expression of good intentions, but rather a deflection of expected criticism. As it is not to say that content liability requests are a disconnection; The Whoopi Goldberg segment at the beginning of Warner Bros cartoon shorts comes in mind. But while the former (covering such irrelevant buffer details as the team's personalities and religious beliefs) will face the problem, the latter addresses and refuses to erase cruelty. And I guess it's my concern: The actors of The Shadow of Tomb Raider wanted to do what they wanted to do so they found a way to justify it with a return to accommodate a cultural change in the gaming community. However, while the development process may have included historians to ensure the accuracy of the game's set dressing, it does not seem that they were involved to the point that it challenged any power structures in the process itself, which excludes the possibility of meaningful cultural exchange. And it is clear through the game itself. Lara is tourist and it feels like that.
Today, the games with the most common are also those who run to cheer for ever. The last two years or so has been a great blurred by Far Cry and Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War and Uncharted and Tomb Raider and what else blended into one great blur on rails, climbing, lore building collectibles, upgrades and skill trees with incremental performance enhancers. Sometimes it's almost amazing how much blatant overlap there is between all these big titles, as if something has just been accepted now as established convention and the only true way to convey certain ideas or organize a user interface. I appreciate that I have the ability to get certain concepts very quickly between games, but it's a monotony that sets in here that no amount of smart branding and coherent visual themes will cure.
Sometimes when you are too worried about what others think, you never hit any dangers. I think that's why The shadow of Tomb Raider does not seem to have its own identity. Whether it's hidden behind the tried and true formula created by all the other heavy hitters of great game design, or shaping the perfect stack of mashed potatoes in a heroic hero, the game feels safe. I would like to see what they would do with a Lara Croft who was actually allowed to think and feel some of the normal reactions a person would have on trauma. Give me a female management who wakes up, pisses out her diaphragm and makes a shot of Jager while she's still on the toilet. Give me somebody who is wrong, who does not make mistakes out of a misguided and rightful sense of right and wrong, but because people are wrong and have complicated motivations. It's a high order in an atmosphere where AAA games are designed as much of their investors as they are their writers, but in the case of Shadow of the Tomb Raider I still wish they would actually have their hands dirty .
The shadow of Tomb Raider was developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix. Our review is based on the PlayStation 4 version. It is also available for Xbox One and PC.
Holly Green is Assistant Editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer who lives in Seattle, WA. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An unofficial guide to Video Game Grub. You'll find her work on Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other video game news publications.