How do you keep a reboot of a classic franchise going strong?
If you’re developer Eidos Montreal, you basically stick to the script established in the previous game and try to tweak it where possible.
After all, it isn’t easy following up a reboot that helped catapult an old franchise back into top-shelf prominence.
Of course, we’re talking about 2013’s Tomb Raider and its subsequent sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, laden with the expectations of past games and charged with doing a few new things without breaking the formula, is a stellar if somewhat tepid installment in the series. Gamers who like games that break from the previous games as little as possible will enjoy Shadow of the Tomb Raider but they should probably play the 2013 reboot and its sequel first.
For those gamers just picking up Shadow of the Tomb Raider you’re in for a treat. The game, a stellar combination of exploration, action-adventure, and platforming, not only hews closely to the spirit of the original PSX title released so long ago but also presents a compelling modern game when taken on its own merits.
But players that have worn out the paths of the previous two games released since 2013 might wonder what in the heck exactly Shadow of the Tomb Raider does differently from those games and the answer is “really, not much.”
Those games are great examples of the series’ trademark action but they were also released half a decade ago. Aside from a new bartering system and an increased emphasis on stealth action, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is much the same as those two games.
There is, however, a lot more of everything in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and for fans of the previous two games this possibly makes up for the lack of innovation. In addition, players have more control over their experience than ever before with the ability to customize difficult settings for combat, exploration, and puzzles as well as a completely revamped control scheme that attempts to make Lara’s controls more intuitive than before.
The setting, a hidden city in the Amazon, recalls the older PlayStation games and is a vibrant, wonderfully realized locale for a Tomb Raider game. Eidos Montreal went to great lengths to insure that the entire environment gave off a vibe of authenticity with voices recorded in real native languages and a representation of the general vibe of the culture they’re trying to create. A score from composer Brian D’Oliveira delivers an appropriately cinematic vibe that recalls Hollywood blockbusters like the Indiana Jones series. Indeed, it is interesting to see how much of an impact Hollywood-style storytelling and cinematic representation in gaming have had on Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The devs seem bent on delivering an immersion not seen before in a Tomb Raider title and they succeed immensely.
Yet problems do arise because of this adherence to a Hollywood-kind of vibe in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and not least of which is the narrative’s confusion about whether or not to take itself seriously while also forcing character development upon us after scenes of relative levity or even comic relief. Clearly inspired by the Indiana Jones series in this regard (an omnipresent force in the Lara Croft games if anything), it feels somewhat jarring nonetheless because it is so oddly paced. The story is interesting and the plot helps to tie all the loose ends up from the previous two games but the delivery leaves a lot to be desired.
Yet in terms of overall production the cinematic presentation never falls flat because of bad voice acting or poorly scripted scenes. The graphics engine, always impressive, never fails to render an appropriately lush landscape nor do the sound effects falter in their ability to convey a vibe or a feeling. Nearly everything about Shadow of the Tomb Raider checks out but this also reveals a problem. In the dearth of innovation involved with this game arises the idea that it is a paint-by-the-numbers iteration in the series. This is largely true.
If you wrote two lists of expectations for a triple-A, blockbuster title and then one for what you would find in a Tomb Raider game, you would find that this title largely matches up those expectations. Mysterious, never-before-seen tombs and cities existing in the game’s world? That’s here. Some kind of conspiracy tying everything together? That’s present and account for as well. Anything unexpected existing in the game whatsoever? Nothing of the sort to talk about here.
This is not, in itself, a bad thing it’s just puzzling given the many opportunities for change and advancement the team at Eidos Montreal could have explored with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It is, in every respect, a good or even great game but will it stand the test of time? It will probably not and, if anything, is a future candidate for “underappreciated” titles of this generation. Why? It doesn’t try to do anything remarkable and in the process becomes unremarkable itself. This is acceptable when you are trying to introduce the world to an IP but sad when you do it to something that is already starting to fray at the edges anyway.
Born of a time when she had no competition aside from maybe Super Mario 64, Lara Croft’s 3D platforming has always been front and center in the series but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need some sort of change. If you like more of the same then Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the perfect game for you and, for fans of the series, this might be all that they want out of the series. But for the rest of us it would be awesome to see some new things out of the Tomb Raider franchise because the team behind Shadow of the Tomb Raider has proven that they can deliver high quality games and they should be unleashed creatively to give us something truly next level.