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While reboots of established franchises are fairly common these days in the arenas of movies and television, the world of video games hasn't seen them as much. However, the 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider series has to be viewed as a completely successful attempt at doing just that. The game gave Lara Croft all the benefits of modern console hardware, but took the character back to the beginning, showing a young woman who gets in over her head and has to find the necessary strength to survive. Lara's origin story actually required a full trilogy to tell completely, and that story has now come to an end with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. A fitting, and fun, if an uninventive end to the story.
The previous game in the story brought Lara the revelation that her father had not committed suicide as she had believed, but had instead died at the hands of an organization called Trinity, which she herself ran afoul of in that story. Shadow of the Tomb Raider starts with Lara and her friend Jonah in a race against Trinity for another powerful ancient artifact, this time in South America. Lara doesn't know much about what she's after, beyond the fact that if Trinity wants it, it must be bad news, but in getting there first Lara inadvertently sets off a series of cataclysmal events which can only be stopped via the use of another ancient artifact, so it's off to the races once again, to locate the lost city where the object was last seen, and fix the problem she started.
While the Lara Croft of the first Tomb Raider game had to learn how to overcome her circumstances, the one in the sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, having succeeded previously, thought she was a superhero. We see Lara start in that place in Shadow, but she quickly is forced to swallow her pride after making a big mistake. At least, that the story the game wants to tell in the cutscenes. The gameplay itself is mostly still Lara as superhero, taking down bad guys from the shadows like a jungle-based Batman. It feels like there's a bit of a disconnect between the story the game wants to tell and the one the gameplay actually tells.
If you've played either of the previous games in this version of Tomb Raider, most things will be familiar to you. Lara has a collection of standard weapons and other items at her disposal, the classic character's twin pistols being replaced with a bow and arrow as the basic weapon of choice. Each weapon is upgradeable, as is Lara herself. The skill tree is divided into three sections. Warrior aids you in combat, Seeker aids you in collecting and using natural resources while Scavenger aids in the man-made resources that can be used to upgrade your items and create your outfits.
Yes, I said outfits. One of the new mechanics in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the addition of different clothing that offers different bonuses for Lara. Tops and bottoms can be mixed and matched in order to give your Lara the combination of bonuses that works for your gameplay style. The other major new mechanic is an herb crafting ability that allows Lara to heal as well as gain other capabilities, though I have to say I didn't use them much.
One nice change is that your play style can be a bit more variable in Shadow of the Tomb Raider than it was in the previous titles. While the two earlier games were heavy in the combat, Shadow is a bit more of an even split between the three pillars of combat, puzzles, and traversal (platforming) to the point that each pillar has its own difficulty setting. This is a fantastic new addition to the game's accessibility that will help anybody play the game they want to play. If you love the combat you can amp up the difficulty while dropping down the difficulty of the puzzles so they don't get in your way. Up the traversal difficulty and the game won't tell you where to go, drop it down and the path forward is obvious.
If you're a fan of puzzles, there are plenty. Numerous tombs and crypts litter the map to be found and explored. each one rewards the player with new abilities and items, making them worth finding. Odds are you won't find them, or all the various collectibles, on the first play through, giving you a reason to return to the game after completing the story.
One of the things the new Tomb Raider games have done better than almost all action games in recent years is create beautiful set pieces. There are sequences in the games that feel like they could be part of your favorite action movie, the recent Tomb Raider film even borrowed one from the 2013 game. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is no exception. Parts of the game are absolutely exhilarating to play through. While the final boss battle left a little something to be desired, the sequence that gets you to the fight makes up for it in a big way.
Once you've completed the game, Shadow of the Tomb Raider provides a new game plus option, a first for the series, so if you had enough fun, you can go back. If you enjoyed the two previous games in the series, you almost certainly will want to play through again, as it's unclear that this particular story will continue now that the origin story has come to a conclusion.
The biggest "problem" with Shadow of the Tomb Raider is that, even with the new mechanics and the new setting, it still feels, ultimately, a lot like the previous games in the series. That's not a bad thing, as the previous games have been good, but because of that my expectations for Shadow of the Tomb Raider were high, and I feel like it came up a bit short in that department. Of course, I also just wanted a new, fun, Tomb Raider game, and I certainly got that.
This review was completed with an Xbox One version of the game provided by the publisher.