Lara Croft returned a little earlier this year (September 14) for the final chapter in her three-part origin story, in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. This past weekend, we finally got the chance to finish up the story and check out what the title had to offer, and it turned out that this would be Lara's greatest adventure on current-gen consoles.
One of my major gripes with the past two Tomb Raider entries is the reliance on heavy combat to further the game's narrative. Fortunately, that is stripped away here, with battles against Trinity and otherworldly forces kept to a minimum. Instead, there's a higher focus than before on both exploration and getting your hands on the relics inside a number of challenging tombs and crypts.
When you do have to fight, 9 times out of 10 there will be the option to go about your business stealthily, meaning you don't get caught up in the midst of gunfire if you're cool, calm and collected enough. Not only is this a better experience for the player, but it also showcases just how far Lara has come since her reemergence all the way back in 2013.
Whilst grappling and climbing can at times be frustrating, and you'll fall to your death despite doing everything you've been told to do, once you get the hang of the certain angles that you have to push your analogue stick in, you'll be flying up rocky cliff faces in no time. Here, the game feels very much like the brilliant Uncharted series, with Lara giving Nathan Drake and his allies a run for their money.
The ability to change the difficulty of three separate factors in the game is an innovative idea. For example, you can put your exploration and combat difficulties on normal, and crank up the puzzle difficulty to hard if you're looking for a more challenging time in the various tombs and crypts you'll come across.
I did exactly that, and found myself scratching my head various times throughout the game. When you do manage to form an idea that comes up with results in a Challenge Tomb or a crypt however, the payoff is tremendous. You got there without Lara giving any vocal clues. You did it all yourself, and you walk away feeling proud and triumphant.
The best puzzles of the series are woven throughout Shadow of the Tomb Raider, so for those who were feeling a little needy for the Tomb Raider games of the 90s and early 00s, here's how you get your dose of nostalgia.
One of my favourite aspects of games such as this one in recent years, where beautiful graphics combine with thrilling gameplay, is the addition of Photo Mode. I managed to take some gorgeous shots throughout Lara's adventure (in fact, all of the pictures used in this review were captured in-game by yours truly!), and this just adds another layer of brilliance to a game that has no problem in enveloping the player within the action.
Unfortunately, there are a few niggles that bring the overall experience down a tad, and occassionally even to a screeching halt. My game froze up a number of times to allow for streaming to catch up and frame rate to reconfigure, and there was one instance where I walked into an area which was completely empty of NPCs, only to suddenly fill with guards.
Despite this, I had a lot of fun with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and can certainly see myself returning to the game not only for the upcoming DLC - which will be a bunch of new Challenge Tombs - but to explore the areas I've already been through, and make sure I've picked up everything available.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the definitive entry into a trilogy that has had a lot of highs, and we hope this really is just the start of her story. Lara continues to be the ultimate feminist icon, with plenty of imperfections to allow for player relatability.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided to Female First in exchange for a fair and honest review.