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‘Shadow of the Tomb Raider’ – A Grim, Violent, End to the Trilogy

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Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part review. This portion focuses on the story of Shadow of the Tomb Raider. 

Lara Croft is one of a few leading lady characters the video game industry has produced who is not only a household name, but has starred in several games since her debut in 1996. There are twelve games in the core series, and along with a dozen or so spin-offs plus three Hollywood films, they have made her one of the greatest video game characters of all-time, regardless of gender. Like it or not, Lara was one of the first — and still only one of a handful of — female characters to helm an action gaming franchise, and despite her troubled past, the Tomb Raider series (at least the main entries) have more often than not delivered high-quality exciting adventures to gamers worldwide.

When Crystal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider franchise, it was somewhat criticized that the studio took a page from the Uncharted series. It’s hard to ignore that Croft’s more recent iterations do indeed take a wee bit of inspiration from Naughty Dog’s extremely popular action series, if only for the cutscenes and action-set pieces alone, but let us not forget that while we can clearly trace the cinematic imprint that Nathan Drake’s adventures have had on Laura, Uncharted itself began as a Tomb Raider clone. I mention this because as much as I love Nathan Drake’s adventures (and believe me I do), Lara Croft is undeniably the original globetrotting Indiana Jones-like figure of video games, and thanks to the recent trilogy, she’s back on top. Lara may not be as charming as Nathan Drake, but I’d argue that this recent trilogy has so much to offer, and apart from maybe the story, it gives Uncharted a run for its money.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review

The Plot

Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the first entry to be developed by Eidos Montreal (in collaboration with Crystal Dynamics), begins not too long after its predecessor ends. Following the events of 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara is chasing down Trinity, a secret society determined on world domination via the acquisition of mystical artifacts. Her search for answers leads her to such an artifact, an ancient dagger (found at a Mexican temple) that acts as a key to set off an apocalypse. Staying true to her character, Lara carelessly seizes the dagger and unintentionally triggers a giant tsunami that destroys the small Mexican town, leaving behind the deaths of hundreds of innocent lives. From there it leads to a storm, later an earthquake, and eventually an eclipse that threatens the very existence of mankind. Fortunately, the dagger must be paired with a yet undiscovered silver box in order to set a doomsday prophecy into motion. Naturally, the only way for Lara to correct her mistake is to locate the box in question. She heads off to the legendary hidden city of Paititi, only to discover that a local cult has other plans for the apocalypse, mostly involving the ceremonial slaughter of their own people.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review

Plot Holes

With so much ground to cover, Shadow of the Tomb Raider might just be the most ambitious game in the entire franchise. There are enough plot twists, high stakes, and characters to fill an entire season of a television show, which should keep players more than busy throughout the game’s ten-to-fifteen-hour running time — not to mention an unexpected spin on Lara Croft’s character that sends her through a grueling emotional journey. As usual, the action is on an epic scale, delivered with breathless enthusiasm and much panache, but as far a story goes, Shadow of the Tomb Raider suffers from many of the same narrative shortcomings that plagued its predecessors. The plot makes little sense, and more often than not you’re left questioning various character motivations and the on-and-off reappearance of Croft’s good friend, Jonah, who randomly appears at the most convenient of times, only to disappear again minutes later.

This being a video game — or rather, this being a Tomb Raider game — none of the plot holes really bothered me, but I can’t go without mentioning how downright silly some it truly is. For starters, Lara travels to a Peruvian settlement populated by a large native tribe who have somehow never made contact with the outside world, yet inexplicably Lara is able to fluently communicate with them — and in English, no less. It’s absurd, especially since the game goes out of its way to encourage you to read about every artifact, tomb, and treasure you come across in order to increase Lara’s chance of understanding these ancient lost languages. Nitpicking aside, Shadow of the Tomb Raider‘s biggest issue in terms of writing revolves around our heroine. Or does it?

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review

Obsession

In the short time since the game was released, I’ve browsed about one hundred articles addressing the problematic portrayal of Lara. As the heir to her white, British, aristocratic, tomb-raiding parents, who spent decades collecting, destroying, or downright stealing the antiquities of entire cultures, Lara now spends her adult life — wait for it — raiding tombs. Shocking! 

Seriously though, put aside the earlier games, when Lara was grossly sexualized, and even the recent trilogy (of which this is the third installment) has never once attempted to change or hide who Lara really is. The difference here, however, is that Shadow of the Tomb Raider at least places Lara in a position in which she comes face to face with the reality that she is part of the problem. In Shadow the stakes are raised, as her reckless pillaging of a Mayan tomb kicks off a series of unfortunate events. And although Lara Croft is still trying to save the world, her obsession for collecting ancient artifacts is ultimately responsible for that which could bring the world to an end. It’s something she’s never taken responsibility for, at least until now.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review

An Emotional Journey

Admittedly, Shadow of the Tomb Raider places Lara once again as the white savior, protector, and only true hope for the indigenous people she meets along the way, but give credit to its creators, who recognize the flaws of the series and at least attempt to not only address these flaws, but do away with them hopefully once and for all. It may not be perfect, but it is an admirable attempt to repair whatever they can without fundamentally changing the entire series or game. With Shadow, Lara meditates on the repercussions of her actions, and throughout her emotional journey she goes from brilliant archaeologist to a confused and beaten hero to a relentless warrior out for revenge. Give credit to voice actress Camilla Luddington, who fully commits to her role, carefully walking the tightrope between courageous, curious, adventurous, vulnerable, angry, and yes, downright over-the-top at times. It also helps that she shares great chemistry with series veteran Earl Baylon, who returns as Jonah, the voice of reason and arguably Lara’s emotional anchor.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review

A Journey of Self-Discovery and Horror

It should be said, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an extremely violent and grim game. It has a higher body count than that of any other installment, especially when you take into account the number of innocent lives lost — sometimes as the direct result of the decisions Lara Croft makes, and other times due to a ritual human sacrifice at the hands of a crazed Purivian cult. Lara herself also shows a disturbing darker side. When compared to the innocent young girl in the first game and the accomplished archaeologist and adventurer of the second game, here Lara must literally crawl her way over hundreds of decomposing corpses, swim through rivers of blood, and bear witness to indigenous people murdered in front of her eyes. Her journey is one of self-discovery, but also one of horror. Once she gains the courage to see it through to the very end, Lara Croft rises from a blood-soaked flaming river to become a cunning and cold-blooded killer, bent evermore on survival, instinct trumping all. She’s on a quest for revenge and vindication. When it comes to gunning down her enemies, she doesn’t blink an eye. She’s brutal, to say the least, a resourceful deadly predator who is brought to life as a modern blend of Rambo and Ripley, with just a glint of psychopathy in her eyes.

In the final act, Lara Croft changes. For the better or for worse, she may never be the same, although judging by the post-credits cutscene, she may have finally exorcised her inner demons.

– Ricky D

Click here for the second part of this review.

 

 

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and Tilt Magazine. Host of the NXpress Nintendo Podcast and the Sordid Cinema Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound on Sight. Former host of several other podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead shows, as well as Sound On Sight. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.

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AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch


In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

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Game Reviews

‘Tamarin’ Review: Monkey Trouble

Like Yooka-Laylee before it, Tamarin flounders in its attempts to recreate its source material for a more modern audience.

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Tamarin Game Review

Developer: Chameleon Games | Publisher: Chameleon Games | Genre: 3rd Person Shooter/Platformer| Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

You have to be of a certain age to recall a game like Jet Force Gemini. One of Rare’s one-off titles of the N64 era, like Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini never earned itself a sequel but was a fun sci-fi adventure for its time. It’s this same energy that Tamarin, from Chameleon Games, attempts to channel.

Made up of former Rare staff, the folks at Chameleon Games are almost certainly the best team to make an attempt at rekindling such a long dead franchise with their spiritual successor. However, as can be the case with retro throwbacks, sometimes it’s better to ask whether you should bring back an older style of gaming, rather than if you could.

As we’ve seen with games like Yooka Laylee and Mighty No. 9, it often seems that the idea of an older game or franchise being resurrected for modern audiences is better to imagine than to actually play. While the occasional Bloodstained does come along to buck the trend, more often than not we get a game which is too faithful to its sources to make a mark or too different to rekindle that old love and nostalgia.

All of which is to say that Tamarin, while very faithful to its inspirations, never quite hits the mark that brings it to the next level. Part of this is the natural aging process, particularly of the first era of 3D platformers and adventure games which spawned on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. While many of the games of that generation packed in endless hours of fun, so too have many of their mechanics aged terribly.

Tamarin Game Review

This accounts for Tamarin‘s weakest point, which is undoubtedly its combat. The shooting sections of the game, while channeling another Rare franchise that balanced cuteness with cartoonish violence, are just so mechanically terse that they drag the game down egregiously each time they crop up.

Like with Jet Force Gemini, players will spend much of Tamarin battling troubling insectoid enemies that threaten the peace of all of civilization. Also like the game which was such a clear inspiration for Chameleon, Tamarin brings back the clunky 3D aiming reticle. Not only is the shooting janky here, it feels downright unwieldy when you first get your hands on a firearm.

Though players can get the hang of it with a little effort and some reworking of how they see shooters, there seems to be little point in doing so. Tamarin‘s braindead AI and sparse few enemy types make combat feel like much of an afterthought to the experience, despite how central it is to progressing through the game.

To be fair, Tamarin does also bring some of the good from its spiritual forebear. The gradually growing arsenal of laser guns and rocket launchers does feel fun to play with, and the game is peppered with plenty of upgrades for the guns along the way. Sadly, then another of the Space Invaders style mini-games will pop up and derail things all over again.

Yes, there is a strange reference to yet another long gone gaming franchise here. Unlocking certain doors requires players to start from the center and aim the analog stick around firing at hovering, shifting rows of bugs. Again, it feels very unwieldy, and by the end most players will simply settle for spinning the analog stick wildly while firing with the machine gun for maximum ease.

Fortunately, more successful are the platforming sections. Making up the other side of Tamarin‘s coin, is a game more inspired by Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country 64 than anything else. As players travel through the outside world, gathering collectibles and gaining new abilities as they go, Tamarin shows much more variety than its combat sections.

With clear cues marked on the terrain to denote which areas require upgrades or new abilities to traverse, Tamarin is generally able to point you in the right direction across its world, though a map or minimap would help matters considerably. Though the game is split into many separate areas, they often look so similar that it can make the game hard to navigate and harder to remember where previous markers were for exploration. Even a rudimentary map feature would make this far less of an issue.

Alas, the exploration flounders on occasion as well. Jumping sometimes feels a bit too flighty and can even break the game at times, allowing players to jump off of surfaces they shouldn’t be able to normally. Further, the need to hold down a button and press another to grab certain collectibles is totally unintuitive and is another feature that seems to be more or less pointless.

As such, for all of it’s cute mascot spiritedness and lovingly attributed influences, Tamarin ultimately falls short in bringing back some of the best franchises of yesteryear. Though the effort is a valiant one, Tamarin, hampered by the flaws of the games it attempts to emulate, is just too clunky in its execution.

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Game Reviews

‘Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered’ Review: Some Games Age Like Milk

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

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Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Developer: Square-Enix | Publisher: Square-Enix | Genre: Action-RPG| Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Mobile | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

There’s a bit of a storied history between Nintendo and Square. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is an important part of that history. Or rather, the original version, released in 2003, was.

While it might seem to younger gamers like Square-Enix and Sony have always been close, Square had a different best friend for much of the 80s and 90s: Nintendo. Though a rift developed between them when Square opted to focus on CD-roms rather than cartridges for Final Fantasy VII, that rift only lasted for about 6 years. The game that signalled the end it? Well that was a new release exclusively for the GameCube: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Though Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was released to relatively positive reviews 17 years ago, the game has not aged well. The quest of a caravan of crystal bearers to refill their crystal’s power and protect their homes from a deadly miasma, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

The first, and most considerable, problem with the game is that the quest at the heart of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is tedious and repetitive. Players ostensibly go from area to area on a world map, exploring uninteresting towns and beating lackluster dungeons. If this wasn’t enough, players are also forced to replay these levels over and over again in order to gain enough upgrades for later levels.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: all RPGs ask players to level up in order to succeed. You’re not wrong, it’s simply the structure of levelling up that makes this experience so trying. The only way to level up in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is to beat the entire level again. Players are not rewarded experience for killing enemies but instead can choose one stat to upgrade each time they complete a level. What this means is that every tiny upgrade to your character can take 10-15 minutes at a time to get.

This wouldn’t be as trying on your patience if simple, basic flaws in the game weren’t so egregious. Hit detection is incomprehensible at times because, even when your character seems to be standing right next to an enemy or boss, they often fail to connect their attacks. Even worse, rather than mapping different attacks to the face and shoulder buttons, players must cycle through them one at a time, with the attack button standing in for defense, magic, healing or food consumption.

Of course, much of this has to do with the format of the original game. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was meant to be played with link cables and Game Boy Advances connected to the GameCube. Each player would have a different bonus displayed on their GBA screens and, as such, players would work together in local multiplayer, aiding each other with their unique screen information as well as their combat skills.

Naturally the GBA had only two face buttons and two shoulder buttons, hence the layout. However, it’s been 17 years, and it’s pretty egregious that Square-Enix didn’t even think of giving players an option to rework the button layout. Doing so would make combat much more dynamic and help to fix the often clunky feeling of battling the game’s monsters.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Adding to the tedium are unskippable cutscenes all over the game. Every single time players challenge a boss, they are forced to sit through the same cutscene introducing the boss. Further, there are random events that occur on the world map which are also unskippable, even if they’re repeats of events that the player has already seen. Haplessly tapping the confirm button to skip through dialog that we’ve already heard should not be an issue in a game released in 2020.

These flaws were mostly a part of the original release as well but what’s the point of remastering a game if you haven’t fixed anything? Even the visuals in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered have failed to receive much polish. The game looks murky and fuzzy rather than sharp and clear. If Square-Enix could clean up Final Fantasy VIII for its gorgeous remaster, what stopped them here?

This is without even mentioning the loading times, which are frankly absurd for a game nearly two decades old. Again, it seems that getting this remaster out the door trumped quality control for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, which does nothing to help the game’s case.

Though the game is markedly more fun when players join you to take on a level, even the online connectivity has serious issues. To make matters worse, if a player chooses to use the multiplayer, they’ll have to carry a chalice around themselves if no one joins them, picking it up and putting it down all through the level.

Since single player has an AI character who will carry it for you, this option could be easily added to multiplayer, disappearing when (or if) someone actually joins you. This would allow the structure of the game to remain static regardless of whether someone joins your game or not, instead of making the game harder if no one decides to pop in.

While game director Araki Ryoma has promised to address the issues with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, the game has aged so poorly that, even without the flaws of the remaster, it’s hard to recommend it to modern audiences. Sad as it is, some games are better left in the past. Such is the case with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

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