S is for Shadow of the Tomb Raider

I had high hopes for the concluding chapter of the modern Tomb Raider trilogy. After the refreshing reboot in 2013 and the triumphant followup of Rise of the Tomb Raider, both of which I enjoyed greatly, I’m saddened to report that Shadow of the Tomb Raider was merely adequate. I wanted to like it more than I did. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it. It was kinda just there.

That’s not entirely accurate. There were parts of Shadow that I absolutely adored, notably the gorgeous environments and locales. In fact, photo mode is quickly becoming one of my favorite features in these kinds of games. I love being able to capture the beauty in screenshot form and share them.

There were other parts that were very frustrating. I recognize that as the third part of a trilogy, there will be some narrative dependence on previous entries in the series. However, I feel that too much of Shadow just doesn’t gel on its own. The nominal ‘bad guys’, the natives that Lara is mercilessly mowing down, haven’t done anything bad, at least not that we see. They’re merely bad by connection to Trinity, the big bad of the previous two games. We just need to trust that Lara is the ‘good guy’ because she’s the protagonist.

Additionally, the first half or so of the game tries to dig into the question of whether or not raiding tombs is actually a good and noble thing to do. There’s an on the nose moment when Lara discovers a living civilization: she actually says out loud to the leader of the city she’s stumbled upon that she wasn’t expecting people, she was expecting ruins. Unfortunately, this dissonance is merely flirted with and then thrown away. The second half of the game forgets that the question was even raised, as the game continues to reward the player for digging into not only abandoned tombs, but living sanctuaries of the indigenous peoples. I would be interested to see the game that fully explores the larger ethical ramifications of ‘tomb raiding’, but this is not that game.

I feel like I’m being harsh, but it’s only because I held this series to such high standards. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is definitely still an enjoyable game, despite the flaws. There are lovely moments, visually, narratively, and otherwise. I especially liked an early flashback-like segment where we see Lara as a child and get some insight into her character and motivations. I’d have loved to see more of that explored.

All in all, this was definitely the okay-est entry in the modern Tomb Raider trilogy. If you loved the first two, give this one a try, but be aware that it suffers from third-entry-of-a-trilogy-itis, like many movies have before.

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