I absolutely love the Tomb Raider reboot games. Both of them came bundled with my Xbox One when I bought it and after beating the first one I didn’t think the second would have much to improve on. While I could appreciate the first’s story a lot more, Rise of the Tomb Raider had a lot of gameplay improvements and ended up looking stellar in the Xbox One X when it got the 4K/HDR enhancements. I played both games to completion, so I’m pretty pumped to see what Shadow of the Tomb Raider does to improve upon the formula even more…
All kidding aside, let’s start by addressing the graphics first, as they’ve been a hot topic online. They do seem to have taken a step back in quality when compared to Rise of the Tomb Raider. Lara looks just a bit less detailed and there were graphical bugs here and there. Lights shimmering where they shouldn’t, Lara’s lasso shaking up and down and clipping through her (something I couldn’t fail to notice, as my eyes are constantly drawn to that area for some reason)
Now don’t get me wrong, most of the game looks more than decent. But I’ve just revisited Rise on my Xbox One X and that level of detail in textures is missing here and there, especially on the character models. My snaps of the game were all taken with my phone, so take these with a grain of salt. It’s one of the main reasons many booths don’t allow you to take pics without having a player’s shoulder in the picture: so everyone knows it’s not an in-game screenshot. But I used the same device for Kingdom Hearts 3 and Forza Horizon 4 (Samsung Galaxy S9 cam) and those didn’t seem to suffer the same downgrade in image quality. I do take into account that this may have been due to bad lighting at the booth and having an overall darker game though but my own eyes didn’t deceive me.
But let’s move on from commenting on the looks and move onto how the demo plays.
The demo starts off with a cinematic in a Mexican town in the middle of Dios de los Muertes, a theme/festival I hope to see a lot more of in the game as I’m a huge fan of the Mexican folklore. It’s a colourful festival that really takes a step away from the gritty and serious nature of the Tomb Raider reboot, but unfortunately the Gamescom demo skips ahead to where we actually get to explore a tomb. And we’re back to the grit and serious…
Gameplay-wise, I felt right at home and could perform almost all of the same acrobatic moves from Rise. Safe from having to set the controls back to having the Y-axis inverted, I was good to go.
In fact it all felt a bit too familiar. The usual scaling of walls and pressing X to get a better grip is back, as are the arrow + rope puzzles or the ones where you use your weight to raise a few platforms. Or the part where you use an arrow as a lever/handle. Or the part where…
You see, I never really felt I was playing a new game in the series throughout my experience. It just as well could have been another DLC for Rise of the Tomb Raider and I wouldn’t have been the wiser.
The question is: is that truly such a bad thing? Most people, myself included, loved the previous games so it can’t really be an error to return to form. Yet I couldn’t shake that empty feeling of having “been there, done that” throughout my playthrough.
After solving the first few platforming puzzles and easily collecting all the artifacts and optional bonus objectives, I surfaced from the tomb and got to get into the combat a little. Lara was able to get her hands dirty again and I was performing takedown after takedown on the bad guys. The combat should in my opinion never be the main focal point of a Tomb Raider game, but I be damned if these games don’t make it feel enjoyable.
Finding the perfect balance between story, exploration/puzzle solving and combat will be the main challenge for the game to achieve, but I feel it’s going to perform admirably in this regard if the demo was any indicator. Sadly I didn’t get to beat the entirity of it as some booth-guy tapped on my shoulder after about 15 minutes of play and my time was cut short, just before reaching the end. I probably spent too much time staring at Lara’s… hair-physics!
Despite all the criticism I’m throwing at the game, I really do hope it’s worth playing. Lara’s previous two adventures have been some of my defining experiences with the current generation of consoles so I do really hope Shadow of the Tomb Raider is just as enjoyable. I just want to see them stepping out of their comfort zone a bit more with this title and bring us new things to experience.