It’s probably unfair for me to review Shadow of the Tomb Raider so soon after Spider-Man. My viewpoint is skewed because Spider-Man is clearly the better game. It’s also unfair because I’m not a professional videogame reviewer, though I feel compelled to write reviews; I feel that one game is better than the other, but I struggle to explain why I feel that way.
I’ll start with Shadow of the Tomb Raider‘s positive qualities: The graphics are beautiful and lush. The jungles, rain forests, and tombs are rendered in detail. When you activate Lara Croft’s survival instincts or have her take a perception potion, you can make out the highlighted features without the effects obscuring object features.
Given my initial criticism of Spider-Man, I particularly like that the difficulty level of Shadow of the Tomb Raider can be set separately for combat, exploration, and puzzles. Of course, I set them all to ‘easy’, and I needed it. Unlike Spider-Man, the Easy difficulty in Shadow of the Tomb Raider apparently adjusts the timing windows for various actions so I could do most of Lara Croft’s famous platform antics, and when I failed I usually could get through things with only a couple of repeats.
The gameplay: If you’ve played the previous two Lara Croft games since its 2013 reboot, Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, it’s more of the same: tombs to raid, crypts to plunder, puzzles to solve, collectibles for gear or achievements, bad guys to fight. Here’s where my powers of description fail me: overall, the gameplay doesn’t feel as rewarding as it did in the previous games. When I finished Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s main story, I wanted to go back and complete all the puzzles and collectibles I’d missed along the way. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, once the story was finished, I was done; I didn’t feel there was any joy to be had by continuing the game.
The story: Basically, it’s the usual. Lara follows clues left behind by ancient monuments that take her to South America, battling the forces of Trinity, looking for a mystical artifact that can save or destroy the world. Unlike the previous two Lara Croft, I didn’t see that there was much of a character arc for Lara; she starts out a cold-stone killer and stays that way throughout the game. There are some emotional beats, but at this point in the series they feel stale, like seeing Bruce Wayne’s parents gunned down in the alley yet again.
Voice acting: Here’s is where Shadow of the Tomb Raider definitely falls behind Spider-Man. I know that voice acting for a massive videogame like this is a tough job; there are hundreds if not thousands of lines to be recorded, including endless descriptions for every collectible. But the Spider-Man voice actors make it all sound fresh and engaging. The voice actors in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, especially Camilla Luddington as Lara Croft, sound tired and flat by comparison. Only during the cut scenes do the voices even have a semblance of life.
The exception is the main villain, but he has fewer lines since he speaks only during the cinematic intervals. The actor Carlos Leal, playing the leader of Trinity, sounds like he’s having fun being Lara’s antagonist.
If you’re a fan of the Tomb Raider series, the game does fill out the trilogy and brings Lara Croft to the point she was in the first game from the 90s. It’s certainly worth playing for that reason. But if the story of Lara Croft doesn’t compel you, and you have a PS4, I’d recommend Spider-Man instead.
Edit: I forgot to make this point in my original review: It’s probably my imagination, but the latest computer model of Lara Croft looks a little more breast-and-butt heavy compared to the two earlier games. It’s as if they were pandering to the male audience as they did in the 1990s version.