*Originally published in The Argus on Friday, September 16, 2018*

Lara Croft is one of gaming’s most beloved characters and with Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s release we see her facing her biggest threat yet, as her origin trilogy comes to an end.

We meet Lara, and her friend Jonah, as they are trying to reach a dangerous artefact before the evil and powerful group, Trinity, can get their hands on it. Little does Lara know that by grabbing the ancient object, she may have just triggered the Mayan Apocalypse. Oops. Lara must now stop at nothing to prevent Trinity from using her mistake to their advantage and ultimately save the world.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider will see you exploring a dangerous jungle, a hidden city and, of course, ancient tombs filled with traps and treasure.

Honestly, this game is absolutely massive. The jungle you’re thrown into is not only gorgeous, it truly feels alive with wildlife. It feels as if you’re disturbing a place that hasn’t been touched in a very long time. The world is packed with collectables, useful items for upgrading weapons, and challenge tombs. These tombs are completely optional but will test your skills in various ways and reward you with an ability that you don’t want to miss.

Climbing plays a big part in the game, and you’ll often have to reach seemingly impossible locations using your gear, resulting in you performing incredible leaps or clinging on as the wall crumbles around you – it’s a great feeling.

However, there are times when climbing can be frustrating, as you’ll jump in the right direction, but end up totally missing your target, leading Lara to a very unnecessarily gruesome death. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen often and is usually the result of you rushing to get to the next ledge. Another way to reach difficult places is by heading underwater, which is not only handy but will usually lead you to more goodies. Thankfully Lara can hold her breath for quite a while, so swimming is always more fun than frustrating, but watch out for those piranhas – they’re never fun.

This title has a nice balance of exploration, tomb raiding and action. Combat feels fast-paced and smooth, and Lara feels deadlier than ever. The game’s new stealth mechanic means that if you’re spotted by an enemy, you’re not stuck having a crazy firefight, as you can lose them by jumping into one of the many hiding spots scattered around the area. This gives you more variety in how you approach battle, and it improves the overall experience. Lara has grown and learnt from her previous clashes against Trinity, and this shows in her combat prowess.

Another useful mechanic is the option to cover yourself in mud and blend in with your surroundings, making it even easier to perform stealth kills. If you like a challenge or prefer the more explosive approach, you have access to Lara’s bow, plus some heavier weaponry – all of which can be upgraded at the many campfires the game has available. You’ll also be able to hunt the local wildlife, giving you extra experience and resources. Using these resources allows you to craft new outfits and make arrows to ensure you never run out when you need them most.

Almost everything you do in Tomb Raider rewards you with experience points, and if you gain enough of them you’ll level up and get yourself a skill point, which can be spent on unlocking abilities. This will really help you out as you continue your adventure.

This is easily the most accessible Tomb Raider game to date, as the combat, puzzle and exploration difficulties can each be altered, giving you a truly personalised experience. if you’re someone who struggles with combat but loves challenging puzzles, you can turn combat to easy and puzzles to hard. It’s a brilliant and welcome touch.

You’ll come across a few towns during your journey, the biggest being a hidden city in the heart of the jungle. There you’ll be able to speak with the locals and take on side quests too.

These quests are very well thought out and give you a greater understanding of the people, laws and environment of each of the areas. The main story, on the other hand, feels a little disappointing, and while it does have some great moments, it also feels messy and unpolished. As this was the final part of Lara’s origin story, it feels like it could have been so much more.

Verdict

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a great game. The story isn’t as strong as it could be, the optional tombs, collectables and exciting exploration makes the overall journey worthwhile.

Review copy provided by Square Enix