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Shadow of the Tomb Raider review: Lara Croft's best adventure yet

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a thrilling conclusion to Lara Croft's adventures, and it's the best game of the series.

Windows Central Recommended Award

The Tomb Raider franchise has progressed hugely during the past decade, further fostering Lara Croft's backstory that formed the iconic adventurer. It's driven a darker tone for the franchise, capturing her shift from a budding archaeologist to a conflicted predator. And with stakes higher than ever, Shadow of the Tomb Raider wraps up the trilogy with a final quest to stop Trinity from harnessing ancient powers.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a breathtaking conclusion to the modern Tomb Raider Trilogy, delivering a comprehensive fusion of series highlights. You experience all sides of her journey, fighting for survival while hunted or unleashing her prowess against challenging foes. Paired with advancements in its cinematic gameplay, the game is a strong contender among 2018's best single-player titles.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is set for a September 14 release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PCs, starting at $59.99.

The dark side of the jungle

After awakening a relic and kickstarting a chain of cataclysmic events known as "the cleansing," earthquakes, floods, and deadly storms spread throughout the world. The quest takes Lara Croft across South America in search of answers, while exploring an untapped realm of long-lost history and mythology. In search of the fictional hidden city of Paititi, you explore ancient Mayan and Incan sites and remnants of civilization concealed within a maze of flora.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider captures Croft's evolution over three entries.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider captures Croft's evolution over three entries, having built her skills and adapted to world challenges. After pinning her father's death to Trinity, she's gained stronger motivators to seek revenge and fulfill his legacy. While bolder and less restrained with her actions, world-changing consequences kickstart a newfound internal conflict for the heroine. And with scenes questioning the morality of both sides, there are some interesting concepts to be explored.

You'll encounter both new and returning figures. However, character development is weak outside of Lara herself. Failing to provide context beyond driving the main narrative, this ultimately makes for a world that while engaging, doesn't offer a reason to remain invested. While fans of the trilogy will embrace the finale, the narrative fails to stand on its own.

In contrast to the freezing locales of its predecessor, Shadow of the Tomb Raider mostly spans the South American jungles. This opens new opportunities in-line with the setting, such as deadly creatures, heightened verticality, and a generally increased sense of scale. While these environmental changes don't hugely shake up gameplay, it provides further variation for the backdrop.

This establishes the foundations for one of Shadow of the Tomb Raider's main strengths: delivering exceptional visuals even on console hardware. It's a striking world, comprised of vibrant vistas, lush foliage, and abstract tombs to discover. Paired with impressive facial animation, cast members are represented with uncanny accuracy. It's easily one of the best-looking titles of the generation, even on entry-level consoles.

Easily one of the best-looking titles of the generation.

On Xbox One X, various visual enhancements bring out dense jungle vegetation, while High Dynamic Range (HDR) can draw out colors in darker tombs and caves. You'll get the choice of native 4K at 30 frames per second (FPS) or 1080p at 60 FPS too, offering versatility based on how you want to play.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider's world is as inviting as it is hostile, capturing the scale and awe of the jungle with uncompromised detail. It supports a strong narrative, building Croft's internal conflict and, making for a thrilling blockbuster packed with action. While its story doesn't diverge from the expected, there's more than enough to keep you playing to the credits.

Sleek and stylish but not perfect

Shadow of the Tomb Raider retains a familiar blend of camera angles, animations, and wider environmental design that drive a cinematic feel. The precise styling is synonymous with existing titles and its return brings further elevated direction.

Rise of the Tomb Raider's combat philosophies carry forward, with the same core foundations. This brings the same emphasis on leveraging cover and sightlines for stealth, paired with plentiful abilities to upgrade your hunting capabilities. Hostile non-player characters (NPCs) are relatively smart when alerted, and their set patrol paths are challenging tests of timing and quick reflexes. However, if enemies open fire, the loose gunplay leaves significant room for improvement. In these cases, it's best to throw foes off your scent, or just restart to a prior checkpoint.

Over the course of the main narrative, fluctuating pacing brings some promising variety to the gameplay. This keeps players from adopting a uniform play style, with some scenes demanding complete stealth or full carnage. It's an interesting dynamic, where five minutes after crawling among the bushes, you'll be killing dozens among a burning refinery. Unfortunately, weak gunplay isn't fleshed out to support full combat-driven scenes, which is made especially apparent in later levels.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a story-driven game at heart, but efforts have been made to provide more activities outside the main narrative. "City hubs" are the latest addition hoping to grow content offerings, bringing three set locations filled with vendors and side quests. Campfires are still used for distributing skill points and upgrading your gear, but city hubs inject a little more personality into safe zones.

Gunplay isn't fleshed out to support full combat-driven scenes.

Similar puzzles also return, requiring a culmination of proficient puzzle-solving and quick reflexes. Traditional tomb puzzles align with previous games, focusing on triggering events to move forward. And with new changes to the grappling hook allowing for rappelling and wall running, there's further dynamism and verticality to platforming.

The polarizing nature of platforming frustratingly returns, making some segments needlessly challenging. The fixed solutions provide little margin for error, punishing those diverging from developer intentions. Linearity isn't the issue, but sometimes it simply comes down to landing the right angle, or otherwise facing instant death. The extended underwater segments feature similar polarity, where catching the eyes of piranhas leaves you helpless without tools to fight back.

Beyond its flaws, Shadow of the Tomb Raider should be commended for its improved accessibility, with its flexible approach to difficulty. The implementation allows for fine-tuning of combat, exploration, and puzzles, independently scaling them to personal preferences.

Should you buy Shadow of the Tomb Raider for Xbox One?

Despite an industry-wide shift to online titles, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is refreshing strong single-player experience for Xbox One users. While buyers should make sure to play Tomb Raider (2013) and Rise of the Tomb Raider beforehand, the latest title delivers a highly-anticipated conclusion to the journey.

With heightened stakes and tension, Shadow of the Tomb Raider will keep you engaged throughout its hours of gameplay. Its limited advancements over previous games should be noted, but the final package is still an unmissable Tomb Raider adventure.

Pros:

  • A engaging dive into Lara Croft.
  • Outstanding presentation.
  • Smooth, cinematic gameplay.
  • Stays fresh with new mechanics.

Cons:

  • Gunplay is still weak, especially when forced.
  • Some segments enforce overly strict linearity.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is set for a September 14 release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PCs, starting at $59.99.

This review was conducted on Xbox One X using a copy provided by the publisher.

Matt Brown is a senior editor at Future for Windows Central. Following six years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Xbox and Windows PCs. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

16 Comments
  • And the best console version for this game runs on the OneX. FH4 out next. Sony fanboy's had a few exclusives come out but sales charts say they always go back to playing GTA, COD, Fortnite and fifa lol. And all these great multiplat console games will be coming out soon and will all run the best on the OneX. But xbox doesn't have games? Tomb raider
    Black ops4
    Red dead2
    Hitman2
    Darksiders3
    Fallout76
  • Ashen, Ori and many others.
    Plus, features like Win10 + UWP and free cross-platform cloud saves (which brings us BC, FC, XPA and GamePass).
  • Why are you soo salty? Nobody here is talking trash about Xbox. And you probably don't know but the Pro version holds 30fps better than the X and has only a 10% difference in resolution making it the better version if you choose high resolution mode. And you can't possibly deny that Xbox has a exclusive problem and since they decided to also launch them on Windows 10, light games like CupHead became accessible to everyone making the problem bigger. You can like Xbox better for alot of reasons but also you shouldn't forget their problems.
  • There are more Sony trolls then I had imagined.
  • Nobody says Xbox doesn't have games, they say it doesn't have exclusives, and that is true.
  • clearly that's not true because obviously there are some exclusives
  • Like (also games across PC and Xbox don't count, it actually needs to be exclusive)? Actually, I'll answer for you. Halo, it's basically the only major game now exclusive to Xbox. And who knows if that will remain that way with Infinite.
  • "xb has 0 games"
  • oops, my comment got cut...
    What I was trying to say is, that statement isn't really uncommon on the internet.
  • So far, I'm enjoying Spider-man. Amazing game. I feel bad for those who can't afford to buy it...
    I'll play this one afterwards but I don't think I'll like it as much. I thought Rise of the Tomb Raider was a bit of a copy-paste of TR 2013. They are two good games if we see them as individual games but they are way too similar...
    I'm hoping this will not be "more of the same"...
  • This is extremely similar to RotTR, but that's both a good and a bad thing. They've used that strong foundation, but if there were flaws you found in RotTR, many of them likely transfer here.
  • If QTEs are out, I an in.
  • They're definitely there, but it's only a few cases of button mashing to break a window in a cutscene or grabbing a ledge. If you're not a fan, it's probably not a dealbreaker :)
  • Why is linearity a con? Linearity is not a bad thing and some of the most enjoyable games are linear. So many game reviewers ding a game for this, and I cannot understand why.
  • she looks thrilled about it
  • I'm up to the oil fields now, so far it's probably got the weakest story of all the modern Tomb Raider games, so much of it just simply doesn't make sense until you start collecting document collectables, and even then there are some big plotholes namely relating to the main antagonist. They have also arguably made Lara the LEAST relatable protagonist. Luckily the gameplay is still immensely fun and makes the whole thing worth it, but it definitely isn't better than RotTR.