Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Back in 2013 (good god that was 6 years ago), I professed my adoration for the Tomb Raider reboot. Except for the camera and its motion-sickness bobbing. Fuck that camera. The Bobbing Rant entry that the camera spawned is one of my most linked entries (mostly by me, bitching about cameras in other games, but still!).
I got 100% in Tomb Raider and I wanted more.

In 2016 (or the end of 2015, at least), I played Rise of the Tomb Raider. It was a release day purchase for me. I enjoyed it, and I thought I posted an entry about it, but apparently I was mistaken. Rise was a good game, but it really didn’t add much on top of the first one. But I enjoyed the first one and wanted more of the first one, so I was happy with it. (But apparently not happy enough to write a blog entry about it. So, there’s that.)
I intended to get 100% in Rise, but I kind of wandered off and realized I had no motivation to boot it up again, so I uninstalled it and filed it under “completed”.

And in 2019 (I waited until it was on sale), I played Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Imagine my joy when, FINALLY, they included settings to minimize/eliminate camera bobbing. THEY FINALLY FIGURED IT OUT! IT ONLY TOOK SIX YEARS! I was able to play this installment of the series without motion sickness headaches!

Unfortunately, that might be the only good thing about this installment.

Okay, no, I lied. One really good thing about this installment is that it really feels like a Tomb Raider game. The world has lots of nooks and crannies to explore. There’s lots of hidden shit to find. I really enjoyed all of that, and the world felt far less linear than the previous two installments. It felt larger, and full of discovery.

THAT might be the only good thing about this installment.

So… one of the things that really impressed me with the first installment was the writing. Lara starts off as an innocent starry-eyed adventurer, and she gets the shit beaten out of her over and over again until the shiny naivete wears off. The moment where the quicktime prompts switch from “Press to defend yourself” to “Press to kill” sticks out in my mind as a “Holy shit” moment.

I honestly don’t know if I’m just mis-remembering the rest of the writing, or if it’s simply more exposed in Shadow because of all of the side quests… but the writing was really bad. Like… someone got paid to do this writing (presumably, anyway. Maybe they had the guy who designed the camera bobbing do the writing this time), and that’s kind of appalling. There are so many writers out there who are not currently being paid who could have done so much better than this drek.

I mean, you kinda have to expect the typical “Indiana Jones” plot hole tropes. Stuff like “We know the super secret thing is hidden here and people have been searching for centuries and no one has been able to find it!” and then Lara walks in and moves one object onto some REALLY OBVIOUS triggers and oh my goodness would you look at that! Lara found the hidden thing that no one else could find! Isn’t Lara amazing!

And the ever popular “Lara struggles through dozens of puzzles and unlocks the door to enter this super dusty tomb that no one has been in for centuries! But oh no the bad guys beat her to it somehow, even though all those doors were untouched and dusty.”

That kind of bad writing doesn’t bother me.

What bothered me is that every single character in the world is a useless idiot and they all need Lara to solve their problems. Which she does, effortlessly.

I quit doing side quests when she had to rescue the super special ceremonial knife from a tree. She climbed the tree, retrieved the knife, and the people were fucking amazed at how amazing she is. For climbing a tree. To get a special knife back. Which was fucking thrown into the tree by an idiot who probably shouldn’t have been handling the special knife if he’s going to throw it into a tree. All the pretty princess outfits in the world are not worth sitting through this eye-rolling nonsense.

And speaking of pretty princess outfits, Shadow has a lot of them. It’s kind of a neat system, where you can customize your outfit to give you bonuses. My favourite outfit was made of leopard skins which made me more silent, making it more difficult for enemies to detect me. But you could use different outfits to enhance different skillsets or playstyles. I even got special outfits for owning the previous games in the series.

Normally, unlocking everything is my favourite part of these sorts of games, so when I started unlocking vestige outfits I was pretty excited to find the doodads I would need to complete them and add them to my collection. But then I discovered that unlocking them is largely a process of grinding out common items to sell to vendors and then buy the rare items back off those vendors. You CAN go hunting for rare animals, and you can get skills to make them spawn more… but why do that when you can just buy the shit? It kind of took the “treasure hunt” excitement out of it for me, and I lost all interest.

And the super cool thing about those outfits? You never use them. You are forced to wear special outfits in order to interact with the NPCs in the villages you go to, which means you wear those villager outfits, and nothing but those outfits, for roughly 90% of the game. The mind boggles at this design decision. There is NO reason to give the player a ton of options and then completely remove their ability to choose. Who is even in charge of game design over there?

The main storyline was fine. It was pretty typical Tomb Raider stuff (in all of it’s ‘over-the-top-ness’), and wasn’t irritating like the side quests. Lara has moved completely away from the naivete she had in the first game, and now she’s slathering herself with mud and hiding in the bushes to slit throats. They (somewhat) try to confront her on this in the narratives, but I don’t feel like they did it strongly enough. There’s also an underlying narrative of criticizing Lara for charging in and tromping all over cultures, which was somewhat cathartic in light of the awful sidequest writing. But… then it’s completely undermined by the actual outcome of everything. Lara tromples all over these cultures and… then saves them? So, is it saying it’s good that she trompled all over them? I’m confused.

And you know, since I’m bitching about game design decisions… I also played this game on the easiest setting —”tell me a story” or whatever it’s called in this game. “Smart and Resourceful”, I think? I usually just affectionately refer to it as “pussy mode”. I want to explore the game and experience the story without having to worry about min-maxing my skills and loadout for each boss fight.

Shadow decided that “pussy mode” meant “aim assist”. I’m cool with that. I played with mouse/keyboard (as it should be) so I don’t need aim assist, but if you’re playing with a controller you TOTALLY want aim assist for pussy mode.

“Aim assist” apparently means “aim for the chest”. Even if you’re currently hiding in a bush and not a single soul knows you’re there, and you have a perfect line on a headshot (for which you get bonuses, no less). You stealthily nock your arrow and aim at the head and… *whip* down to the chest you aim. And it fucking glues it there for several seconds, so you have to wait before you can get control of it again to aim at the head like you intended to do in the first place. And by then the fucker is walking away, which means you have to take the shot at a target which is no longer stationary.

I am not sure I have enough caps lock to express just how rage-inducing that was. And you CANNOT TURN IT OFF. You can boost the difficulty, and then the game is like “Oh okay, I’ll let you do your own aiming. Aim at heads if you want to, I guess.” But I don’t want to boost the difficulty. I want to play on pussy mode because I am a pussy. I just want to turn off aim assist. Or at the very least, make aim assist ASSIST ME IN AIMING AT THEIR FUCKING HEADS. Why would I aim at their chest, when I could aim at their head! I get bonuses for HEAD SHOTS, not chest shots! Who designed this shit?

Are they deliberately trying to ruin the franchise? This is supposed to be the last game in the trilogy. Are they trying to ensure it won’t be brought back like Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull? I am so confused about the bad decisions on display, here.

And in other, non-gameplay problems… I actually had to delay playing the game for several weeks because of all the technical problems it was having. I had all kinds of shadow flicker issues, which was annoying but I could get over it. What killed the game for me was the sound cutting out. I had to wait for two or three successive patches to stop the sound from cutting out every single time I loaded a new area. Talk about immersion-ruining to slip through a door into an expansive and impressive ruin and then it’s just utter silence for the next 10 seconds or so. Even after these patches fixed the sound cut on area load, I had issues with horrible crackling every time I tabbed out. I’d have to tab in and out of the game until it “loaded” the sound properly without a crackle, which made tabbing out a major ordeal.

Anyway. I finished the game, watched the final cutscenes, and then uninstalled it. Suffice to say I will not be getting 100% in this installment, either.

Which is a god damn shame.

About tagracat
I am not a professional, I don't get paid to review shit, I am just opinionated and I seem to have some sort of disorder that results in spewing my opinions onto the internet. I enjoy writing long-winded posts about things and sometimes I like to pretend people want to read them, so a blog seemed an appropriate place to stuff it. But mostly I just like writing about things.

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