This week, Yahtzee reviews Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Due to server issues, the Escapist website was temporarily shut down on September 26, 2018. The video premiered on the nominally post-ZP live stream on Twitch.
Ah, what a delightful thing it always is to see a video game enter the hallowed ranks of "things that have shadows"! Now, as well as the Colossus, the Beast, the Damned, the Comet, Mordor, and, uh... the Beast II, there's also a Shadow of the Tomb Raider! You might say it's just falling back on hackneyed titling clichés because they already used the "generic r-word sequel name" with Rise of the Tomb Raider, but shadows are important; a shadow can tell you how fat and ugly something is without you having to directly look at it! And that's as fitting a segue into the actual game as we're going to get.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the origin story of how Lara Croft became a tomb raider, which might confuse anyone who played the last two Tomb Raiders, which also claimed to be that exact thing; apparently, it was a trilogy all along. Surprise! I guess you need the full extent of three games to fully establish why a person might want to hunt for treasures, or murder people who are trying to murder them. The plot for this one is-- Oh, God! It hardly matters! Lara's on a treasure hunt and needs to get to the ancient ruins before the bad guys do, because the bad guys wouldn't treat them respectfully or something, as opposed to Lara, who just accidentally demolishes most of it by climbing all over it with her big fat arse. She picks up a treasure that sets off the countdown to apocalypse, and the bad guys call her a stupid fuck as natural disasters start killing off all the locals, and it's completely her fault. But you have to have sympathy for her, because ages ago, her father died and made her quite sad and alone, with nothing to her name but all the money in the universe.
Anyway, everyone sort of forgets about that "apocalypse" thing, and the plot becomes about tracking down a lost city of Incas and dubbly-dubbly-dum, and at the end, we're too late to stop the main bad guy using the ancient magic treasure to turn themselves into a god, the kind of god who walks very slowly around a boss arena and can be killed by shooting them, with bullets. Yeah, Lara, I guess it was important we stop them acquiring this unstoppable power; they might have marched on Washington and been instantly cut down by the National Guard! I'm sure all those dead Mexicans now understand the importance of their sacrifice, you mad cow!
Well, now that the origin story's officially over, I can state with complete confidence that I can't stand this version of Lara Croft. Admittedly, Old Lara Croft seemed to have augmented her tits and bum by extracting material from her personality, but at least there was a sense of fun; even falling nine stories onto spikes had this colorful "bonhomie" about it when her ponytail was dancing merrily about her exposed giblets like Francis Bacon's favorite brush.
New Lara is just equal parts boring and apparently psychotic; first, most of her emotional range got blasted off her face in a hideous leaf-blower accident, so she reacts to everything from an exploding oil refinery to the death of her pet badger like she's at the supermarket trying to figure out what kind of toothpaste she wants. Just like last time, she's got a bad case of the "have to's" - if you take a drink every time she declares that she "has to" or "must" do something, then you'll wake up in a dog kennel with your mouth tasting like the inside of a cement mixer - which, again, gives her the personal agency of a wooden duckie on a string. And let's not forget, she's bugfuck nuts! Villager says, "Some naughty criminals are giving us trouble!", Lara says, "Oh, how terrible! I 'must' help you!", and then, with no further questions, proceeds to start wordlessly dragging people into bushes and slitting their throats, like she's been waiting all fucking day for the excuse to get started.
Help me out here, viewers: How has Lara Croft's character developed over the course of this "developmental" origin story? She was already a super-gymnast-adventurer-archery-gold-medalist when the first game started! She had a brief case of the wibblies after her first confirmed kill, but she was chalking them up like a champ inside ten minutes! She has received a lot of punishment, but if getting the shit beaten out of you is enough to make you a complex and interesting character, then my knob deserves its own Scorsese-directed biopic.
Mostly, it seems she goes after treasures because someone else getting it first would be bad in some poorly-established way, and then proceeds to monotone her way through the subsequent peril. There is the occasional blip of character development that is always quickly squashed like a bubble in wallpaper; on around twelve occasions, she thinks she's gotten her big dumb friend killed and starts wondering if maybe this is why nobody comes to her birthday parties, but oh! Turns out he's alive! Abort character development! Then she thinks the baddies have killed her big dumb friend, so she puts on her "Terminator" face and goes on a rampage, but again, oh! Big dumb friend's still alive! Back to sanity! Big dumb friend almost gets through at one point by yelling at her to stop shouldering the whole burden of making things all about her - shortly before she shoulders the whole burden that makes things all about her - but the only revelation she seems to have had by the end of her origin story is that maybe she should just stop bothering with the big dumb friend in future.
Oh yeah, and there's this business with avenging her father, who was killed by the evil cult-conspiracy-organization-thing we're up against, but she isn't even sure they did kill him until right at the end, and most of the leaders of the evil cult all die offscreen, which is probably the highlight of the game, comedy-wise. There's this action-packed penultimate battle sequence before the final boss where an easily-missed voiceover goes, "Hey, I've got all the cult leaders in this helicopter! Whoopsie! Crashed, and everyone died. Butterfingers!" Then the secondary villain dies, then the main villain dies; this is all in, like, ten minutes! Not so much tying up the plot threads as taking a fucking hedge trimmer to them. I don't know if this is coming across, but I really didn't like Shadow of the Tomb Raider very much. I consider it fitting that it used an eclipse as its symbol, because, creatively speaking, it's a fucking black hole! The only new idea it had for the gameplay was that now, you can hide on plant-covered walls as part of the stealth. I assume this was the result of nepotism; Mr. Chest-High-Wall pressured Square Enix to give his layabout cousin a job so he'd get off the weed.
It's one of those games where I had real trouble deciding what upgrades to buy from the character menu because they all seemed equally useless as long as stealth kills still work, and most enemies go down in a mere smattering of bullets from the assault rifle you are given at no cost. "Increase the amount of time Lara can hold her breath underwater"? I don't see how you could increase it by much; she's already putting pearl divers to shame. She must have a couple of air pockets concealed in her bra!
Speaking of which, did you see that bit in the trailer where Lara's struggling to squeeze her D-cups through an incredibly-narrow underwater cave before she drowns? Effective moment, that, wasn't it? Devs clearly thought so; they reuse it, like, four times! Not that there's any actual peril; it's an, all together now: ♬pre-determined action setpiece!♬, like half the rest of the game, which is probably why the game world feels so shallow and artificial. There is a modern-style oil refinery literally within a minute's brisk walk of the secret Incan city for no better reason than to have something Lara can blow up at the start of the final act, which she does within about 30 seconds of arriving at it. What'd you expect? She's an outdoorswoman; she likes hiking... insurance rates! Ha, ha, ha, ha, HA, HA!
- But thou must: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I think Lara's dad killed himself after he saw how much it cost to install a giant mechanical chessboard as a security system
- Heroic Rich Person probably doesn't work in today's political climate