It's the best of the new Lara Croft and the worst of the new Lara Croft. Good luck deciding which one you want to love or hate.
Lara returns for the third game since her franchise reboot in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and this time, she's trying to save the world from the Mayan apocalypse. Except this Lara is far less innocent than the protagonist of the last two games by Crystal Dynamics. This Lara is harder to love.
This Tomb Raider is flawed, part of the problem. Since 2013's spectacular "Tomb Raider," when she was so wildly innocent, she's hardened and grown less sympathetic, a rare full character arc in a video game. Crystal Dynamics dares to change its protagonist's profile in this third game, and that's destined to leave you feeling conflicted, especially if you've played the last two games. You won't always like this Lara, a unique feeling to have to a game's star.
She's just not the same, and that point is driven home early on, when it takes her exploration partner, Jonah, to settle and refocus her on more altruistic goals. At the outset, she's become obsessed with Trinity in a game that picks up after Rise of the Tomb Raider. You'll notice this early on, creating slight ambiguity over the villain's actions; are the bad guys really fully wrong when Lara's focus is this singular? Crystal Dynamics dares to make a three-dimensional protagonist, and it's a fun turn for Lara, one that makes the gamer think.
Age has brought edge and depth to Lara's character, but it doesn't change her mechanics all that much. At its core, "Shadow of the Tomb Raider" plays much like the 2013 version of Tomb Raider; this is both the game's strength and a slight flaw. Those game mechanics are sound; platforming and area traversal are steady, combat works well, and Lara moves and animates well. Additionally, it's still a joy to stare an enemy down with your bow and arrow, then deliver a perfect shot.
But there's a lack of evolution here that makes things a little bit bland. You still start with a barebones bow and arrow set, still start with a basic knife. We're three games into this, but too much of the upgrade chains feel familiar. Just minutes into the game, I need a more upgraded version of a knife to get into an early area. To Tomb Raider newbies, this won't be bothersome; to vets, it's a little odd.
To offset that familiarity, "Shadow" works to build out deeper stealth mechanics. Think "Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater" here: Lara can camouflage herself within the jungle and kill her enemies silently. The new mechanics work solidly, helping to mix up the Tomb Raider formula just slightly, and they fit with the hardened Lara; she'll kill a lot more in this game than she did in that first Tomb Raider five years ago.
They're also imperfect mechanics, too, not quite as refined as you might like them to be. Sound plays no role in Tomb Raider's stealth, and enemy artificial intelligence is inconsistent. At times, this allows you to take advantage of the systems, making the game easier.
Still, Tomb Raider's action and stealth remain fun enough to keep you interested, especially as you monitor Lara's unique character arc, and as you appreciate the world. The rebooted Tomb Raider has long been beautiful, and "Shadow" continues to set a high bar. Lara comes to life, and she traverses fantastic areas loaded with detail. Towns and cities feel distinct as she walks about them, packed with unique touches, and the jungles and lairs she explores are often stunning. And no franchise does a set piece like this one; several early sections will have your heart racing as you battle to get Lara to the end.
It all adds up to a uniquely satisfying third act for this edition of Lara Croft, who continues to be the most badass female protagonist in gaming. She's more vicious in this game, and she exists in a game that's definitely showing its age.
But make no mistake, Tomb Raider's still got it.
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed on Sony Playstation 4 Pro and Microsoft Xbox One X
Available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC
This article is written by Ebenezer Samuel from New York Daily News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.