'Shadow of the Tomb Raider'
From: Square Enix
Who it's for: Action/adventure fans and anyone who loves the series
Console: Xbox One, PS4
When developer Crystal Dynamics released its "Tomb Raider" reboot in 2013, a seismic shift occurred in the franchise.
No longer was Lara Croft some fantasy girl with over-inflated breasts and short shorts. Here was a complex, realistic character on her first expedition, just beginning to figure out her role in the world.
Five years later, we have the final part of Lara's origin trilogy, "Shadow of the Tomb Raider." An expansive adventure game, "Shadow" concludes the Trinity storyline, bringing Lara to Mexico and Peru and a whole new set of tombs, crypts and lost cities to explore.
At its core, "Shadow of the Tomb Raider" doesn't expand on the gameplay of the most recent installments. If you enjoyed playing the last two games, then you will likely enjoy this one.
If you're looking for another evolution of character and abilities, you won't find that here. The game starts two months after "Rise of the Tomb Raider," and it's clear that Lara is the same woman she was at the end of that game.
This isn't a bad thing. Today's Lara Croft is a badass and fully capable of taking care of herself. Of course, she is starting with nothing but her climbing axes again, so you must find/craft what you need.
Eventually, Lara will regain her knife, bow, pistol, rifle and shotgun, as well as a handful of adventuring tools you'll need to access some parts of the game world.
Most useful are Lara's athletic skills, though. This woman could fly through the American Ninja Warrior course in record time and still have the energy to run a marathon.
Scaling cliffs, swinging from ropes, breaking through walls and finding well-hidden secrets never gets old. Sometimes it's difficult to keep following the main quest when there is so much treasure to find and so many side quests to explore.
Don't worry though, the storyline isn't going anywhere, and once you have beaten that, you can still come back to clean up.
The excellent story propels the gameplay, giving Lara (and you) the motivation to keep driving forward, facing death at every turn.
Oh yeah, death. Chances are good you'll die ... repeatedly. Sometimes enemies will pop up when you least expect them, filling Lara with bullets before she has a chance to react. Or perhaps you'll be working on a particularly tough puzzle or adventure sequence and find yourself without a handhold over a pit filled with spikes.
The good news is that death is temporary. Liberally placed checkpoints make learning from your lessons reasonably painless.
The game's difficulty system also helps. Players can choose from multiple difficulties for each major game component: combat, exploration and puzzles. So if you don't really like fighting but enjoy exploration and love puzzles, it is possible to set the difficulties as easy, medium and hard respectively.
This dynamic customization helps players craft the experience they want, something other games should incorporate.
It's difficult to find fault with "Shadow of the Tomb Raider" beyond the fact that it's very much the same experience as the previous two games, with a new location and story. Therefore, those who want a more evolved experience may be disappointed.
Everything else, however, is spot on.
The lush graphics look good on any TV but particularly pop in 4K with HDR. We have reached a time when ridiculously good-looking games are becoming the norm (see "Spider-Man," "God of War," "Forza Horizon" and the upcoming "Red Dead Redemption 2" for examples). Still, it's impossible not to appreciate the level of detail the artists put into these games.
Likewise, the sound is amazing. The music is atmospherically appropriate, and the voice acting is top-shelf. Camilla Luddington makes a pitch-perfect Lara Croft, and I hope she stays with the series after this trilogy.
Oh yeah, there will be more "Tomb Raider" games. You can tell from the game's ending, though I won't spoil that here). And that's perfect because we are finally at the point where Lara is a seasoned adventurer.
Wherever Crystal Dynamics takes the franchise next, I'll certainly be along for the ride.