Tomb Raider Underworld: Lara’s Shadow DLC Review

Downloadable add-ons for store-bought games are rarely ambitious. We see many new map or costume packs that offer a bit of variety for an older experience, but don’t often get content that makes significant changes to the original game’s formula. It is in this area that Lara’s Shadow—the second and final expansion pack for Tomb Raider: Underworld—breaks the mold a bit. Shadow includes a number of new features not found in previous entries of the series, and even grants you special powers that change up the feel of the platforming and combat. But are these changes for the better?

 

The biggest difference in this expansion is that you are not actually playing as Lara Croft. In Tomb Raider: Underworld, Lara had to battle a number of supernatural threats from Norse mythology, resulting in an evil version of the famed tomb raider being created. Lara’s Shadow takes place near the end of Underworld and shows you what the villainous Croft clone was up to while the real Lara was finishing her adventure.

As soon as the level begins, we are told about Dark Lara’s “shadow powers,” which allow her to slow down time, move much faster, and put a little extra “oomph” into her guns and fists. Hand-to-hand attacks have been implemented—a first for the series—and these moves end up being more fun to use than Lara’s guns ever were. You now have punch and kick buttons, and each can be combined with your “shadow power” to unleash a number of devastating attacks. While an improvement on what was available before, the combat still isn’t that compelling overall, and I found it best to just run past the bad guys as often as possible. You are only forced to fight twice in Lara’s Shadow, so those who prefer to explore more than brawl will be able to avoid most of the conflict.

When not engaging in fisticuffs, platforming takes center stage. Using Dark Lara’s powers, you can climb and shimmy much faster than before. There are also certain walls that can only be scaled when your shadow abilities are activated, and fast-moving traps that cannot be passed unless time is being slowed down. These additions are generally welcome, as they add an extra layer of complexity to the acrobatics.

Lara’s Shadow’s focus on platforming comes at the sacrifice of a major element from earlier Tomb Raider titles: puzzles. There is nothing to be solved here, except when you must occasionally study the environment to see what path you need to take next. While this could be seen as a welcome change of pace, the well-crafted riddles of earlier Tomb Raiders helped the series stand out in the third-person adventuring genre, and not having them represented in this download makes the included level feel like it is lacking something.

Even more befuddling is the fact that you are required to run through every section of the level twice to complete it. Half way through Shadow, you are told that you will have to undo everything that you previously did. This involves you retracing your steps and performing the same climbing, jumping, and shimmying that you did earlier, with the only difference being a few new environmental hazards. Repackaging levels is never cool, but making you replay an area less than an hour after running through it for the first time is just downright lazy.

Lara’s Shadow has you wandering around an ancient temple that is surrounded by pits of liquid blue energy that—when touched—instantly leads you to a liquid blue death. While the specific set pieces of the level are all new, the environments should seem very similar to those who played through Underworld as a lengthy segment of Lara’s quest took place in the same location. The enemies that pop up here are also identical, though emo-Lara’s new fighting moves do add some spice to these encounters. Several unique cutscenes were created for this pack, and the production values of the visuals, sound, and cinematics are equal in quality to those found in the main game.

 

Clocking in at about two hours of playtime, Lara’s Shadow is a bit of a mixed bag. The developers have crafted a unique experience that features better combat and more complex platforming than in any previous game in the series. Unfortunately, the environmental repetition and complete lack of puzzle-solving makes this feel less like a Tomb Raider game and more like a generic third-person action title. If you absolutely loved Underworld, want to try something different, and aren’t bothered by the fact that you have to run through the level twice, Lara’s Shadow might be worth your $10 — but casual fans would be best advised to spend their 800ms points elsewhere.

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