Blimey, times are tough right now. But then you don’t need me to tell you that, I’m sure you already know. Everyone is facing their own struggles, but for me it’s just the relentlessness of it all – if I’m not looking after my son, I’m working all hours of the day just trying to make enough to pay the bills, and mostly failing to do that.
This all means that when it comes to my slivers of genuine downtime, I’m craving comfort. When it comes to films, about all I can manage is brainless blockbusters, and I’ve ended up becoming slightly addicted to the gentle wholesomeness of The Repair Shop on BBC1, even though this kind of formulaic daytime TV isn’t normally my cup of tea at all. It’s a similar story with video games – I just want something familiar and comforting. And Shadow of the Tomb Raider ticks those boxes wonderfully.
I feel a bit guilty for spending the last week or so playing this game relentlessly. I have a couple of games I’ve been sent for review that I really should be playing right now instead. But I just can’t face starting anything new: all I want is the familiar, something to let me switch off and wind down after the exhausting days.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider got a bit of a rough ride at the time of its release, as I recall. It certainly wasn’t panned, but there were a lot of 7/10 reviews saying that it didn’t really do anything new with the series. And that’s fair enough, I suppose, but that’s also why I’m really enjoying it. In fact, it may well be my favourite in the series. I’ve played almost all of the Tomb Raider games, bar Chronicles and Angel of Darkness, and I wasn’t immediately sold on the most recent reboot back in 2013. But it grew on me, and the new games have been getting better and better, gradually ironing out the kinks and adding in fun moves like the axe grapple. Shadow adds rappelling down cliff faces, which feels so natural and fun that I’m astonished it hasn’t been done before in previous games. But generally it’s the same old stuff you’d expect – and that’s just wonderful.
There’s a formula to Tomb Raider games, and Shadow sticks to it like glue. Like in every game, some nefarious villain is out to get some powerful artefact, and Lara has to stop them, which is just about the level of plot I can handle in these coronageddon times. Added on to that is an enormous collectathon involving 300+ relics, documents, buried treasures and murals waiting to be found, and, dear reader, you’d better believe I tracked down every single one. Every. Single. Damn. One. Because in these crazy days, having a goal that is eminently achievable and comfortably within your control is sweet, sweet balm for the soul.
And here’s the thing: once I’d collected every damn thing there was to collect and finished the game, I just started it again. I never do that, but here we are. Usually, once I’ve completed a game on normal difficulty, I’ll simply delete it or sell it and never, ever play it again. This is why my game collection can fit in a shoebox, even though I’ve played hundreds of games in my time. Yet I just went straight back in to playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider on the highest difficulty level. I just didn’t want it to stop. It’s filling a need right now, a need for comfort and control.
Still, playing on Deadly Obsession difficulty is no picnic, chiefly because the checkpoints are ludicrously far apart. I’m about halfway through the game, but I’m on the verge of giving up after dying twice on one section that sets my progress back half an hour each time. It’s madness, really. I wouldn’t even countenance doing something so masochistic in normal times, but then these are far from normal times. And frustrations aside, I’m enjoying the purity of playing on this extreme difficulty where almost all of your usual aids are switched off, like the Lara’s Detective Mode-like Survival Instincts and her recharging health. For one thing, not switching into the yellow hues of Survival Instincts every few steps to spot those elusive relics has made me appreciate the game’s gorgeous graphics all the more. It really does look stunning, particularly the huge Hidden City you discover around a third of the way in. My mind boggles when it comes to thinking of the hundreds of people who have poured their creativity into this game over thousands of hours. Properly taking the time to explore this massive game – and its eight (EIGHT!) DLC tomb levels – has given me a new appreciation for the massive amount of work it takes to create a AAA game of this quality.
So yes, I’m enjoying Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It’s gaming comfort food, which is just what I need. Which makes me wonder – what comfort game are you coming back to while we all ride the coronacoaster?
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