It’s been a long journey for Lara Croft since her series had a revamp in 2013. Tomb Raider has reemerged as a much more grounded series that delivers great gameplay and a compelling story. With Tomb Raider (2013), Lara was inexperienced and just trying to survive on the island of Yamatai. With Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara had honed her skills and her experience began to develop. Now, with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara will have her defining moment in her origin story.
Lara has traveled the world at this point and she has seen several supernatural occurrences. From weather controlling witches to immortality bestowing gems, now she has a Mayan apocalypse to face. The worst part is, she’s the one that set the wheels in motion. Without getting into details on the story, it’s safe to say that Lara will have a difficult challenge ahead of her. To make matters worse, the Trinity organization is practically against her every step of the way.
Getting to our demo, it starts out with Lara and her friend Jonah from the previous games. They’re eavesdropping on a Trinity member, leading them to Dominguez, the bad guy in the scenario. They try to get hints on their next move as they keep their enemies in close view. The setting is a gorgeous looking Dia de los Muertos celebration. Anyone that has seen the Academy Award winning movie Coco would likely recognize the level of detail. Families have their offrenda altars set up, their candles lighting up the environment, and marigold petals scattered everywhere.
This segment starts with a stealthy pursuit, as Lara has to follow Dominguez throughout the city. Lara disguises herself and makes her way through the crowd, pushing when necessary. It feels very similar to the town segments from the recent Uncharted games. Citizens are available to talk to, speaking to Lara in Spanish (which Lara understands perfectly). It’s a bit unusual that Lara responds in English, but it’s a minor thing. Another odd thing is that Jonah doesn’t wear a disguise, making him stick out like a sore thumb. Regardless, it’s enough for him to cause a distraction while Lara continues tailing her target.
Things start to pick up when Lara makes her way over a wall, hearing a man begging for his life. It’s at this moment that Lara is able to go on the offensive, given the opportunity for stealth kills and bow shots. Fans of the previous two games will find this familiar, as it’s pretty much identical. Upon defeating the hostiles, Lara can scavenge the area for crafting materials. Things escalate even further once Lara leaves this area.
Suddenly at a cliff-side, a vast ocean sets the scene as Lara discovers a skull shaped rock formation. Recognizing it as one of the clues to a riddle, she begins to make her way toward it. Using her trusty ice picks, she traverses the cliff with ease, able to move across ledges and rappel to descend further towards her goal. Most of the points to climb on are clearly marked, though sometimes they blend in too well with the environment. Getting closer to the skull, she’ll find a cave, which she can then enter.
It’s here that Lara starts to find ruins from an ancient civilization. The cavern is normally filled with water as the lower tide makes it available for exploration. There are many points of interest, from more crafting materials to murals to add to Lara’s log. Using her bow, she can shoot arrows at boarded up barriers to pull them apart. Delving further into the cavern, Lara will uncover dangerous traps, creatures, and chasms. It’s at this point that we get our first real underwater swimming segment.
The team at Eidos Montreal wanted to bring back classic underwater gameplay, but with a bit more danger. This is clearly seen with the risk of running out of air, or even aquatic life to battle with. To help, there are areas where Lara can catch her breath before continuing. There will be small crevices to squeeze through and other obstacles Lara must face to survive these underwater moments. Upon getting past the underwater segment, Lara comes across a tomb, though one that is much eerier than the ones seen in Rise of the Tomb Raider.
The tomb is full of even more death traps like tripwires that release spears from the walls. The platforming is a bit more challenging here as well. Not only will players have to figure out the right path, but they’ll have to time things right like one giant puzzle. Raising platforms using weighted carts and timing jumps are key to getting to Lara’s goal. Puzzles require a bit more thought than an average action game, which makes you feel a bit more accomplished upon finding the solution.
When Lara makes her way to the goal, she finds more info on a Mayan prophecy. Upon looking at an ancient artifact, Jonah suddenly alerts her that Trinity is on their way. In a panic, she takes the artifact, thinking only of her own goals as the tomb begins to crumble. This Lara may be experienced, but she has also become so obsessed with her goals that she has lost sight of who she is. Her quest for revenge for her father’s death has made her turn down a path where she becomes more like those that she despised. Truly, this will be a journey of discovery for Lara to find what’s really important.
Jonah works well as a way to bring Lara back to the right path. As her voice of reason, it’s hard to believe Lara will truly turn to a darker side. Despite this, her actions still have consequences, and she’ll have to live with them. After taking the artifact, she escapes the tomb and makes her way past more Trinity soldiers. She’ll be able to hide in bushes or ivy on the walls to make stealth takedowns a breeze. If she needs to lure an enemy away from another, she can throw objects as a distraction.
It’s clear that players can take a stealthy approach, but the run and gun strategy works too. Picking up enemy weapons give Lara more firepower, which is especially useful when red barrels are nearby. The AI isn’t perfect but they do well enough to bring on the pressure. Lara is much tougher than she used to be, and she won’t show any mercy. It’s really interesting to see the body count she racks up, especially over the trilogy, as it no longer seems to phase her.
Lara will be briefly intercepted by Dominguez, only to tell her that she is the real danger. Her rash actions have suddenly put the town in danger, and it shows immediately as a Tsunami strikes. Several people will lose their lives as Lara struggles to survive in the violent current of water rushing through. After another dangerous underwater segment, things only get more tense as Lara tries to find her way to safety. Making her way to higher ground, she begins to realize her mistake a bit more clearly, seeing a devastating event with her own eyes. Lara may be the heroine, but she can still be reckless and selfish with her actions.
It’s only when she meets up with Jonah that this is put into perspective for her. She’s conflicted with her priorities, wanting to do the right thing but not focused on the present. Her goals to keep Trinity from gaining the powerful artifacts has blinded her from the devastation around her, if only briefly. It’s clear that Lara wants to do good, but this adventure will definitely develop her character in a new direction. With this moment, the demo ended.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is shaping up rather nicely. The demo was displayed in a beautiful 4K resolution and the animation was solid for the most part. It seems that the hair on Lara’s head still needs improvement, as it flows beautifully, but it doesn’t set naturally. It’s most noticeable in cutscenes, but it’s a minor nitpick overall. Other than that, there was little to complain about with the demo. If this is Lara’s defining moment in becoming a tomb raider, then fans will have something to look forward to. We’ll have more on Shadow of the Tomb Raider soon, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled. Shadow of the Tomb Raider will release on September 14th for the Xbox One, PlayStation4 and PC.