We previously played Shadow of the Tomb Raider earlier this year during its reveal party. That demo took place just minutes after the start of the game, and we left wanting to play more of Lara’s exciting adventure. Square-Enix invited us to play a bit more during E3 this year, but recently, we got an extended demo. After playing roughly four more hours of the game, I’m happy to say Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an amazing experience. We’re keeping as many spoilers out of this as possible, but just in case, minor spoilers may follow.
Starting with the four hour demo, it takes place right at the end of our reveal event demo. Just moments after starting the apocalypse, Lara and Jonah are off to Peru during a dangerous storm. Their goal is to find the lost city of Paititi, using clues they found to discover nearby locations. The storm manages to take out their plane, breaking it in half as Lara desperately tries to secure herself to brace for the crash. Jonah unfortunately crashes in the other half of the plane, so Lara starts off this segment solo.
With absolutely no weapons, Lara has to explore the Peruvian jungle and find not only Jonah, but also their pilot Miguel. This jungle puts Lara’s survival skills to the test right from the beginning. She’ll have to create a makeshift knife from plane parts, but luckily, her trusty bow isn’t too far off. Fans of the previous two games will likely remember the ability to hunt wildlife, and that feature returns with Shadow of the Tomb Raider too. Following a flare, Lara discovers a shocking surprise that I won’t want to spoil for you. With that in mind, we’ll move on to the next phase.
Diving deeper into the jungle, Lara will come face to face with not one, but two jaguars. After a tense introduction, Lara is placed in a den with the two predators. They’ll emerge from the shadows to strike at Lara, lunging with savage attacks that she can dodge. They’ll leave themselves open for attack on occasion, which means it’s the perfect time to unload arrows into them. Eventually, one of them will catch Lara in a pounce, requiring her to fight back with quick time events. If performed correctly, the jaguar will fall and Lara will be left with one more to deal with.
This is where Lara’s position as a hunter truly begins. She’ll eventually come face to face with the second jaguar, covered in mud from the battle and fairly vulnerable. Within seconds, the jaguar retreats, taking the fallen wild cat in its jaws with it. It’s not explained if this is because the mud masked Lara’s presence or if the jaguar accepted her as the better predator. Either way, this buys Lara a moment to regain herself.
Continuing further, Lara will find the other half of the plane. She’ll pick up her now iconic ice axe and look for Jonah, who luckily isn’t too far. After some quick medical care, Lara and Jonah catch each other up to speed. They take the night to rest, deciding to make their way to a nearby village in the morning. Upon waking up, players might want to check out the nearby optional crypt. While not quite as challenging as a tomb, crypts make for cool distractions from the main game. They’ll even offer great rewards in unlocked skills or outfits with special attributes.
The ice axe allows Lara to take some optional excursions, even a Challenge Tomb near the first part of the demo. Without giving away exact details, the crypt definitely displays a certain level of danger. Lara must avoid traps (or narrowly escape the danger if triggered) to survive. She’ll often have to solve tricky puzzles too, sometimes utilizing her own tools. Perhaps the most common tool will be the rope arrows, as Lara will often have to connect two sections to solve a puzzle. It’s clear that a lot of love went into crafting these challenges for the players.
Continuing the quest, Lara and Jonah will make their way to a nearby Trinity encampment. Taking a stealth approach, the two will take down enemies one by one. Even though the pacing and presentation deliver a tense feeling, the fact that much of it feels scripted makes it less threatening. That isn’t to say that there won’t be challenges later on though. This little moment does at least give some practice in stealth takedowns, which will definitely come in handy later on. This little moment will also give Lara a chance to gain some guns for the journey ahead.
This section also has a tricky puzzle that involves Jonah and Lara working together too. Once you figure it out, it becomes incredibly obvious, but otherwise, it could be a head scratcher. It was recently revealed that difficulty on combat, exploration and puzzles could be adjusted. For those seeking a challenge with harder puzzles, Lara won’t give any tips to get players closer to the solution. On easy difficulty, she will practically walk the player through the puzzle.
Upon reaching a nearby village, Lara and Jonah will befriend a local named Abby. Explaining some clues they have for the Mayan ruins, their new friend points Lara in the direction of a nearby temple. Being told not to break anything, Lara immediately disregards the request and finds a new entrance. This takes her along a path where she could see the “silver crowned mountains” that act as a landmark for Paititi. Seeing a flare shoot up, she soon discovers that Trinity is already there as well.
Lara will have to swim along a river to get closer to another enemy camp, deciding to either take a stealthy approach or to rush in guns blazing. I opted for a bit of both, pulling enemies into the water for stealth kills, only to get discovered and to use the water to find a way to sneak up on my enemies. After defeating the enemies, Lara will continue along a jungle path, uncovering more ruins. As she gains more clues, Jonah suggests they regroup at the village due to a new discovery.
Making her way back to the village through a slight detour, Lara discovers that something else is hunting Trinity. Not going to get into the details here, but things starts to get really interesting. Upon reaching the temple again, Jonah and Abby show Lara a new path in the temple. This leads Lara to a rather fun puzzle that requires a little extra ingenuity, as well as use of information gathered in the game. The puzzles in this game, while sometimes frustrating in challenge, are pretty diverse and fun.
One thing worth mentioning is that there’s quite a lot of underwater exploration in these first few hours. One of the most extensive moments has Lara moving through piranha infested waters. Using seaweed and other underwater plants, she can camouflage herself from underwater predators. This will be necessary when running into areas with moray eels or piranhas. Underwater areas will often hold materials and items as well, so it’s worth exploring.
Optional challenge tombs and crypts seem plentiful, and little side missions appear from NPCs too. Upon discovering the path to Paititi, one of the biggest challenges will show itself with a set of trials. The trial of the eagle is an incredibly fun section that involves a lot of vertical progression. As Lara climbs higher, she’ll have to use spinning pillars and ropes to solve puzzles. One segment utilizes Lara’s rope and ice axe in a clever yet exhilarating way.
Upon finishing the trial, Lara will end up one step closer to Paititi, but we’ll leave the rest for you to discover. As this demo ends, we go to the E3 demo that was shown behind closed doors. This demo focused mostly on Lara’s stealth skills, taking place in a segment that was a bit further in the game. By this point in time, Lara has gained a lot more experience and skills, even getting fear arrows to scare her enemies.
Lara becomes quite the fearsome hunter, covering herself with mud to hide her presence. The campfires used to save progress and upgrade skills and inventory make their return in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It’s here that Lara can develop new skills like combo stealth kills, or even improve her survival skills. This will be useful for both combat and hunting in the game. She can also use materials to upgrade her weapons and gear, even creating new attire using some of the hunting materials. For fans of classic Tomb Raider titles, there’s a couple treats to find in the outfit selection as well.
Getting back to the stealth segment, Lara will find herself faced with a lot of Trinity soldiers. She’ll have to use shadows, plants and high places to outsmart her enemies. According to the developers, Lara is able to enter combat and go right back into stealth, though so far, i have yet to experience this. At least this new guerilla warfare shows that Lara is easily more dangerous than any Trinity soldier. Her revenge-filled mission makes her a force to be reckoned with, and she’ll stop at nothing to keep Trinity from reaching their goal. This segment ends with an explosive platforming section using several of Lara’s traversal skills, ending the demo right after.
After having played roughly five hours of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I couldn’t put it down. The pace is solid with a great blend of action, puzzles and exploration. The visuals look better than ever before, especially in 4K, to a point where I preferred resolution mode over performance mode. With a lot of new traversal options, plenty of customization on the difficulty, and a great performance from Camilla Luddington, this may be Lara’s best adventure yet. Fans won’t have to wait much longer, as Shadow of the Tomb Raider will release on September 14th for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.