The rebooted Tomb Raider games, Tomb Raider (2013) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015) have provided us with insight into Lara Croft’s relationships with her family and friends, her first expeditions and, of course, every other event that will shape her development as she becomes more confident and capable in her abilities. From travelling to the lost island of Yamatai to skulking around the halls of Croft Manor, we’ve seen Lara learn more about herself and her family history, all the while maturing from various ominous supernatural encounters and altercations with enemies. This September, we’ll embark on the final instalment in Lara’s origin story, drawing the trilogy to a close in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Across the trilogy, it’s clear that Lara has developed as a character and she is now a force to be reckoned with in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. From the focus on survival that we saw in Tomb Raider (2013) to the emphasis on exploration in Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015), Lara has clearly evolved over time. Weathered and informed from her previous experiences, Lara is fully prepared to take on the evil organisation, Trinity, in this next instalment. My forty-five minute demo began in Cozumel, Mexico during a conversation between Lara and her trusted friend, Jonah. Both were excited about learning whereabouts of an important Mayan relic, known as ‘Ik Chel’, a precious silver box. After concluding that Trinity are searching for an item in the wrong country (Brazil, opposed to Peru), Lara set off in pursuit of a gentleman known as Dr. Dominguez, a man not only connected to the Trinity, but also potentially linked to the death of her father.
After following Dominguez to the dig site and learning of a second Mayan relic, the ‘Key of Chak Chel’ dagger, the game’s tutorial began, walking me through a number of Lara’s traversal abilities. Jumping, wall scrambling and rappelling were all introduced quickly, guiding me along a cliff face and into a cave. I have no complaints about the pace of Shadow of the Tomb Raider so far and while the demo was quite long, I was quite surprised by how many different areas the game covered in the short time frame that we were given.
Upon entering the cave and dismantling a makeshift wooden barricade, I found myself forced to swim through the remainder of the caves. Gliding past skeletons and getting tangled up with eels was certainly enough to keep me on edge, although this didn’t appear to phase Lara too much. While underwater sections usually highlight the weaker parts of a game, swimming around as Lara didn’t feel like a chore. I had to swim through tight spaces on a few occasions during the demo, and each time I found that the gameplay had been altered in some way to make it feel different. Whether it be hurtling through Cozumel in the wake of a destructive tsunami or racing against the capacity of Lara’s lungs while searching for an underwater exit, water is just a continuation of the countless QTEs in this game, serving as an effective, albeit simple way to approach tense moments of action.
Narrowly missing a fatal encounter with a shifting rock under the water’s surface, I found myself in an underground temple. It was at this point in the demo where the game enables Lara to explore a bit more, integrating her traversal abilities with puzzles; all the while banking on you to notice when you’re about to set off a deadly trap. Checking in with Jonah confirmed that Lara had to find her way to the top of the temple and most of this depended on her jumping across a series of platforms suspended from the ceiling of the cavern. Shadow of the Tomb Raider steadily drip feeds new mechanics to players and this is true with the introduction of puzzles too. After working out how to manoeuvre the cart onto the platform, the next puzzle required me to tether the cart to a crank that I then had to turn until it aligned with a ramp. While this puzzle was built on something that the game had just introduced, it seemed a bit lacklustre and felt overly basic. It’s worth bearing in mind that this was near the beginning of the demo though, so I’m expecting later puzzles to be far more interesting and challenging to complete. Upon reaching the top of the temple and locating the dagger, the game hinted at a few of things that we may have to look forward to. The depictions on the temple walls portrayed natural disasters, all of which would lead to the apocalypse.
Exiting the temple with the dagger led me to my least favourite portion of the demo. Engaging in combat with the Trinity guards felt quite boring compared to everything else I had experienced thus far. Hiding in the jungle vines for swift, stealthy take-downs and shooting up the glaring red barrels surrounding the guards ensured that the fight was over relatively quickly. From what I’ve seen so far, combat is not this game’s strong point. Thankfully this section wrapped up with Dominguez stealing the Key of Chak Chel and informing Lara that in taking the key she had triggered a tsunami. The final portion of the game then focused mainly on the destruction of the town, whisking Lara through scenes of chaos before reuniting her with Jonah and setting up their next quest to head to search for Ik Chel.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider has officially been announced and is set to release on September 14th this year. The game will be releasing simultaneously on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider may mark the end of Lara Croft’s origin story but it’s also off to a strong start establishing the character that Lara has matured into. Even in moments of uncertainty, of which there are plenty, Lara exudes confidence, intelligence and an understanding of her surroundings, rendering her the best version of Lara Croft that we’ve seen yet!
Despite playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider for less than an hour, I’m eager for its release in September. Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s focus on Mayan mythology is not only a strong draw for me personally, but is also a rich theme to settle on, which should ensure a good balance of lore and exploration of exotic environments for players. While I’m not entirely convinced by the ingenuity of the puzzles and versatility of the combat just yet, the steady pace and ongoing sense of discovery has left me feeling equally intrigued and impatient. Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to play the demo on a PC. However, I tested the game on an Xbox One X, which showed signs of full support for 4K and HDR.
Most Anticipated Feature
Racing to track down the Ik Chel before Dominguez finds it.