Tomb Raider is one of gaming’s most prolific franchises. Launching in 1996, it introduced the world to Lara Croft, the globe-trotting heroin who managed to delve into many mysteries of antiquity, constantly besieged by nameless goons that she is forced to take down. In 2013 she had a reimagining, taking her from the confident, yet unrealistic character, into a much more relatable and vulnerable, yet determined persona. Now three games in, Lara Croft has never felt more real, or more engaging.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider takes the formula set up in the previous two games, Tomb Raider, and Rise of the Tomb Raider, and pushes it forward. Lara Croft is now on a quest to push back against her father’s killers, the evil organization Trinity, and in the process try and stop the Mayan’s prediction of the end of the world.
Jumping into a gameplay session about 15 minutes past the beginning of the game, gave a clear picture of how this new installment will play out. From the onset, this is clearly a darker experience. From the motivations of Lara to the world she must explore, she has come into her own in this game, and partially embraced the darkness that comes with the consequences of past decisions.
The world is also much more dangerous: traps and puzzles, tombs, and basically everything in the world will try and kill you. The forces of Trinity are out for blood, and as such, Lara needs to be willing to shed blood to achieve her goals. Combat has the same core feel of past games, but the level of stealth kills and visceral takedowns works to paint the world of Lara, along with how far she will have to go to survive.
Combat feels fast and fluid, from the use of hand to hand takedowns, to the way Lara handles ranged weapons such as her quintessential bow or often essential assault rife, the game has never felt this polished in terms of combat. While the demo only had two to three segments that showed off these core styles of fighting mechanics, they managed to give a good concept of what players can expect when they dive deeper into Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
But, despite the combat being a major aspect of any Tomb Raider game, you come to this franchise for the puzzles and the tombs, and I am happy to report, that at least from the demo we played, they have managed to hit the mark. While none of the puzzles felt devastatingly hard, they forced you to use all the skills up to that point to solve them. From moving mine carts to jumping on broken ledges, if you loved the past games for the exploration and platforming, you will feel right at home in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
As with past games in the series, crafting and becoming part of the world is one of the key game elements. The Shadow of the Tomb Raider has upped the ante a bit, making it so crafting is essential to surviving the game. From items to healing, you will need to master it if you want to push forward in the game. While crafting was minor in the demo we played, it gave enough of a taste to paint a picture on how players will need to scavenge around the world to make it to the end credits.
The core story is only one part of the gameplay world players can explore. There are numerous rewards, relics, and even challenges that, should you put in the time and effort, should yield a more rewarding experience. While the demo only had a few of these for people to experience, we did manage to see some relics along with a few trophies that were just off the beaten path.
Traversal feels just as one would expect from the franchise: fluid with the right level of precision. During my time with the game, I never felt any missed jump, or any fall to my death was anything beyond my lack of skill. There were a few segments that force you to be quick to survive, and once I managed to master the controls, none of the segments felt unobtainable. It managed that balance between challenge and success, making it rewarding to play and experience.
The demo managed to show a diverse selection of terranes Lara would be forced to traverse through, from cliff sides to cityscapes, but one thing that stood out, for me at very least, was the way the team dealt with water. In the short play sessions, Lara must work her way through an underground water-filled cave, and it is here Shadow of the Tomb Raider shows off some of its most intense moments. From an eel that tries to wrap around you, to a segment near the end that has you quickly pressing the X button to free Lara from a collapsing cavern and prevent her inevitable drowning, the segment manages to not only present Lara’s fragility in this world, but does so in a way that keeps you on your toes to the very last minute.
The real draw to this installment has to be Lara herself. If you have played all games up to this point, you have seen her grow up and come to her own in this world. She started off as a kid, timid and unsure, and as the games progressed, moved past this into a much stronger character.
This is also a Lara that still makes mistakes, and with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, there will be many. Her drive to push back against Trinity leads to death, destruction, and loss. The Demo we managed to try demonstrates this outcome. As a massive flood comes and wipes away innocent people the player has come to know, Lara must come to terms with her actions, and where the quest for revenge will take her. It works well to set the stage for the story, and paints Lara as a relatable, if not flawed, hero.
From the hour or so of gameplay, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is shaping up to an interesting installment in the series. It builds on the great ideas of past games in this new iteration of the franchise, crafting an experience that pushes the narrative and gameplay forward. The dark world and tone of the game set the stage as a final chapter in the arc, yet still manages to maintain that fun, engaging tone the series is known for. While it is too early to say how the final game will shape up to be, if this demo was any indication, the game is in the right hands. I know I am excited to pick it back up and see where the story of Lara Croft ultimately ends up.
Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Brendan Frye’s work such as his interview with EA Motive about Star Wars: Battlefront II, and his in-depth look at the Equifax Hack!