Since being rebooted in 2013, Tomb Raider has become one of gaming’s most exciting franchises, both from a narrative and gameplay standpoint. In fact, I’d argue the current iteration of Tomb Raider is on a par with Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series; I actually prefer the darker and more realistic tone in comparison.
Now, Lara is ready to complete her trilogy when she returns in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which Eidos Montreal says is about Lara Croft becoming the tomb raider she was always meant to be. Over the past few years, she’s gone from timid survivor to ruthless killer, and her evolution could take an even darker turn when the series concludes.
At a quaint hotel in Manhattan Beach, a sleepy beach town at the edge of Los Angeles County, Eidos Montreal hosted a handful of journalists for a four-hour play-through of Lara’s new adventure. There were tacos, deserts, and free libations. There were also countless deaths that were as gruesome as ever.
Picking up right where Rise of the Tomb Raider left off, Shadow of the Tomb Raider starts with Lara and her companion Jonah in hot pursuit of Trinity in a small town in South America, where Dia de los Muertos celebrations are underway.
After learning that Trinity is searching for a Mayan artifact, Lara uncovers the location of a nearby dig site, which rests at the edge of an ocean cliffside. This is where the familiarity of Tomb Raider takes over. To get to the dig site’s opening, Lara performs her otherworldly ability to jump, climb, and rappel. It’s all very exciting—and dangerous.
Inside the dig site, the game’s darker and more ominous tone comes to the fore, suitably complimenting the thematic arc Eidos Montreal is going for. Everywhere in the tomb there’s death; mounds of human remains, bloody traps, and daunting puzzles. All Lara can do is push through, with Trinity right behind her.
When Lara finds the artifact—a Mayan dagger—she doesn’t hesitate; she swipes it despite objections from Jonah. Her actions set off events that have cataclysmic consequences. When she escapes the tomb and returns to the nearby town, a deadly flood swoops through, killing hundreds of people in a matter of minutes.
The troubling thing is, even with death all around, all Lara can think about is Trinity, such is her desire to stop the organization from wreaking havoc on the world. As she soon realizes, the stuff she’s done doesn’t exactly make her a saint.
Although the gameplay of Shadow of the Tomb Raider feels familiar—there’s sneaking, climbing, and swimming—the narrative takes the franchise in a new direction. Now, Lara’s identity will be challenged as she navigates evermore dangerous caverns, jungles, and tombs.
With that, comes a darker experience altogether. Lara has travelled to some exotic locations in her two previous titles, but Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s jungle is the most dangerous yet. I don’t know how many times I had to squeeze through tight spaces during my play-through, but it made me feel very claustrophobic.
In addition to challenging Lara’s identity, Eidos Montreal made an effort to make the South American jungle feel more dangerous. Not only can Lara assimilate with her surroundings and hunt enemies, but there’s a feeling that something unseen is lurking just beyond the brush.
As I explored one of the game’s bigger HUBs, which is alive with vendors and people to chat with, I witnessed henchman from Trinity being violently murdered by a mysterious predator—not animal nor human, but something else. It was an intriguing mystery I can’t wait to figure out.
I was surprised by how good the 2013 Tomb Raider was when it launched, and thoroughly enjoyed Rise of the Tomb Raider. In the four hours I spent with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, time flew by. I was completely immersed in the world created by Eidos Montreal. More importantly, I was invested in the narrative of Lara trying to stop an evil entity while battling her own inner demons.
In particular, there was a moment in the play-through that stuck with me, and I think it speaks to the larger narrative. As Lara is sneaking through the jungle, she’s ambushed by a pair of jaguar. Lara manages to kill one, but is pinned on her back by the other, its fangs dripping with blood.
Rather than going in for the kill, the jaguar stares into Lara’s eyes with a look of quiet acknowledgement, before cautiously moving away. It was a moment that highlighted how Lara has become an apex predator who possesses great power. Now, it’s just a matter of her understanding what to do with that power as she become the tomb raider she was meant to be.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider will be released for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on September 14.
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