Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Release Date: Sept. 14, 2018


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PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Shadow of the Tomb Raider'

by Redmond Carolipio on April 27, 2018 @ 10:15 a.m. PDT

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara must master a deadly jungle, overcome terrifying tombs, and persevere through her darkest hour.

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Lara Croft stands locked in a war of words with her best friend Jonah on a rooftop in a flooded Mexican town. Jonah wants to get people to safety as they reel from the sudden crush of water that tore apart the town, while Lara wants to pursue the possible leader of Trinity, the almost omnipresent group who chases down powerful artifacts and ancient cities, just like she does. She has to find certain artifacts before they do, but Jonah wants her find her humanity first, and help. Here, we see the flip side of Lara's obsessive drive, and it's not her finest hour.

We get the sense that she lost this time. Not because the "bad guy" got away, but because this flood — where Lara sees a child fall to his death — is her fault.

How Lara carries the weight of true consequence is one of the cornerstones of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which arrives September 14 on PS4, Xbox One and PC. At a preview event in Los Angeles, narrative director Jason Dozois emphasized that this third installment is the final piece of Lara's origin story arc, culminating in the moment Lara becomes "the tomb raider she was meant to become."

A significant part of Lara's evolution involves the game's setting in the jungle as Lara pursues Mayan lore and legends. It is here where we bear witness to what a fully powered Lara with evolved combat skills can do after being forged in the fires of the previous two games. Lead designer Heath Smith said that "Rambo: First Blood Part 2" and "Predator" were inspirations for Lara's new jungle combat abilities. For instance, she can now be covered in mud and therefore less detectable by enemies, even more so when the combination of mud and leaning up against leafy areas adds Rambo-esque vibe to her stealth killing.

In the preview build I played, I noticed some artfully subtle things about Lara that reflected how far she'd come from the harrowed, scared young survivor in the 2013 reboot. Much was made about Lara's shift in look from buxom gun-wielder to the more realistic, human version we've seen the past two games. In the early part of the preview build, a cloaked and masked Lara stealthily pursues a man named Dominguez through the alleys of a Mexican town, hoping to see what he's up to and reach a particular artifact before he does. During her pursuit, she has to take a detour, hopping a wall and shunning her cloak and mask, giving the player the first good look at how Lara has changed.

For Shadow, it appears experience has done for Lara's physique what it's done for Bruce Wayne's. She is now at peak athleticism, rocking the kind of arms one would see from a Navy SEAL or someone who trained with the Amazons on Themyscira — or someone who climbs ... a lot.

The preview build also featured the full package of Lara's climbing abilities. She finds herself having to traverse some cliffs while making her usual array of terrifying jumps, but this time, she's a stronger, more agile climber, using a pair of climbing axes instead of just the one like in previous installments. In addition to still being able to use the ax mid-jump to latch on to craggy surfaces, she can also rappel up and down, opening up a variety of very cool swing-and-jump moments (where you'll still have to press a button whenever Lara semi-fumbles her attempt at grabbing on to a ledge after flying through the air).  She still remains a pioneer in the world of crazy-ass jumps.

And as above, so below. Lara's going to head underwater more in this chapter, and the preview build exposed me to a bolstered swimming experience — not just in controls, but also in added elements of drama and fear. I could ascend and descend as usual, but I could also churn through the water faster with the pull of the right trigger and go after pockets of trapped air with the X button. Instead of just swimming from one end to the other, Lara also had to open doors, crack through glass and evade falling rock to reach her destination. Dozois mentioned that old-school Tomb Raider swimming was going to be reintegrated in Shadow, and it was evident in the build.

He also mentioned how tombs would be more intricate and especially deadlier in this installment, instead of being nifty side puzzles that offered beautiful views. This time, mistakes will kill you. I didn't get to tackle any of those types of tombs in the preview, but I did get a taste of some of the game's puzzle work with the glorious and old Mayan temple in the background. The small puzzles I navigated involved some work with cranks, ropes, weights, and using Lara's bow and arrow to break open wooden blockades and tie ropes to the right spots, as players of the past games will remember.

Of course, balancing out the puzzles and swimming in the preview build was a healthy dose of combat. Most of the elements from past titles are present, with Lara able to take out people with everything from an array of guns to her trusty bow and arrow. She was also a more efficient hand-to-hand combatant, using a combo of climbing ax and knife and dispatch her foes with vengeance. One significant change is how Lara can now elude enemies within the confines of a gunfight. "It used to be, if someone found you, that was it," Dozois said. There were a few instances where some quick and consistent movement during a gunfight led to some of my pursuers yelling out, "Where'd she go?" This opens up more chances for Lara to re-establish the rules of the fight, giving her a deadlier edge.

That edge came full circle in the final leg of the build, where she takes a dagger from the aforementioned Mayan temple, causing tremors and an eventual encounter with Dominguez, who takes the dagger from her. Instead of gloating, he chastises Lara for unwittingly setting a catastrophe in motion, and how it is now up to him to fix what she started. Lara, defiant, doesn't buy it, but before she can fully absorb what everything means, the flood comes and takes Lara with it. What followed was an intense sequence of evading obstacles as Lara was being carried by the water, along with some swimming work where players see the bodies of unfortunate people floating and drifting, suspended by their watery fate. She eventually resurfaces and engages in an array of running, fast climbing and jumping over debris that culminates with her encounter with a child hanging off of the side of a building, calling for his mom before he falls to oblivion. Mentally, it brings Lara to her knees.

Every hero has had to confront the consequences of his or her own actions, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider could be seen as a final rite of passage for Lara. Is what she does here the reason she mostly flies solo? What other kinds of loss will she face? She is as fully equipped to deal with things as she's ever been, but will it be enough? From what was seen so far, the journey to the answers could be well worth the wait.

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