Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is only months away, and a lot has changed since we last saw Lara. When Rise Of The Tomb Raider launched back in 2015, this once Xbox exclusive was touted as Microsoft’s very own Uncharted beater. Riding high on the success of her gritty 2013 reboot, fans couldn’t wait to see which bold new direction Square Enix would take with gaming’s leading lady.
Unfortunately though, what we got was more of the same. For a heroine who’s spent decades braving and raiding treacherous tombs, her last adventure felt disappointingly safe. Now three years later, thanks to a market-dominating PlayStation, Lara has broken free of Microsoft’s shackles – and with Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, she has something to prove.
Our demo begins with Lara and fellow adventurer Jonah sitting on a quiet Mexican street. Perched on a breezy veranda, we find the pair examining an ancient piece of parchment for clues. Luckily, it’s not long until Lara has her ‘eureka’ moment.
Interrupting Jonah mid-sentence, her furrowed brow turns to excitement as she realises the ancient symbols before her are actually a series of directions to an ancient artifact. Now all they have to do is get there before the bad guys do.
Thrust into a bustling Mexican city mid-way through its Day Of The Dead festivities, our first time controlling Lara feels like something that’s been directly lifted from an Uncharted game. With our face concealed under a skull-emblazoned mask, we attempt to inconspicuously guide Lara through the lively crowds without alerting ourselves to the gun-toting goons lurking around every corner.
Despite the clear threat of imminent danger, the festival is a real feast for the senses. Vibrant decorations and excited children adorn every street corner as we usher Lara ever deeper into the celebrating city. Entering a square, the hiss of a firework whizzes past our ear and a cacophony of locals cheers as an explosion of colour illuminates the night sky. But before we can soak it all in, the sound of excited chatter and flamenco guitar fade into the distance and we arrive at our destination. Now that we’ve done the slow-paced, Uncharted-esque wanderery around bit, things start to get a bit more Tomb Raider.
A Less than Holy Trinity
With two members of the mysterious military organisation Trinity standing guard of a quiet side street, Jonah wanders over and causes a distraction, allowing Lara to hop over a fence and slip through undetected.
Sprinting and climbing our way across tightly-knit paths, we soon find our surroundings getting more rural – until suddenly, we’re outside the city entirely. Climbing up to a construction site littered with abandoned machinery, we soon spot a henchman standing guard and use a button prompt to silently take him out with our knife. As we crouch down and head further along the muddy path, we overhear an architect pleading for his life as a Trinity henchman cocks his rifle and takes aim at the cowering creative. Pulling out our bow, we launch an arrow through the unsuspecting henchman’s head, and the grateful architect informs us that Trinity has violently taken over his excavation of a nearby temple.
In other words — it’s tomb raiding time. Unlike, say, in Uncharted 4, the transitions between each environment feel remarkably quick here, and within no time, Lara is seamlessly thrust into a deep and dimly lit cavern. Like in previous games, your surroundings are littered with hidden trinkets and crates containing craftable materials. Once again, player actions here are rewarded and tie into an RPG-lite system where kills and discoveries net players an overly excitable ‘+XP!’ UI prompt. From this point on, it’s largely business as usual.
After using Lara’s bow and arrow to attach a rope to a nearby barrier and pull it apart, we find ourselves standing in a flooded cave. It’s here that Shadow Of The Tomb Raider’s darker side starts to reveal itself. As we dive down to the cave floor, we hurriedly collect some sunken treasure before swimming towards a small crevice and squeezing Lara through. As we carry on our journey, our heart stops. We spot a dark shadow in our periphery before the tail of a huge sea creature flicks its way dangerously close to Lara.
It turns out though, we’ve got bigger problems.
With the screen distorting and blurring around the edges, it’s clear that Lara is in desperate need of oxygen. Frantically swimming forward as desperate panting booms into our headset we suddenly spot a pocket of air above us and hurriedly push our way up to the surface. Now, with freshly-filled lungs, we dive back down and make our way towards the end of the cave — only to come face to face with that mystery sea creature.
It’s a terrifying moment, with a gigantic eel wrapping itself around Lara as she struggles to remove him. Sadlt though, it’s the only one of its kind during our demo.
After Lara cuts herself free of the creature and climbs her way into a large room, we’re then faced with a series of jumps, rappelling points and basic ‘push this here’ ‘turn that there’ puzzles. Eventually, Lara finds her prize. In the middle of a ceremonial platform, she spies an ancient artifact inscribed with an ominous warning. With Trinity hot on her heels, she quickly grabs the ceremonial dagger — triggering a sudden earthquake. Put back in control of Lara as the tomb collapses around us we duck out of the way of falling rubble and sprint and slide our way the hell out of there.
After escaping the crumbling tomb, we get our first proper taste of Shadow Of The Tomb Raider’s combat. Taking more notes from Naughty Dog once again, combat sections now allow Lara to hide in the shrubbery and take out foes undetected. While not exactly original, the combat still feels enjoyable, and in a nice touch, getting caught during a stealth section triggered an all-guns-blazing showdown — rather than the scolding game over screen we were expecting.
Still, no matter how well you play, you eventually get caught by Trinity regardless. It turns out, Lara’s noble intentions of keeping this artifact out of the shady organisation’s hands backfired, as a mysterious Trinity leader shrieks ” Do you know what you’ve done, Lara? You’ve triggered the apocalypse”. Within seconds a wall behind her collapses under the weight of the tide, and the once bustling Mexican city is violently flooded as the heavens open.
How’s Shadow Of The Tomb Raider Shaping Up?
During the reveal event, a developer promised a game that sees players put in charge of a more fully realised Tomb Raider than i in the previous titles in this trilogy. Yet, so far, we haven’t seen anything that suggests Lara will be getting any new gameplay-changing abilities.
What we’ve seen so far suggest that Shadow Of The Tomb Raider will be another highly enjoyable and tightly scripted cinematic adventure. Yet it’s the hints of a new-found darkness that had us most intrigued. While her last two games weren’t exactly sunshine and rainbows, the new Aztec-inspired setting is oozing with horrific potential. If this threequel can really embrace the more haunting side of Mexico’s past, Lara’s latest could be a refreshing antidote to Nathan Drake’s quirky quippery.
With 2016’s Uncharted 4 setting a lofty new standard for archaeological adventures and Lara’s recently released cinematic outing failing to light the world on fire, the pressure’s undoubtedly now on for Shadow Of The Tomb Raider to deliver the goods.
We had a lot of fun with our fleeting time with Lara’s latest, but despite a slick demo and an intriguing new tone, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’ve been here before. As it stands, the most prominent Shadow on display from this game so far is the one that Uncharted 4 is casting over the franchise.