During the Square Enix E3 press conference on Monday, the Eidos Montreal development team behind Shadow of the Tomb Raider, showed off a bit of new combat the public had not yet seen. In pre-recorded gameplay, Lara took down enemies using poisoned arrows that made mercenaries hallucinate and hunt one another, covered herself in mud to blend into the jungle, Batman’d enemies to hang from trees and threw flaming gas canisters like she was playing horseshoes. It all looked fun and in a way…easy.
On Thursday at E3, we got to play through the new slice of the game behind closed doors at the Square Enix booth. A piece which showed me how difficult the challenge actually is.
(Note the E3 floor demo available to the public was different than what we got to play in private at Square Enix booth)
Dropping Lara in the middle of stalking Trinity’s goons, I got the impression that I was the hunter in the same way Batman is through the course of the Arkham games. Lara can use every bit of the jungle setting to her advantage, from perching on tree branches to fire at unsuspecting enemies or blending into ivy-covered rock formations to neutralize passing guards.
Nothing about it turned out to be as paint by numbers as watching a pre-recorded gameplay video suggested. No matter how I chose to dispatch the group of initial guards, every method had its pros and cons that would make my next steps harder for different reasons. Using the fear arrows to get the guards to turn on each other always left one nearby to spot me or draw others to my location. Taking one out the old fashioned way with a choke hold left me nervous I’d stand up to find other enemies about to attack. It speaks to the mood the game is trying to create, one where your moments of peace are few and far between.
Once I got spotted by an enemy, the entire stealth approach went out the window. Scrambling in the jungle for cover is a losing proposition and climbing back up into the trees was not an option as mercenaries became wise to my tricks. Enemies will flank you or throw explosives to flush you out in the open. If you manage to avoid being riddled with bullets, you have options to try and get the hunter’s advantage again. Covering myself in nearby mud made it harder for guards without lights to lock on to me in the open and if you can pick off enough before reinforcements arrive you’ll have a moment to try and set up for more takedowns. It took me four attempts of trial and error to find the right combination of stealth and picking the right moment for out in the open murder time. There’s a satisfying alpha hunter feeling when you finally put the last arrow between the eyes of the final guard that stands between you and the next part of your journey.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider has moments where you won’t be able to hide. In one scene that shows off the games intense pressure action. Lara will have to use her spider monkey agility and equipment to climb the machinery of a burning oil field all while being shot at by an attack helicopter. The game doesn’t take the route of Uncharted by subtly coloring every climbable object in a particular tone. Many of the pieces you interact with blend into the scenery to the point where you might not be sure what ledge or pipe to vault for next.
The demo ends on a somber moment of Lara plopping into the waters of South America, making the wait for its September release feel a bit longer. Square Enix has shown off much of the game between the initial reveal event that brought back underwater paths you’ll need to swim through complete with dangers of its own, to a social hub world that intends to fully paint in the details of this beautiful Latin American setting you play through. The new part shown at E3 reassures fans of the rebooted series that Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s emphasis on Lara Croft’s story doesn’t take away from first and foremost being a viscerally satisfying action experience.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on September 14, 2018.