Last night, The Mayan Theater, one of LA’s most underappreciated venues, gave fans the first reveal of Lara Croft’s latest adventure in Shadow of The Tomb Raider. After trying out about a 45min slice of the game, I can say it’s definitely poised to break some hearts this Fall.
So far the rebooted Tomb Raider series has shown a Lara Croft driven by skepticism and urgency towards conflict. Over the course of two games, she’s developed destructive narcissistic tendencies as her ambitions become clouded by a need to stop an organization known as Trinity from collecting various artifacts. By the end of the demo, it was apparent her mission would be carried out no matter what the cost.
After seeing a slice of the story, the name Shadow of the Tomb Raider makes sense. As Lara tries to beat the game’s bad guy, Dominguez, to an ancient blade in the ruins of a temple; players get the sense our protagonist may not be all that heroic.
One of the newer features being implemented by developer Eidos Montreal is a social element similar to their previous work the Sci-Fi title Deus Ex: Human Revolution. In SOTTR, players can explore certain areas by conversing with other characters in the world. It’s a change of pace from the usual Lara Croft sneak, pounce, neutralize pattern in both of the previous reboot games. During this time you’ll observe Dominguez only ever being gracious and compassionate to the local people, something which should give players pause.
Lara tracked her prey through the party and into a mercenary camp which acted as our basic combat tutorial. As in the last two games, this Tomb Raider isn’t defenseless. You’ll be able to switch between a bow & arrow, automatic rifle, shotgun, and pistol; but what sets this character apart is her cunning. In order to sneak up on enemies, players can hide behind objects or blend in with wall ivy. There’s something primally satisfying about watching Lara get the drop on mercenaries this way when you watch her stab and bury an enemy in the gloppy rain-soaked ground.
When you explore a Mayan temple, you’re going to have to do some diving. Returning to the franchise are underwater areas you’ll need to traverse. These submerged chunks of the game are large and full of unique dangers. Waters full of eels, piranha, and buried hazards you’ll need to break through can kill Lara at any moment. The sense of Claustrophobia you’ll get is rampant as you’ll also be swimming underwater without any gauge to tell you when you’re about to run out of air. Swimming for long periods of time without finding an air pocket or having to break the lock on an underwater door fills you with dread as the controller vibrates more. It truly felt as if at any moment my lungs were about to fill with water.
Where Shadow of The Tomb Raider stands apart from its predecessors was during the climax of raiding the Mayan temple. In one cutscene, Lara uncovers an old blade the ancient civilization used as a key to a power buried long ago. Things aren’t as simple as seeing something shiny and picking it up. In your ear is Lara’s confidant Jonah who warns Croft of incoming danger from mercenaries on her trail. She has no time to weigh the options as she lifts the blade out of its stone holding, Lara Croft may have just triggered a devastating tsunami that engulfs the village.
We’re put back in control of the character as she’s being washed in the tidal wave making us avoid destroyed buildings, burning debris, all the while watching villagers being dragged underwater or helplessly smashed against objects. In a particularly powerful scene, Croft manages to scale up the side of a building to try to find high ground. You’ll notice there’s a young boy perilously holding on to a falling storm drain. As he cries out to his mother above for help, I instinctually mashed buttons trying to get there to rescue him. Just as you’re one leap away from doing so…the kid falls to his death.
It’s a brutal scene but one that illustrates the character’s existential stakes this time around. Eidos promises Shadow of The Tomb Raider will deliver the iconic character’s defining moment. In the brief piece of the game we got to try, it’s apparent consequence will be a major theme in this story. As Lara is reunited with Jonah, she instinctually wants to jet off in pursuit of the villains who stole the blade from her as she believes they will bring about an apocalyptic devastation if they succeed. Jonah brings Lara to a harsh reality, her actions have major consequences on a small scale and not just the globe as she looks over the devastation caused by the flooding. Whatever her defining moment will be in this game, it already has tons of gut-punching scenes to compete with.
Shadow of The Tomb Raider already shows off more gravitas and big cinematic moments over the previous Rise of The Tomb Raider game. Parallel to the massive action is a nuanced story taking Lara Croft down a dark path that examines how obsession can skew someone’s belief in their personal mission. For a woman who can take down a small army single-handedly, leap through mazes of death traps, and has an arsenal of archeologic knowledge promising a defining moment is no small thing but it looks to be on the right path.
We’ll find out if Eidos Montreal succeeds when Shadow of The Tomb Raider releases on September 14, 2018 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
If you want to check out more about Lara Croft’s current mission check out the Dark Horse Comic’s series Survivors Crusade and Inferno.