At the reveal event of Square Enix, Eidos Montreal, and Crystal Dynamics’ Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I got a chance to play through the first major tomb in the game. The demo took place about fifteen minutes into the game and ran for about an hour.
The demo mostly set up the game’s primary story arc, with Lara and Jonah investigating Trinity in Cozumel, Mexico during a Dia de los Muertos festival. Lara follows Trinity to a Mayan temple, where she uncovers a prophecy about “The Cleansing” – a ritual apocalypse started by the removal of a dagger from the tomb. The apocalypse can only be averted by combining the dagger with a silver box, which is housed in a completely different tomb in South America.
The tomb from the demo is the first tomb we get a chance to explore in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and its much more difficult than any we’ve seen this early in either of the prior games. Immediately we’ve got access to a Lara with full spelunking capabilities, some serious parkour moves, and heightened stealth skills.
And after fans asking for more underwater content, let me just say, the first hour of gameplay does not disappoint. From underwater sections of the tomb to surviving a natural disaster, Lara does some major diving in Shadow. Much of that underwater exploration was inspired by cave divers traversing Mexico’s cenotes, according to game director Daniel Bisson. That comparison is pretty apt, as Lara navigates some very, very tight tunnels.
The tomb challenges were much more difficult, and entirely physics based. A lot of creative thinking was required on how to best utilize weight sensitive bells in order to get to the top of the underground temple within the tomb.
However, with the increased difficulty comes a few handy tricks to make your life easier. Lara’s better at noticing traps to help you avoid getting skewered, faster at traversing cliff faces, and a liiiiiitle bit more reactive. Ultimately, the more dangerous tombs are a positive joy to comb through and conquer.
As for the more technical side, the demo was run in 4K on what appeared to be Xbox One X consoles, so the visuals were positively stunning with extra texturing on the cave walls, characters’ clothing, and hair.
The only downside was the combat. Stealth wise, everything worked great. Get yourself noticed and suddenly you were stuck with the game’s shooter aspect which is still a little subpar. Lara’s bow and arrow are a joy, but you don’t want to take that into a gun fight. Which is where things break down a bit. The shotgun’s range was a bit unreliable, and the assault rifle had no recoil or firing reactivity, making it overpowered as hell. Fun, but unweildy. Luckily, Tomb Raider isn’t a PvP franchise where that balance would be awful. Its not ideal, but tolerable because it works in the player’s favor.
The game does have a tendency to play like an action movie, especially once you get to the natural disaster portion. Things just fall into place around Lara so she can get where she needs to go, but the game doesn’t wait for you. If you miss your chance, you’re toast. Its unforgiving which does add some stakes to the more inprobable action sequences.
The final cutscene of the demo really got to the heart of the story. We watch the island fall under the weight of a natural disaster as Lara comes to realize she is responsible. And while her first instinct is to go and beat Trinity to the next tomb, its Jonah who pulls her back and reminds her of the human cost. And because this time her actions have direct consequences, the scene ends with her falling to her knees overlooking the disaster. Its an impeccible reversal of the usual male- female character dynamic as well. Which is something these games have been building toward for a while. And now we get to see that action-driven composure shatter, humanizing Lara in a way she hasn’t really ever been. Its some fantastic storytelling, and for that alone, I’m excited as hell for the game’s proper release in September.
Mostly though, this demo left me with a greater appreciation for the franchise. I’ve always been relatively positive on Tomb Raider, but Shadow of the Tomb Raider feels like the series has fully realized its potential to meld platforming, stealth, gunfights, and insane action sequences with a story that has heart.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider will release on September 14, 2018 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. You can check out today’s gameplay reveal here.