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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 Aug. 10, 2018 @ 12:34 p.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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In the days leading up to Shadow of the Tomb Raider's mid-September release, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics will be adamant that this is the installment where the iconic Lara Croft evolves into "the tomb raider she was always meant to become." Those who have followed the series have witnessed Lara change from a driven but callow survivor into a flourishing adventurer who explores the deep corners of her own heroism in the face of a powerful enemy. In Shadow, she will come face-to-face with the flaws that come with being a single-minded scion of adventuring. This time, she bears the weight of the human cost of her decisions.

We've already explored some of the ways Shadow has showcased this grayer, almost jaded side of Lara's narrative both physically — where she now has the skill, physique and aura of a black-ops commando — as well as emotionally, where her usually dependable instinct to Get The Treasure results in the cataclysmic flooding of a village full of innocents. At a recent preview event in Manhattan Beach, we got to dive into the world of Shadow of the Tomb Raider for a handful of hours to get a healthy taste of pure gameplay. It was also our first real look at how the game will handle its social hub/open-world concepts.

It wouldn't be a contemporary Tomb Raider game (or even demo) if it didn't start out with Lara in deep doo-doo. This time, we're witnessing the moments before a plane crash, with Lara struggling to make sense of it all while telling a wildly cursing Jonah (God bless this man, whose exasperation with his best buddy is encapsulated perfectly by Earl Baylon) to jump out of the plummeting aircraft.  This is a cinematic that hints at the ongoing friction between the two — Jonah is the closest thing Lara (embodied by the voice of Camilla Luddington) has to an additional moral compass and portal of common sense, a near-perfect counter to Lara's zealous pursuit of her own truths.

 

The game then flips to two days earlier, where Lara has to scratch, knife and claw her way out of being trapped in an underground hole. The demo then took us to a mission in Cozumel, Mexico that we've covered before, when Lara meets face-to-face with the supposed leader of Trinity, Dr. Dominguez, and engages in her brand of fluid, predatory jungle combat.  One of the newer things I discovered while re-playing this is the option to cover yourself in mud to decrease your visibility, not unlike Rambo or Arnold in "Predator."

It was in the jungle where we experienced a few new wrinkles, one of them an elaborate and suspenseful confrontation with a pair of jaguars, one of whom has literally torn one of Lara's companions in half. There were also a couple of multi-level, innovative bridge, tower and pulley-oriented puzzles that I dare not spoil here. If we had to figure them out, so do you, but the most we can say is that they reflect Crystal Dynamics' mission to reignite the rush and complexity of Tomb Raider's ability to make you think. It was one of the most layered puzzle concepts we've seen in the series, and this was early.

Another new wrinkle we noticed was a renewed sense of character development that extends beyond Lara's campfire inner monologues. We learn more about Jonah's personal life, especially when it comes to his brother, while the normally stoic Lara opens up about her parents. It's a credit to the writing (Jill Murray and company) that these conversations don't sound like dive-bar therapy sessions. It's the kind of stuff that comes out between friends who've been through a lot of crap together, and it also shines a light as to why these characters act the way they do.

 

The final third of the demo involved Kuwaq Yaku, a lighter version of the magical place called Paititi — the centralized, open-world social hub of the game, where Lara can stock up on goods, talk to people, and engage in a wealth of side-quests. I burned some of my demo time when I got sidetracked by the harried tale of a villager looking for his son, who was being watched and even held by some usurping thieves who'd infiltrated the village and put some unfortunate souls to work. I made sure the new Lara Croft solved that problem, and her reward was a dope new gun — so it looks like it's be worth it to help out folks whenever you can, much like other action/RPGs you've faced in your game-playing journey.

Our demo ended when we confronted a nifty, somewhat time-consuming puzzle that opened a series of vault-like, circular doors and led to Lara discovering a cabal of indigenous people in old, traditional garb who eventually lead Lara to where they live: the mystical city of Paititi.

This is way, way, way too early to say, but this latest edition of the Tomb Raider reboot trilogy has the potential to be the best version of the Lara Croft character ever presented. Visually, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is within God of War's neighborhood while maintaining all of the positive aspects of gameplay that fans have grown to adore.  Time will tell, but it won't be long until we get a chance to see for ourselves.



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