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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


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Shadow of the Tomb Raider'

by Thomas Wilde on June 19, 2018 @ 2:30 a.m. PDT

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara must master a deadly jungle, overcome terrifying tombs, and persevere through her darkest hour.

Pre-order Shadow of the Tomb Raider

I played Shadow of the Tomb Raider at the Xbox Showcase the day before E3 2018 started, and then again on the E3 show floor. My thought is that it is, in some ways, a game about collateral damage. In the new version of Tomb Raider, Lara Croft is a tightly woven bundle of post-traumatic stress and obsession, who's driven to complete her goals despite the obstacles. Usually, in this sort of plot, it's because there's somebody worse waiting in the wings, who's going to take over the world with whatever ancient magical treasure is up for grabs, or who's at least going to be greedy about it.

This time, however, in Shadow, it presents the argument straight up that Lara might just be wrong. By trying to grab an ancient dagger from its hiding place in a Mayan temple, Lara ends up having to shoot her way through the typical mercenary platoon — at some point, mercenaries in the Tomb Raider universes have really got to start specifically watching out for Lara — but also floods a village. You watch as the waters sweep away a child while his mother watches, helpless to save him.

When Lara catches up to her friend Jonah, she gets halfway into her typical adventure-protagonist hero speech when Jonah shuts her down entirely. Rushing off to fight the enemy du jour just means she's going to leave somebody else to fix the mess she's made. It's a bizarre thing to see in this sort of game, where the protagonist is simply called on the carpet and it isn't just some villainous attempt at psychological warfare; it's a trusted ally saying, nope, you screwed this up, and now you have to stay here and try and make it right.

Actually playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider is more or less what you might expect from the series at this point. It's polished, effective gameplay that transitions between exploration, platforming, puzzles, shoot-'em-up action and stealth, with Lara racing Trinity, a suspiciously well-funded paramilitary organization, to unravel the mysteries surrounding some Mayan ruins. Naturally, the mysteries of those ruins relate back to Lara's late father, and also naturally, the ruins hide supernatural secrets, ancient traps, and mechanical engineering that's both nearly intact and centuries ahead of its time.

Over the course of this particular adventure, the idea is that Lara becomes "one with the jungle": She's a predator, a monster in the darkness. The "wham shot" of the gameplay shown thus far is her rising seamlessly up out of the water with a knife, to find and butcher the one guy who's survived her most recent rampage, most of the details of her form cloaked in shadow. As you progress through the game, Lara can learn how to make "fear arrows," which turn enemies against one another by injecting them with hallucination-inducing venom, and use a coat of mud to camouflage herself so she can exit from combat.

Feedback from the community has resulted in more underwater sections, where Lara has to navigate treacherous corridors while also contending with barracudas, eels, and the typical crumbling masonry. There's a lengthy swim in the E3 code that genuinely put me on edge, as you have to hammer a button to swim through a too-small gap between rocks to reach open air, all while Lara's mocap actress works overtime to look like she's on the verge of drowning. It's really tense, which in turn makes me wonder what kind of masochists are in the Tomb Raider fan community. Who looked at Rise of the Tomb Raider and thought, "What this needs is more sequences where Lara almost drowns"?

Another insight into what kinds of things those fans think are fun come from the new challenge tombs, which test your skill, as to quote the developers, "everything in them is trying to kill you." You can expect spike traps, tripwires, and angry wildlife, all in the time-honored Tomb Raider tradition.

Overall, what I came away from Shadow thinking was that it's, well, a Tomb Raider game: polished, adeptly made, well-crafted, and hitting most of the typical beats you expect from the remake. It feels like they've welded the seams between the ancient labyrinths full of hostile wildlife from the original series and the cinematic, more pseudo-realistic tone of the remake, and it all joins together well. It feels comfortable from the moment you pick up the controller.

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