It’s not often that you get a three part origin story, and yet that’s what Square Enix have ended up trying to do, with Shadow of the Tomb Raider looking to round off a modern trilogy of games. However, you have to wonder how Lara’s character can really grow from Rise of the Tomb Raider, where she was already a competent explorer, more than capable of surviving the Siberian wilderness and going toe to toe with the Trinity organisation.
That growth, it seems, comes from learning the consequence of her actions and potentially of sinking to Trinity’s level. Sure, Lara’s the goodie and Trinity are the baddies, but her trip to Cozumel, Mexico – the part of the game that we went hands on with – sees her making a decision to try and get one step ahead of Trinity, to grab the ceremonial dagger in an attempt to stall their search for a Mayan artefact. It backfires, and the game’s trailers show it’s not the only time that Lara acts without thinking. This is Lara at the height of her powers, but what good is it if she doesn’t use them responsibly?
It’s through this that the undiscovered city of Paititi in Peru makes a lot of sense, not least because of the opening levels of the first Tomb Raider being set in this part of the world. This is the central hub for the game, three times larger than anything in Rise, and it’s bustling with life. It’s a city that’s protected its population like a time capsule, and Eidos Montreal have taken indirect inspiration from real world contactless tribes. That contact with the modern world, however, has been established, and not by Lara.
The cultists of Kukulkan, the Mayan god of creation, brought the English language to the city, and it’s through this that Lara is able to talk to the population, hearing stories, taking on missions that send her off to explore, and finding her real purpose as the Tomb Raider. Within this culture, there is a struggle between the cultists, eager to bring about the apocalyptic prophecies of their god, and the rebels trying to stop them. It’s a struggle that will no doubt run in parallel and tie in with Lara’s own battle against Trinity.
Lara comes into this game with a wealth of existing abilities for traversing the world, with her now rather distinctive climbing hooks letting her get around quite easily whenever you see pitted soft stone. One new trick here allows her to seamlessly shift to rappelling down on a rope, reaching a lower point and being able to then swing and launch herself at further platforms. It’s a clever extension of the familiar exploration mechanics.
With a semi-open world, you’re still encouraged to head off the beaten path and search for hidden crypts and tombs. One of the continual complaints of the Tomb Raider reboot is that these haven’t been grand enough or challenging enough for fans of the original series. Eidos Montreal are promising to at least make them much more expansive, adding further rooms, further puzzles to each. There’s some truly impressive looking contraptions to overcome as well, with a brief glimpse of a towering spinning wooden mechanism to clamber over.
In a nice touch, as Lara explores the Peruvian jungle and stumbles across historical treasures, she’s taking them and returning them to the rebels. These artefacts don’t belong in museums, they belong with the people to whom they will mean the most. While Lara breaks something pretty close to her classic turquoise top and light brown short shorts, you will also be able to find clothing items and restore them to add new cosmetics and blend in.
In the early part of the game back in Mexico, Lara heads down into the tomb and finds a temple within the dimly lit cavern. It didn’t feature the most adventurous of puzzles, perhaps on a par with the tomb in Syria found in Rise, but the scale certainly felt a touch bigger, and it set a different tone. Where Rise was all about gold and light, Shadow is about heading down into the darkness.
That holds true of the combat as well, and while many might still feel that combat doesn’t really belong in a Tomb Raider game, or at least that it shouldn’t play quite as big a part as it does, it’s here to stay, so it might as well be good. Shadow adds the gameplay idea of being able to pull hit and run attacks, using misdirection and stealth to escape their attentions and then reengage at your discretion.
Lara can blend into the foliage, even going so far as to cover herself in mud to help her blend in further, use new poisoned arrows to make people hallucinate and see friend as foe, or choose her moment to strike from the trees, viciously stringing up and stabbing a hapless Trinity goon. It’s extremely visceral at times, but the guerrilla tactics are rather reminiscent of the Batman trilogy or even Assassin’s Creed, in some ways. It does seems to fit this modern take on Lara’s character better, as a single person trying to go up against an entire militia and having to use her wits to survive.
That extends to what she’ll be using to fight with, as Eidos Montreal have expanded the crafting systems in the game. She’ll be crafting new tools, those hallucinogenic arrows and much more besides. Those skills will be pretty important when, much later in the game, she’s separated from her trusty sidekick Jonah and left with just her bow and knife. There’s still the classic blockbusting action moments as well, with a quite ludicrous amount of Star Wars Stormtrooper aim as she runs and jumps to get away from the full force of Trinity’s paramilitary forces, clambering up a tower under fire from what feels like dozens of goons and a heavily armed helicopter. It’s a tad over the top, I must admit.
Taking the baton from Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montreal have the difficult task of making Shadow of the Tomb Raider feel like more than just another Tomb Raider game. They’re answering fans by making tombs and crypts more involved, they’re altering the combat to be more about hit and run tactics, and the city of Paititi adds more life to the game than before. And for Lara herself, they’re looking to evolve into the more mature, considered Tomb Raider of old.