It feels like it’s been a long time coming, but Lara Croft has finally grown up, and it’s time for her to finish this journey as an inexperienced adventurer. And to complete her long odyssey and solve the most grueling mystery of all: that of her late father. A new, final adventure begins that’s been thousands of years in the making and dating back to the Mayan Apocalypse, as Lara finds a relic that connects to her father and his past. It will be this deadly expedition that will define Lara, and make her into the legendary Tomb Raider we’ve all known and loved since the mid ’90s.
Lara is back and she’s looking more fierce than ever before. She’s not new to the life of this death defying danger to secure a treasure and solve a mystery that’s been hidden in the sands of time for thousands of years, and in Shadow of the Tomb Raider it’s no different. However, this time around, Lara isn’t going to sit back and try to find a reasonable explanation for everything, looking for a smooth way toward her goal and treasure. In fact, it’s the complete opposite of that. Lara is out for blood this time and nothing is going to get in her way.
In the original game we saw the struggles of Lara who didn’t want the life of hurting anyone. She was always out for a treasure, or the idea of something that others hadn’t seen in centuries. Now, a paramilitary group is out for the same thing Lara is, but now she understands the intricacies and politics involved with this dance of danger. That’s right, Lara has become a person driving for answers, ready to meet and defeat her opposition at all cost; and she knows now that killing to get what she desires has become all to easy for her.
The E3 demo begins after a cutscene in the heart of Mexico, inside of a dungeon, of all places, where Lara is keen on finding a relic that’s connected to her father in some form or fashion. The dungeon played out similar to other ones in the series: Lara must solve a few puzzles to get from Point A to Point B, including swimming, moving around carts, climbing walls with her pickaxe, and discovering the beauty of a long-lost civilization, and the understanding why they did the things they did.
I played through the PC build of the game, and I will be the first to admit that I’m not that great with a keyboard and mouse. But surprisingly, by the time my journey was over, I could really see myself getting into PC gaming a lot more. Lara’s controls were tight and functional. She climbs rock walls with her pickaxe a lot faster this time around; I didn’t see her pretending to slip every couple of seconds like she did in the last two adventures. Though, she will have moments where she can’t quite make it up a ledge without pressing a specific key to help boost her up — but those are usually after she jumps to another ledge.
Getting back to the dungeon, it was mostly dark hues of rock and black, mxed with some browns. Nothing really stood out, and nothing really made me sit back and want to record any moment in particular. There were the conventional ancient dead bodies and jars sitting alongside rubble of paths that were long gone, that would have made my adventure easier; but nothing really interesting at all.
After several minutes of wandering around, I realized that Lara can now swim under water freely, and a new path was present below a pool of water below. One thing I can say for Lara, she can hold her breath for a very, very long time. That’s no joke. I controlled Lara swimming a linear path under water for quite a while, she got stuck on some rocks, some other bad stuff got in her way, then about three or four minutes later, she came out and took a few deep breaths and continued on.
Like Rambo, or the Predator, Lara is a killing machine now. This time around stealth plays a much bigger role in the Mayan ruins of Central America than ever before. This time you won’t just be hiding behind rocks, but actually blending into your environment. Lara has the ability to grasp short walls covered in vines — this is a jungle environment, just as a reminder — and hide against the wall and in the vines for a stealthy approach. Of course, you can still hide in bushes and sneak up behind your enemies for an instant one-hit kill.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really anything special about the enemy AI in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. I was told that the enemies are no longer continually locked onto Lara if she’s ever discovered outside of cover. Which means she can get caught and still find her way back into hiding rather than the enemy AI looking for her nonstop. But other than that, the enemies are still on their linear track patterns where learning their pace will help you solve where to attack from next.
The jungle atmosphere at night is lovely. A real spectacle for those looking for a deep jungle feel. And like other games that take place in jungles — and there are many of them — the feel of the environment is just right.
Overall, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is shaping up to be a grand finale of the Croft trilogy. The tight controls and response time make the adventure feel just right, and though the dungeon wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as I would have liked, I’m going to hold back full judgement until I see the game overall. Because if I’ve learned anything from this new game, it’s that Lara always has something up her sleeves.