Lara, caked in mud and crimson, is skulking through the overgrowth of a dense and dark jungle. She stands motionless amidst walls covered in foliage, she darts between the shadows, she sits perched atop a tree branch. All the while, she’s watching for her prey to cross her path. The thing is, that target is no lion, tiger or bear – it’s another human being.
Square Enix and Eidos Montreal are billing Shadow of the Tomb Raider as the moment that Lara Croft becomes the Tomb Raider. For real this time. That first game in the reboot series which saw a young and naive Lara step into her first adventure, coming away a hardened and battle-scarred survivor? That wasn’t far enough. What about the second, Rise of the Tomb Raider, the one that delved more into her family history and the desires that drove her into such dangerous journeys? No, that wasn’t it either. It’s the third game, the one that focuses on the consequences of her quests – who she has become and how people respond to her – that truly solidifies that identity.
In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara is far from the terrified young adult who struggled to execute a cultist in self-defence. Now, she nonchalantly clobbers fellow humans with an ice pick or leaves them dangling by their necks from the treetops. This Lara Croft is a brutal and barbaric beast. Sure, over the games her body count has built up to ridiculous levels that would match the hands of Nathan Drake, but that perfectly quaffed quipper goes on far more swashbuckling adventures compared to Lara’s descents into uncharted territory.
Yet, while the tone is now harsher, she’s also the same Croft who can’t resist nabbing a long lost treasure and inadvertently setting off the apocalypse. Perhaps, then, not everything has changed. After a sly stroll through Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico spying on the Trinity organisation who has caused Lara so many problems, Shadow of the Tomb Raider begins with this reckless act of artefact thievery. It sets up much of the same wall clambering, trap dodging and ruin plundering we’ve seen across the previous games. Perilous vertigo-inducing shimmies, bold leaps of faith across chasms and a fair few head-scratching physics puzzles are the familiar obstacles in her way.
When the game gets properly underway in Peru, there’s a return to some of the more open-world areas of the previous games. There’s a noticeable increase in size here, as well as an impressive bump in atmosphere and detail, offering many opportunities to tentatively poke your head into crumbling structures and hidden alcoves looking for secret tombs to cleverly navigate through. Lara can also meander around a vast town hub, picking up quests from local tribe members or trading goods with them to improve her gear.
Then there’s that combat: the mix of gunplay, fevered improvisation and eye-watering violence that Lara is well on her way to mastering. Going guns blazing works well enough with the game’s capable shooting mechanics, but remaining hidden is her greatest strength, steadily picking off lone targets and disappearing back into the brush like a hybrid of Predator and Batman, In fact, Lara now has ways to incite terror into her foes in much the same way as the Caped Crusader can in Rocksteady’s Arkham series. Anyone struck with a fear arrow will frantically spray bullets at whatever stands in their way while leaving themselves open to a quick kill.
That menace to Lara is the one aspect that truly separates Shadow of the Tomb Raider from previous entries, and through the gaps in our fingers, we’re eager to see just how far Eidos Montreal is willing to push it. The end of the game’s latest demo gives us a small glimpse when – after surviving a thrilling tsunami set piece that tears through the streets of a Mexico town and swallows helpless souls beneath the swirl – her long-time friend Jonah berates her for selfishly wanting to immediately chase after Trinity. He wants to stay and help make up for the damage they’ve caused, but Lara wants to rush off on another adventure with skulls to crack and tombs to raid.
Developer: Eidos Montreal / Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Release: 14 September 2018
Formats: PS4, Xbox One, PC