In Shadow of the Tomb Raider Lara Croft has raided one tomb too many and triggered the apocalypse by removing a sacred dagger from its resting place. The sinister Trinity organisation is also hunting for Mayan artifacts in the hope that they can stop the apocalypse Lara has started (cool) and use ancient magic to remake the world (oh no). Lara’s a great hero, and even though she accidentally triggered the end of the world it was in a gung ho adventuring spirit. It’s a nice turnaround from the gruelling suffering of the first of the three Tomb Raider reboots, and I’m genuinely interested to see how Lara will carry the guilt of a tomb raid gone wrong. Exploring a jungle in the middle of an apocalypse could be a seriously good setting too.
However if this hour is representative of the rest of the game then go in expecting a linear rollercoaster with some nice views and a score somewhere in the 50s or 60s from PC Gamer. The last two games were much more than that, and it seems likely that Shadow of the Tomb Raider will open up and give us the exploration, intricate puzzles and combat that made the other two games quite good. I can only judge based on what I've seen so far, and dramatic corridors powered by quicktime events don't cut it in 2018.
Let's start with the good. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a pretty game. The characters are incredibly detailed and move naturally in cutscenes (Lara's eyes are perhaps the most realistic I've seen in a game). A huge amount of work has been put into making the environments packed with detail, too. The level I played began in a Mexican town celebrating Día de Muertos - the Day of the Dead. While tailing the game's bad guy, a chap called Dominguez who's digging up a bit of Mexico on the hunt for an ancient Mayan artifact, you can't help but notice how densely packed the place. Candles and altars and bread and fruit and pictures and all sorts of clutter combine to make the place feel real. There's even a live band. Lara slowly shuffles through the throng like Drake does in all those calm-before-the-storm walking pace bits in the Uncharted games.
Also good: Shadow of the Tomb Raider has tomb raiding. After Lara comes up on Dominguez' dig-site, she discovers a Mayan pyramid inside a flooded cave. The cave is a huge place, impressively detailed and smartly designed to familiarise the player with Lara's many mechanics. To work your way to the artifact you have to swim, jump, climb and solve a clever rope puzzle before unlocking the prize. Inside the cave, it's just Lara, you and her occasional spoken thought (audio hints for those who struggle to work out what's going on). It turns out it's really nice to raid tombs as Lara Croft. Who knew?
Now onto the bad. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the end of Lara's origin story, and so I accept there needs to be a tonal consistency across the trilogy, but by god the game needs to cheer up a bit. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is super serious - relentlessly so. Lara herself is one-note - the thing she is talking about is incredibly important and we'd better understand the gravity of it at all times. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is grimdark personified. Lara has clearly worked through any lingering remorse associated with stabby murder she felt in the previous games and emerged a deadly killing machine. Now she stabs with nary a care, willy nilly, in the chest, in the back, in the neck. More so than ever, she is a Ubisoft assassin, an Agent 47, a Tom Clancy super soldier.
I've come to accept Lara killing her way through hundreds of bad guys as she works to save the world. Naughty Dog's Uncharted series suffers from the same ludo-narrative dissonance as you switch from bloody shootout to emotional cutscene as the wise-cracking Nathan Drake and I still love those games. But the upshot of Tomb Raider's deathly tone is Lara feels empty, as if she has no personality. Playing the demo, I longed for the return of Core Design's imperious Lara, then pondered what a Tomb Raider game might look like starring an older Lara Croft. I'll soldier through Shadow of the Tomb Raider with this current version of Lara Croft, but I doubt she'll have made much of an impression by the game's end.
And finally, the ugly. The demo I played, which involved a stealth combat section that triggers after you lift the Mayan artifact from its home and must escape the crumbling ruins, betrayed the build's shaky foundations. Movement was a tad janky, the shooting a little erratic, the hitboxes a bit all over the place. I encountered a few bugs and on occasion the camera decided to embed itself within my troublesome cover. Eidos Montreal has a few months to sort a lot of this stuff out, so I'm not calling for an evac just yet, but I remain convinced that my favourite bits of this game will be those when Lara is on her lonesome in some mysterious tomb, pulling the odd lever and jumping from pillar to pillar.
oh and there is more of this shit too