The Tomb Raider reboot accomplished its goal by breathing new life into the franchise. It spawned a mediocre movie and now, thanks to the upcoming Shadow of the Tomb Raider, a full trilogy of games. Rise of the Tomb Raider improved upon the standard set by the previous game and Shadow looks to be continuing that trend but not quite to same degree. Based on my behind closed doors presentation and hands-on demo of Shadow of the Tomb Raider at E3 2018, it does look like a step above its predecessors, but only slightly so.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider Preview: In the Shadows
Improvements are improvements though, no matter their size. As the name implies, Shadow of the Tomb Raider has a much darker tone and this newfound approach gives her a few more tools in combat. Lara can now cover herself in mud to hide from enemies, confuse foes with her fear arrows, hang targets from trees via a rope, execute chain stealth takedowns, hide in walls covered with greenery, and re-enter stealth after she’s been spotted.
Lifting directly from the classic action film The Predator gives the simplistic stealth a bit of much-needed nuance. Although my hands-on demo sadly didn’t include the rope dagger, fear arrows, chain takedowns, or mud camo, I did get to experiment with the new AI and wall bushes. Clinging to walls is visually new but aesthetically the same thing as hiding in tall grass, which makes it a relatively minor addition. The new AI, however, is more interesting since slipping back into stealth after setting off an alarm is more natural and less video gamey.
Aside from those new AI patterns, the limited toolset in the demo made combat feel too similar to the last few titles. That’s not a compliment since the firefights were the weakest part of said games. New hit markers give shots more weight but the shooting retains the signature persistent looseness of past titles. Lara’s movement during encounters still lacks weight and the returning auto-cover system still can’t match the precision of a manual cover system. A few more tools and the ability to re-enter stealth do improve the combat, but the demo holds on to most of the core problems inherent to its predecessors.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider Preview: Out of the Shadows
The parts I did not get to play in the presentation dove into Lara’s social side. Her journey brings her to the legendary city of Paititi, a gorgeous reservation nestled deep within the lush Mesoamerican wilderness. It’s the franchise’s biggest hub to date and filled with the locals going about their lives.
Lara can mingle, take up side missions, shop, and, most importantly, pet some llamas whilst roaming around. It’s all a lighthearted, welcome change of pace from the darker, more brooding combat scenarios littered throughout the game. Gameplay Director at Eidos Montréal Vincent Monnier said this was intentional because the more grim overall tone.
“We wanted to show their everyday life,” he said. “There are people farming, hanging out. They can talk to Lara and give her missions and sell her stuff. And these side missions show a more social side to her.”
During the demo, Lara talked to a young boy and agreed to hunt down some doodad of his that went missing. It was a pleasant, tender moment and something we don’t usually get to see from her in between all the murder and climbing. The series desperately needs more moments like this that show a range of emotions and round out the cast. Both prior games leaned too heavily on flat, one-note characters with a pension for bland dialogue and forced chemistry, including Lara herself.
Eidos Montréal kept everything outside of the story’s introduction under wraps but its premise has potential to show a deeper, more interesting side to Lara. Unleashing destruction by her own treasure hunting habit is a novel twist and one can that possibly set her up for some introspection. Jonah, her boring sidekick from the other two games, returns and their one scene together did have some dramatic tension. But it remains to be seen whether or not they’ll actually have an interesting relationship this time around or just fall back into their humdrum routine.
If Shadow of the Tomb Raider continues to toe the line, then it’ll be just fine. But it should do more than that. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy not only dramatically elevated that franchise to new heights, but the treasure hunting genre as well. Solving similar physics puzzles, running through familiar combat scenarios, and mashing through more tedious quicktime events felt too comfortable despite the handful of new mechanics. The bar has been raised in the past few years and I’m skeptical that this game will do more than just be another decent Tomb Raider experience. Seeing whether or not the game far surpasses its predecessors will come when the game releases on September 14th on PC, Xbox One, and PS4.