Globetrotting Lara heads to Latin America for the trilogy's high-stakes finale.
You wouldn’t blame Lara Croft for turning her back on tomb raiding and opting for a more low-risk career.
Her last adventure involved multiple run-ins with bad-tempered Siberian bears, witch poisonings, helicopter assaults and collapsing rock faces, and she only narrowly prevented the bad guys from getting their hands on the keys to immortality. It’s enough to put anyone off.
But not Lara. Nope. Video gaming’s foremost explorer (sorry, Nate) returns for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the third and final instalment of the reboot trilogy, which this time sees Croft heading for South America to once again race shady organisation Trinity to a magical and potentially world-changing artefact.
While somewhat detached from the puzzle-heavy ‘Raiders of old, the last two entries were superb action romps, so naturally I jumped at the chance to go hands-on with Lara’s latest at a glitzy preview event in London. Based on the hour I saw, fans are in for another brilliantly entertaining - if overly familiar - caper.
FUN IN THE SUN
If I had one criticism of Rise, it’s that I wasn’t all that enamoured with its snowy setting, but there’ll be no need for fluffy parkas here.
I meet Lara at a bustling, vibrantly colourful Día de Muertos celebration in a Peruvian village, where she’s tailing one of Trinity’s head honchos, a guy called Dominguez. There’s little gameplay involved beyond moving through the marketplace and interacting with locals, making it the perfect opportunity for the developers to flex their graphical muscles. This is one pretty game (the version I played was running on an Xbox One X), brimming with detail and cinematic flair.
Before long I learn that both Lara and Trinity are searching for an enchanted Mayan dagger. Our protagonist, as per, is just trying to finish the work of her intrepid father, while Dominguez and co. are looking to draw on its immense power to remake the world, or something like that. After making her way down a cliff and into the game’s first titular tomb, Lara manages to seize the prize, and in doing so accidentally triggers the actual apocalypse.
I’m promised before playing the game that Lara will have to face up to the consequences of her reckless actions before she can become the Tomb Raider proper, and without spoiling anything, it’s abundantly clear by the end of the demo that she’s put her foot in it in a big way. While I’m not convinced that this series has ever really earned its really, really serious tone, I’m still keen to see how Lara’s defining moments play out.
RAID WITH LOVE
Before entering the tomb I have to take out my trusty pickaxe and do a spot of climbing. A slightly tiresome trope of modern action/adventure games (I’m looking at you, Uncharted) is that they make it almost impossible to fall in sections like this, which removes a lot of the peril.
I’m happy to report, then, that plummeting to your certain death in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a more regular occurence. It’s very easy to cut your rappelling rope - a new feature for this entry - at the wrong time, and when hopping between a series of enormous swinging bells I miscalculated more than once. You’ll have to react quickly to environmental traps too, else poor Lara is going to find herself impaled on a spike more often than she’d like.
Tomb-based puzzles - bizarre as it might sound given the name of the game - have been largely optional in the past, but the one I encounter here is woven into the main quest. Much of it still involves shooting rope arrows, pulling levers, and sending things crashing into other things, but I’m willing to admit that I was left scratching my head for a good five minutes before I figured out the solution.
Lara will throw in the odd voice hint to stop you from feeling like a complete idiot, but otherwise you’re on your own. I’m hoping brain-teasers are as much a part of Shadow as the many shootouts. Speaking of which…
LARA CROFT AND THE TEMPLE OF BOOM
‘Archaeologist’ might be the headline of her LinkedIn page, but noughteens Lara Croft also happens to be a merciless killing machine. After making this transition with comical ease in the first game, she’s now at the point where all-out slaughter is second nature.
Anything but knackered after swimming, swinging, slipping and sliding her away around the temple area, Lara suddenly finds herself facing an onslaught of Trinity mercs. Combat works pretty much exactly as you’d expect: skulk through the long grass violently picking off enemies with a combination of melee weapons and your bow, then whip out the shotty when you blow your cover.
As far as I could make out, the only new addition to these sections are vine-covered walls that you can cling to, making it easier to stealth your way through, but otherwise I was straight away mixing up molotov cocktails and lining up headshots with no issues at all.
That said, it did feel like the bad dudes could absorb rather a lot of bullets before dropping to the ground, and I was fairly certain some of my shots didn’t hit when they should’ve done. This can all be ironed out before the game’s release, of course.
The sure-to-be extensive crafting and upgrade system was locked off in this demo, but rest assured you’ll be compulsively smashing up an assortment of boxes in every room you walk through to make sure you’re well stocked.
HEART-IN-MOUTH MOMENTS GALORE
The demo’s final set piece sees Lara trying to escape a powerful tsunami that’s thrashing its way through a local village. It’s a visual spectacle, albeit one that feels strangely run-of-the-mill for a game like this.
Having said that, something happens at the end that left a bit of a lump in my throat, and it’s clear that Shadow of the Tomb Raider isn’t going to be afraid of shocking you.
You get the impression that our well-spoken hero is going to have to go to some dark places before the trilogy wraps up. This is the end of the world after all.
SHADOW OF THE TOMB RAIDER - THE EARLY VERDICT
The small portion of Shadow I played was noticeably linear, so I’m looking forward to seeing it open up in the full game.
Everything moves at such a breakneck pace that you never feel like you’re doing one thing for too long, which is why this series works so well. Bored of rock climbing? Here are some goons to fight. Bored of unloading on goons? Let’s go for an underwater swim. And now I’m doing a rope puzzle. It just knows how to keep you entertained.
You can’t shake the feeling that you’ve done it all before, though, and if you’re expecting a radical reinvention, you’re going to be underwhelmed. But if you loved the first two games and just want to see how this chapter of Lara Croft’s story concludes, you should be putting Shadow of the Tomb Raider right at the top of your most-wanted list.
With the promise of a jungle to tame, more tombs to raid, some serious soul-searching, and the small matter of saving the world, this could be the enduring gaming icon’s best adventure yet.