After a successful reboot of the series in 2013, and a solid second installment three years later, Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider has established itself as a first-rate action-adventure franchise. But in some ways, that only makes the job harder for Eidos Montreal, which is developing the forthcoming Shadow of the Tomb Raider in conjunction with Crystal Dynamics. The novelty of the reboot came from the fact that it took Lara back to the beginning, before she had learned any of the skills needed to survive in the wilderness. How do you raise the stakes when your Tomb Raider is more powerful than ever? (Mild spoilers follow.)
For Jason Dozois, the narrative director for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the answer lies in telling a story about Lara coming to terms with her power — and understanding that she can be a destructive force if she isn’t careful. “It means going from someone who wants to possess relics to understanding there’s a greater purpose to that,” Dozois said. “And she’s still not there yet. She’s getting into things she doesn’t understand. And that’s what she needs to learn — that actions have consequences. She has tremendous power, but she’s still immature.”
When it comes out this fall, Shadow of the Tomb Raider will find Croft at her deadliest yet. Eidos let me play two sections of the game. In the first, still in the early hours of the game, I was exploring one of the game’s signature tombs, jumping from one crumbling platform to the next in an effort to reach an important artifact. The second demo takes place much later in the game, when Croft must navigate a large forest area crawling with enemies, taking them out with a mix of stealth attacks and direct fire.
Both areas retained the excitement of the game’s first two installments, if not advancing far beyond it. Eidos says Shadow of the Tomb Raider will differ from its predecessors by being larger — the hidden Mayan city where it takes place is the game’s largest-ever hub, they say — and and by having a more fleshed-out world. Dozois took time to walk through the fictional lost civilization that will be the game’s focal point, blending traditions from the Mayans and the Incas.
Moving through the city, Croft finds areas devoted to farming, religion, textiles, and commerce. She can chat with a wide range of village people, some of whom have side quests to offer her. And she can change her outfits to mimic the local dress, using items she finds in the world.
Combat should feel familiar to anyone who has played the game’s earlier installments. Croft still has her trusty bow and arrow, along with a handful of promising new ways to eliminate enemies. If you’re perched in a tree, one new bow attack lets you string up the enemy below you with a rope arrow, in a fashion reminiscent to the way Batman ties up goons in the Arkham series. A new arrow called the jaguar deranges your enemy, causing them to turn on their comrades and kill them for you before collapsing in a heap.
It’s all great fun, but I wonder if Shadow of the Tomb Raider won’t feel a little too familiar to fans of the series. If you’ve played along with Croft while also keeping up with the Uncharted franchise, as I have, you have by now encountered countless hidden civilizations, innumerable magical artifacts, and a surprising number of giant paramilitary corporations that always manage to stay one step ahead of you as you pursue your treasure. We only know the outlines of Shadow of the Tomb Raider so far, but it appears to follow all the same beats. Here’s hoping the game finds some surprising ways to tweak the format as it chugs along.
Eidos says this game will mark the end of the origin arc begun with the 2013 reboot, but Lara Croft appears to be eternal. The question I had after playing an hour or so of Shadow of the Tomb Raider wasn’t whether the developers could deliver a satisfying ending to the story. It was whether they could make a game that felt like a new beginning.