Shadow of the Tomb Raider got it’s largest showing at E3 2018 during the Square Enix “press conference” on Monday, following the world premiere trailer shown during the Xbox press conference on Sunday. Coupling this with the interview given on Twitch following the Xbox presser, which covered some of the mechanics of the game as well exploring Lara as a hardened adventurer, I personally feel like I have enough information to make a judgement on whether I will buy it or not.
From the jump, the Daniel Chayer-Bisson, the Senior Game Director of Eidos-Montreal promised different combat mechanics, more tombs, and overall an immersive jungle experience in which Lara must use her time in the jungle to understand how to fight in it. That being said, he also stressed that the Lara we will see in Shadow is the most capable version of the character in this reboot series and the closest she’s been to the Tomb Raider we know that she is destined to become, a point in time that this series has been building towards. With a hidden world to explore, let’s get into what we know so far.
Set in Mexico, Lara is trying to stop the Mayan Apocalypse and Trinity. This means a lot of the combat takes place in the jungles of the Southern Mexico, or should. Given geography taking place in the Yucatan Penninsula since the Mayan Empire and its ruins can be found in modern day Southern Mexico, Honduras, Belize, Guatemala. But not only that, this region of Mexico and Central America is still home to Maya communities whose use of the indigenous language of Yucatec has influenced the dialect of Spanish spoken in the region as well continuing to speak that language. Beyond the setting of Mayan ruins, the game also seems to utilize Dia de Muertos.
The use of Dia de Muertos celebration has shown up in both concept art and the cinematic trailer in which Lara is shown with her face half-painted. I’m skeptical as to how the Eidos-Montreal and Crystal Dynamics teams will handle the importance of the Dia de Muertos celebrations and iconography and I am hoping for it’s use to be more than just for visuals. Given the way that Mexicans view death, the use of calaveras (sugar skulls), and the origin of the celebration in both Mayan and Aztec indigenous traditions this could be a setting of narrative importance or it could be misused by attributing non-Mexican meanings to Mexican culture and traditions — like using calaveras to be scared of death instead of mocking it, using calavera face paint as a notion of evil, and such. But this is a piece of the story that we will only know upon the game’s release. Beyond the setting it’s really the mechanics that have been highlighted at E3 2018 even it was just being talked about and not shown.
With Chayer-Bisson promising more tombs and by way of that, more puzzles, we saw none of that content. Although I am a life-long Tomb Raider fangirl, the lack of puzzle and platformer mechanics in the first two reboot games were some of my biggest gripes and not seeing any of that promised tomb raiding gameplay outside the trailer leaves me a little worried as to what “more” means for the developers. Having said that tombs are now “deadlier than ever before” it would have been nice to see the gameplay in this area to back up the claim instead of just mention hidden temples. That being said, the quick shots of traps and obstacle dodging in the trailer has peaked my love of running from boulders and jumping over pits of spikes in a way no other game from this reboot series has.
The clearest piece of information shared with us so far during E3 2018 has been the changed to the combat system. With a jungle setting, the game offers depth to gameplay allowing you to choose to openly assault in a run-n-gun fashion or to hide among the bushes and canopy of the forest and opt for stealth kills instead. With the ability to attack and then escape into the surrounding environment like the tree canopy or the tops of ruins, the game play feels less like its predecessors and more like a game in the Assassin’s Creed world. In fact, the stealth kills and the way Lara is shows moving through the environment, perching on ledges and pouncing on kills like the jaguars in the forest is very similar to the play style of Assassin. This isn’t a bad thing, as it offers options for game-play and a combat experience which can be tailored to different users — I suck at stealth, so having it as an option over a requirement is the best decision for my play-style. However, with such a similar look to an existing combat system I’m hoping hands-on play time will reveal enough differences to make it unique.
One piece that I hope will set Shadow of the Tomb Raider apart from other action adventures is the use of the jungle. The ability to use the entire environment stresses the need to learn how to use it. Chayer-Bisson explains that they refer to is as “becoming one with the jungle” and that even though Lara is the most capable she has ever been, she can get outnumbered and outgunned easily, making the use of your surrounding a necessity. I’m a sucker for heavy use of environments and from the looks of it there will be an importance on learning the mechanics of the jungle as much as learning the combat system. And if it’s going to make the game-play more challenging, I’m here for it.
When we look at the new additions to the game-play, Chayer-Bisson hints at new movement mechanics such as the grappling hooks and wall running. These both give me hope to more platforming and less interactive cut-scenes. Another new edition brings this game closer to the original games: full-360 underwater exploration and combat. One of the most challenging and rewarding mechanics of the original Tomb Raider series was the water. Finding your way through mazes, fighting off threats, and hoping you didn’t run out of air, all put me on the edge of my seat. Given the pieces shown of Lara in the water in the game-play segment. I’m excited to explore the cenotes of Mexico and feel the stakes rise when I jump in.
From the underwater pieces to the darkness of the jungle, and even Lara herself, the beauty of this game, like the others before it, is undeniable. In the game-play footage shown, there are varying levels of visibility based on Lara’s positioning in the jungle and yet, the detail in all of it is superb. In a dark setting it’s easy to wash out a scene and lose the distinctions between foreground and background. But in what was shown the balance is nothing less than I’ve come to expect from Crystal Dynamics and Eidos-Montreal. The attention to detail in the environment is also matched by the attention to Lara’s character design. Covered in mud, the details in Lara’s hair and face are still well done and her character model continues to amaze. Quite frankly, Lara is using a bow and arrows again but she’s bringing us all to the gun show.
Rising from a fiery water source in the end of the trailer you can feel that Lara is the closest to earning those dual pistols of the established Tomb Raider and the struggling to survive Lara of the past is long gone. She is the Tomb Raider now. I’m looking forward to fighting Trinity, running from jaguars, solving puzzles, and hopefully seeing the vibrant culture of Mexico utilized in a meaningful way as well as that of ingenious Maya communities. There is a lot I want from this game and pieces that I’m worried about, but with all the information we’ve seen from Square Enix, I’m definitely going to buy it.