Five years ago we were introduced to a new kind of Lara Croft in the form of the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, the first part of an origins story that continued with the second instalment, Rise of the Tomb Raider, two years after. About a month ago we found out that the conclusion to this origins story, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, will be coming in September this year, and we recently got to see the game for ourselves as part of the reveal event for the game in London.
The demo we played sat us down in Mexico alongside our old friend Jonah as we figured out where our next treasure might be found while also keeping our eyes on an archaeologist target of ours who also had some connection to said treasure. Once this target started moving though, it was our chance to get in disguise and chase after him, using 'chase' in the loosest sense of the word since it revolved more around Assassin's Creed style movement through a crowd, brushing past people and apologising rather than an actual high-speed pursuit.
Once this mysterious figure entered an area guarded by particularly mean-looking guards we threw off our disguise and switched to more usual methods to observe him (climbing, more specifically), before going on to find the location of the treasure ourselves nearby. As soon as we took off the shawl that had been covering us, however, we took one look at Croft's outfit and were immediately reminded of older games like Tomb Raider Anniversary, as she's wearing more of a combat-ready outfit than casual clothing, swapping the holiday tank-top of the first game for something more like a tactical vest.
It's not just in Lara's outfit choice that Shadow of the Tomb Raider reminds us of older games; there's also that assuredness, the experience that Croft has which reminds us of the titles where she was already an established treasure hunter. The opening sees her grabbing opportunity by the throat and going after what she wants without hesitation, which eventually leads to us finding a key to an ancient treasure... the key actually being a dagger that needs to be paired with a silver box.
We won't spoil exactly what happens here, but almost immediately after finding said dagger we find out that our haste in picking it up will lead to drastic consequences not just for Croft herself but for many others too, and this is something the developers say is being explored in this game - the consequences of your actions. We've known for two games now that Croft has become more comfortable with going to historic sites, slaughtering those who oppose her, and taking what she wants. Now, though, there are more disastrous implications, something which feels promising, especially when it comes to shaping and developing her character arc.
That said, it's not as if we're putting the 'killing bad guys' approach on hold for now. From the reveal trailer, it actually seems Croft has become even more of a stone-cold killer. Even in the first tutorialised section we were reminded of stealth kills, and the takedown animations are particularly brutal, with the strangling of the previous games makes way for a savage flurry of stabs. Of course, we'll be shooting arrows and bullets aplenty when bad guys get in our way as well, so there's that too.
A lot of her efficient murdering is adapted to the setting of the jungle. In the said trailer we see Croft dispatch enemies like Predator, stringing enemies up and sending them to meet their maker before disappearing, the survivors left sweating, and this comes into practice nicely in-game. You can hide in bushes and foliage once more, as we've seen in the last game, but now you can also do things like push your back against a wall covered with vines to become almost invisible, leaping out to attack enemies as they walk past.
What's more is that steps have been taken in Survival Instinct to make stealth a bit easier too. To remind you, Survival Instinct is activated by pushing in the right stick (like Detective Vision in the Batman Arkham games) to show things you can interact with in the environment, as well as waypoints and enemies, except this time they're colour-coded. Yellow enemies, for instance, are not in sight of others, so can be killed without raising the alarm, while those in red are visible to their allies, so should be separated from the pack. In this way we found ourselves tactically picking off the opposition in an incredibly satisfying way, feeling like a total badass while doing so.
When we did raise the alarm, though, we were forced into open combat, which existing fans should find easy to slip back into the groove of. There are still the same four weapon slots - bow, pistol, assault rifle, and shotgun - and all of these have their strengths and weaknesses, like the bow being best for stealth while the shotgun works best for very close-quarters combat. Little needs to be said in this department since it's all pretty much the same as it has been before - ammo boxes litter the ground, there are chest-high walls for cover, and sticking to the shadows is always safer than launching into a pitched battle.