Shadow of the Tomb Raider hands-on preview
Available September 14 on PS4, Xbox One and PC
A common criticism slung at video games is their inability to tell a coherent, engaging story to the same depth as other mediums. That’s not entirely unwarranted, but it’s a criticism that can’t be levelled at the very finest titles this industry has to offer. Square Enix’s Tomb Raider revival is such an example.
The studios responsible – Crystal Dynamics developed the first two games, with Shadow being handled by Eidos Montreal – have done a phenomenal job building a trilogy that centres on Lara’s evolution into the Tomb Raider, told through developing skills, improving mechanics, and the maturing of Lara herself. Playing a snippet of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I’ve not only had a glimpse of the culmination of all this effort, but potentially of one of the finest games of this generation.
To appreciate where Shadow is going, one must understand how the series got to this point. This truly is Lara’s journey, beginning as an intimidated and vulnerable explorer to become the cunning, wily woman that we see in the third entry. Eidos plays on this in every facet of the game, even down to Lara’s mannerisms and basic animations.
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Exploring a tomb, Lara no longer fumbles around looking for clues. She’s composed, investigative and aware. Previous entries will have seen her overawed by the situation, but now she gives off a sense of control and understanding. Lara is now better equipped, too, able to do more than before, like rappelling from craggy walls, deep diving through flooded terrain and having more equipment from the outset.
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Even basic crawling along a tightrope is now much faster than in previous games, thanks to Lara’s level of experience. This depth of detail creates a true appreciation of the trilogy as a whole, as well as making for a sharper experience in Shadow’s own right. It’s a stunning amount of nuance that deserves appreciation.
Speaking of detail, this is one of the best-looking games I’ve ever played, up there with Uncharted 4 for sheer beauty that demands pausing at times to take it all in. Eidos wants to create a level of fear and intimidation in tombs, and this is certainly achieved by the oppressive darkness and claustrophobic spaces in the tomb of the demo. But this closed-in nature gave way to some incredible lighting effects. The ripple effects of the water as it trickles down rock faces; the shine on Lara’s hair as it glistens in the moonlight or a spotlight flashes past her head; even the shimmering vines Lara hides within as she waits for an unsuspecting guard walks past, before sinking a knife into his throat – everything is as stunning as it is visceral. Grounding this graphical beauty in a realistic setting only makes it look better.
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The demo begins at a very early part of the full game, in Cozumel, Mexico, during a festival. Lara is still on the trail of Trinity, the secretive organisation that she’s battled against from the beginning. Both her and the group are in the hunt for a particular treasure, which Trinity believe to be in Brazil, due to a misinterpretation of an ancient clue, but Lara deciphers it is in fact in Peru. She then must make her way through the festival, tailing a man called Dominguez, believed to be Trinity’s leader.
The vibrant colours of the festival really bring the game to life. The deep reds and oranges of the lighting coupled with the black and white skull masks of the festival goers is a beautiful cocktail. This exposition sequence gives insight into the battle between Trinity and Lara, and why this treasure is so important to both sides.
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A very smooth demo transition takes us to another part of the game, where Lara’s tracked down a tomb’s entrance, but Trinity is also conducting a big expedition on the same location. Exploring the location and finding the tomb’s entrance is very similar to previous games, but now with a greater air of confidence about Lara. She’s done this many times before, so it all feels quicker, simpler, and much more about the tomb itself. There are still those annoying moments where a hand will slip and you’ll have to quickly press a button to avoid her falling to her (incredibly gruesome) death, but they’re very infrequent.
Once inside, it’s time for the tomb to shine, albeit in almost pitch darkness. As mentioned above, Eidos wants tombs to induce a sense of fear, and based on the one in the demo, they easily achieve that. It’s consistently impressive how, in semi-cutscene scenarios – such as moving through a cramped space where you only have to push the left stick – where in the back of your mind you know Lara will live, there’s still that rising worry that she might not survive.
Swimming through an underwater cavern, Lara has to surface through an increasingly narrow crack in a cliff. The incredible presentation of this scene, with the camera shaking even more vigorously as Lara begins to drown, the increased blur as she starts to suffocate, and the sudden, sharp increases in music as a falling rock pins her in place, is all masterfully done.
The demo ends with Lara’s confidence leading to a grave error of judgement, with Lara taking a treasure which brings about the apocalypse. The following combat sequence feels very familiar, but the closing flood of the village I walked through in the beginning, and witnessing its utter devastation, is incredible.
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This was one of the best demos I’ve ever played. It had absolutely everything, and made me not only excited for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, but made me want to go back and play the first two games to fully appreciate what’s to come on September 14.
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I was blown away by Shadow of the Tomb Raider and everything it did in the short time I spent with it. Focusing everything the series has done on Lara as a character, leaving no stone unturned in her journey and keeping every theme intact, this has the potential to round off one of gaming’s greatest ever trilogies.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider Trailer
What is Shadow of the Tomb Raider?
Once again helmed by seasoned developer Crystal Dynamics, Shadow of the Tomb Raider will continue the adventures of Lara Croft as she discovers ancient cities, artifacts and spooky skeletons. It is unconfirmed whether Trinity, the mercenary group from the previous game, will remain as the core antagonists.
Either way, you can expect the usual combination of platforming, combat and exploration with a tightly woven narrative.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider Xbox One X performance
Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics have also revealed how Shadow of the Tomb Raider will perform on Xbox One X, the most powerful console out there. In a recent interview with studio head David Anfossi, EPN discovered that Lara Croft’s latest outing will be capable of 1080p/60fps or 4K/30fps on Microsoft’s system.
“To allow for a more customized gameplay experience, the game will include two visual modes: ‘4K Resolution’ which runs in 4K resolution at 30 FPS, and ‘High Resolution’ which is targeting 1080p at 60 FPS. Both modes will feature a wide variety of additional enhancements such as HDR, improved physically-based rendering, hardware tessellation, anisotropic filtering, additional dynamic foliage, and more.”
Shadow of the Tomb Raider release date
Shadow of the Tomb Raider will be released on September 14th, 2018. It will launch on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
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