Shadow of the Tomb Raider, A Closer Look Than Ever Before At the Bigger Picture

When the Tomb Raider reboot first released back in 2013, fans of the iconic Lara Croft were invited on a journey based on evolution. For veterans of the franchise, we know Croft as this badass, confident adventurer that can take on any challenge. The reboot shows a much different journey, a metamorphosis from a young adult into a weathered survivor with a thirst for knowledge.

I recently got to play the latest, and final, installment in this journey, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, for a whopping four hours and immediately I was drawn into how much darker this Lara was from the previous two games. Where as in the first reboot she was scared, confused, and just finding her footing on how to survive: the hunted. In Rise of the Tomb Raider, we saw a more confident Lara that no longer strayed from the truth and instead faced it head on: the hunter. With Shadow of the Tomb Raider, we see a hardened Lara that shies away from no challenge with an almost tunnel vision for the truth - no matter who it hurts: the master.

The expanded game time gave me a chance to really dig deep into the new features, the enhanced puzzles, and the overall game mechanics. I will preface this by saying that this definitely was the smoothest in the franchise yet both narratively and mechanically. That, and the puzzles were equal parts challenging as they were enjoyable. I'll also say that means more coming from me, because I'm absolutely terrible at puzzles and that generally tends to make me frustrated with them. I can honestly say that I loved every puzzle-driven moment with Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

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When I spoke with the Narrative Director at Eidos Montreal earlier this year, he told me that this third installment will be the apex and reveal that "defining moment" that made her who she is today. This journey brings in the more sordid natures of choice and the path she traveled, with many decisions that force her to confront her humanity and what she's willing to sacrifice. He also mentioned that Shadow of the Tomb Raider is much more than "just raiding tombs," it's a journey of self-discovery and terrifying revelations.

That tone of descent, that deeper nature, was definitely reflected with my time with the title. From the first cut scene, it was a gutteral reaction to the "new" Lara, even following Rise of the Tomb Raider. She had a visibly more ruthless streak to her, the eyes and voice of a survivor, and the tumultuous tale of previous journey is evident in both the way she speaks, acts, and relates to other characters.

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The earlier game play experience sees Croft traversing through the Day of the Dead celebration in Cozumel as she tails the game's villain. The enemy, Dominguez, is a focus for her during my time with the earlier hours of the game though there was an interesting juxtaposition between her perception of him and some of his actions seen in-game. Whereas she spoke only of an 'evil,' there were many moments during the playthrough that he was compassionate, interactive, even with those unassociated with him. To me, this furthered that dualism that is at the very core of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, challenging the player's view of what's "good" and what's "evil." The lines are blurred on both sides, both fighting for knowledge and power of that knowledge.

But the game was so much more than its psychological appeal, the actual gameplay itself was a perfect pairing with the overall theme. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is far more interactive than the previous two titles. From exploring underwater with this ever present threat of death, drowning, and an underlying feeling of drowning, to scaling alongside a vine-covered wall to control the flow of battle. It is very obvious that this Lara has found her footing and that is absolutely reflecting in the actual gameplay mechanics. She is no longer struggling to survive, to understand her surroundings - now, she is her surroundings, she's in control.

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One aspect to the title that I found absolutely enthralling is that this entire game is about her descent and ascension. Almost a rising phoenix effect and the gameplay mechanics such as her grapple and scaling absolutely reflected that. The leader designer mentioned that this was absolutely intentional in the name of immersion. The player is truly a part of this journey - it's much more than a game and a closure to this arc in the series, it's an experience that will challenge a player's perception on what is "right" and what needs to be done "right now."

There was an anchor though throughout the game and that was with her friend Jonah. The developers told me earlier this year that he is very much a catalyst for her humanity but there were moments through my four hours that saw them actually be that for each other. There were moments where Jonah would slip, become consumed with the past, and Croft was there to pull him out. The same could be said with those moments where her ruthless streak began to colour paramount choices - and he was there to pull her back from the ledge.

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My time with the game also gave me an even closer look at the dynamic between the two and at Jonah as a character within himself. There is even a very awkward flirting scene betweem him and an NPC and that moment of humanism was so perfectly reflected in Lara's barely veiled (jesting) judgement at her friend's flailing moves. But it's those moments that add up, make the story even greater. In that moment, I wasn't a player in a game - I was Jonah's friend. That's incredible story telling and it's what makes this third installment the best yet in the three-part origins arc for Lara Croft.

I would recommend those interested in this title play the first two first - it would make her evolution that much more impactful, though the game did do a wonderful job at recapping her journey and the developers told me that it's not absolutely imperative to have played Shadow's predecessors. Though they said it wasn't mandatory, I couldn't imagine playing this without prior knowledge of the overall framework, this is an incredible journey for this character with so many details hidden away in the narrative that add up to a much larger picture.

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Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a much darker journey, one that I am thrilled to go on and seems to be a promising conclusion to a much younger Lara's journey. Shadow of the Tomb Raider releases on PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on September 14th.

Have any questions about the game for the author of this story? You can follow her on Twitter @DirtyEffinHippy!