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Shadow of the Tomb Raider: First Gameplay Impressions

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Square Enix hosted three simultaneously reveal events for Shadow of the Tomb Raider on April 26, 2018 in Montreal, London, and Los Angeles where media and video influencers could play the game for the first time.

The media cycle on this one is unusually fast, given that Shadow - the third game in the rebooted origin story of Lara Croft - is releasing this September. That momentum is felt in the action set pieces of the game as well. The first hour of Shadow of the Tomb Raider - minus the first few minutes which we didn't see - throws players right into the action and the biggest set piece we've seen from the series yet. Here begins the Maya Apocalypse.

Related: Watch the Shadow of the Tomb Raider Trailer

The demo begins with Lara and returning fan-fave Jonah Maiava in Cozumel, Mexico during Día de Muertos celebrations (the Day of the Dead holiday) as Lara is tracking a character she figures is the leader of the Trinity organization - the antagonist faction of the series who are responsible for the death of Lara's father. It's a stealth sequence and very linear, and most of this demo is, with each subsequent section purposefully ordered in a way to teach players another aspect of the game, from movement and combat to climbing and puzzle-solving.

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From here we enter the jungle at night, a dig site where Trinity is looking for a key object that Lara is also after. The promise from the developers at the Shadow of the Tomb Raider reveal event is that this game will focus on jungle and underwater gameplay and making Lara Croft the predator in the most lethal of environments. Players can hide in bushes or vines against the wall for stealth kills.

And kill she will. One of the big takeaways from the gameplay is in where Lara Croft is, physically and mentally, at the start of this adventure. Dialogue reveals that she's still in her twenties but more importantly Lara Croft is highly confident, determined, and equipped - almost too her detriment. And she's all muscled out, more capable physically than ever before. You begin all geared out from the get-go.

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We won't get into the spoiler-y details but players will have to guide Lara through an underground set of ruins and puzzles, and to get there, some high-flying antics will be required as Lara swings from from one climbable surface to another. In this mystical place of wondrous Maya ruins Lara finds one of two key relics Trinity is after - and just as they're closing on her, she takes it...

But maybe she shouldn't have and here begins an interesting twist for the series and character. By nabbing this dagger, we're told in a confrontation with the Trinity leader that Lara has started the Maya apocalypse. This is where the big set piece begins as players must navigate through waves of water crashing through a village. There are underwater elements, horrifying moments, and challenging platforming which highlight both the best and worst bits of the demo.

Lara's quest and goals have become a little more of a vendetta than about doing the actual right thing. She's so laser-focused on her task she can't see the forest for the trees nor the potential consequences of her actions. She wants to rush onto the next adventure during this mess she kickstarted instead of helping the victims of it. She's arguably almost crossing over to the dark side, just a tad, enough for her best friend and loyal companion Jonah to call her out and confront her on it.

What's Great and Not Great About The Shadow of the Tomb Raider Demo

Lara confronting the character who seems to be the leader of the mysterious Trinity organization and it not going as expected is a fresh idea, but not all is as it seems. Is this the Trinity leader? Is there any way he's really not the "villain"? When Lara is caught and confronted by this man, his goals seem almost more noble than hers. Maybe, just maybe, Lara isn't quite the hero we think.

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At least, that's what this game will explore as the character of Lara Croft evolves into what the devs describe as the iconic Tomb Raider fans know and love.

Players already bought into the modern Tomb Raider series will love the character evolution and acting, alongside the detailed environments and puzzles. However, what we played was extremely linear which works for cinematic purposes and the heavy amount of dialogue from Lara but is a detriment to platforming gameplay where there doesn't seem to be rules for the climbing mechanics. In some instances, especially the apocalypse sequence where the environment is crumbling and moving, objects which appear as platforms or ledges don't function as such and it becomes a case of trial by error in a few instances.

The same goes for combat which can get rather clunky in tight environments with the combat once you break the stealth. Enemy soldiers charging in or jumping down from ledges didn't seem to react or animate to Lara being right there, so full-on aggression  tactics don't seem to be what the game is built for, at least in these small tutorial-like areas.

Still, this just just a slice of the beginning section of the game and we expect there will be open environments with player choice throughout the game just as there was in the previous Tomb Raiders.

It seems clear the point of this introduction to Shadow of the Tomb Raider was to let us know that it picks up right where Rise of the Tomb Raider left off, that it's very familiar, and that Lara Croft is ready to go now. She's prepped and more capable than ever before, so it's about finding her identity and purpose.

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Next: Shadow of the Tomb Raider Release Date, Trailer, News, & Rumors

Stay tuned for more Shadow of the Tomb Raider news and updates as we approach E3 2018.

Key Release Dates
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2018 Video Game) release date: Sep 14, 2018
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