Late last week, the press and rabid “Tomb Raider” fans alike packed into a Tribeca theater for a panel moderated by The Game Awards’ Geoff Keighley. Those sitting on the panel included Senior Game Director Daniel Bisson, Lead Writer Jill Murray, Senior Brand Director Rich Briggs, and even the “Tomb Raider” herself, Camilla Luddington. Together the creative team discussed the storytelling tools, techniques, and artistic decisions behind one of the most iconic gaming franchises of all time, but not before treating the audience to a never before seen extended gameplay demo for the upcoming “Shadow of the Tomb Raider.”
This exclusive look at the game took viewers from the vibrant streets of Mexico to the suffocating depths of an underground Mayan city. Lara Croft has changed, the inquisitive explorer seems more frantic, even borderline obsessive this time around. As she hunts down an ancient artifact with the potential to bring about the apocalypse, she will travel across South America on a journey that will test her in all new ways. The Mayan apocalypse will act as a ticking clock, every present, as Lara battles demons of her own. Jonah, her closest companion, serves as her compass and tries to keep Lara’s motivations from consuming her.
Higher level storytelling seems to be a priority, as players witness Lara becoming the tomb raider she is meant to be. Lara’s progression has been carefully plotted by the team at Crystal Dynamics. She has grown from an unsure but determined young woman to a strong and battle-hardened leader. In “Shadow of the Tomb Raider,” she will be forced to make decisions that will change her course forever. One exclusive cutscene shown just before the panel, delivered a heart-wrenching moment of conflict and realization for our heroine. Lara is forced to bear witness to the collateral damage caused by her high octane adventures, and the stress between her and her only remaining friends begins to show. She risks isolating herself completely in her quest for revenge against Trinity, a secretive international organization responsible for killing those she loves.
“Shadow of the Tomb Raider” is shaping up to be the most eye-catching installment yet. Vibrant Mexican city streets were rendered beautifully, neon bar lights glowing softly in the reflection of puddles on the ground as scores of Day of the Dead revelers wind through the city streets. Diving into tombs is as breathtaking as ever, specks of dust fluttering about shafts of light, hulking ancient structures towering over Lara. The jungles of Peru are just as deadly as they are stunning, with predators looking to sink their teeth into players at every turn. The gameplay demo left the impression that this “Tomb Raider” will be bigger and better than its predecessors. Many in-game systems from the first two installments in the trilogy have not only made a comeback but have been expanded upon. Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal seem to have honed in on the series’ strong points and expanded upon them exponentially.
As Lara comes into her own, she is no longer a reactionary, attempting to survive in a harsh landscape. In “Shadow of the Tomb Raider,” the environment is as much your weapon as Lara’s iconic bow or pickaxe. When asked about what fans can expect from a gameplay standpoint in this new and hostile environment, Rich Briggs had this to say in speaking with Variety, “If you look at (2013) Tomb Raider’s jungle setting, Lara was not trying to become one with it, she was just trying to survive it. Now she is mastering the jungle, so now we’ve built a lot more elements into it that actually have a significant gameplay impact”. Players will hug vine walls, using them as cover as they eliminate foes from the shadows as stealthy guerilla warfare is not only encouraged, but heavily emphasized. In the words of the Senior Brand Director, Lara has become the “apex predator”. Players will also get to use new weapons never before seen in the franchise, although specifics are being kept secret for now. And while combat and weapon crafting has been tweaked, during the post-screening roundtable the team also seemed eager to point out that “The game will have less combat, and we are balancing [it] with more tombs and traversal than previous ones”. Survival and stealth seem to be key in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
The jungles of Peru will be host to more wildlife than in entries past and will be even more crucial to your survival. As stated earlier, guerilla warfare is highly encouraged. Using tactics like covering Lara in mud to blend into a dark thicket, or striking your foes from a canopy above will go a long way. Where enemy AI once relentlessly hunted Lara once players were spotted, they will now go back to a calm state after remaining hidden for a time, allowing for multiple stealthy strikes. Lara’s knowledge from past games will also make its way into her newest adventure, leading to an expanded crafting system. Players will have a wide array of choices in terms of weapons and methods of attack. In the entire gameplay demo, Lara never engaged the enemy in the same way twice.
In an interview with the creative team, a few all-new details were divulged. Players will encounter some of the largest spaces Crystal Dynamics have ever made in a “Tomb Raider” game, with a greater emphasis placed on exploration. The main hub in “Shadow of the Tomb Raider” is a living city, filled with areas to explore and NPC’s to interact with, another new feature for the series. Crystal Dynamics have also taken player feedback into account in terms of level design and challenges. This has manifested itself into larger, more detailed environments and varied levels. One particularly tense moment during the exclusive gameplay demo had Lara fighting for air, pinned quite literally “between a rock and a hard place” as she navigated underwater caverns. Choices like this, according to the team, are direct consequences of player feedback.
“Fans are always saying ‘we want to swim’, okay,” Briggs told Variety. “Be careful what you asked for.”
“Shadow of the Tomb Raider” is set to be a thrilling end to the “Tomb Raider” origins trilogy. Senior Game Director Daniel Bisson reminded us that this is not the end of the “Tomb Raider” franchise, simply the end of Lara’s opening act, this is where she will, in his words, “become the Tomb Raider she is meant to be”. This ultimate installment will take us through her darkest hour, where her decisions will impact those she loves most and the entire world at large. Players must race to stop a Mayan apocalypse while also staying hot on the heels of Trinity.
Not only will fans find an engrossing and intense campaign, but regular content as well. Rich Briggs also divulged regular content updates packed with new adventures. All new challenge tombs complete with side missions, unlockable outfits, and new weapons will be added on a monthly basis, starting in October. Crystal Dynamics has no interest in adopting a “games as a service” model but is looking to keep the community engaged, and deliver content fans want to play. The world will be introduced to the extended gameplay demo and even more new details at this year’s E3 convention, ahead of the September 14th release.