A surprise treat awaited fans at the Xbox corner at this year’s Montreal Comiccon and that was a hands-on demo for the upcoming game from Square Enix/Crystal Dynamic, Shadow of the Tomb Raider. I got to play the game for around thirty minutes and got a first-hand reaction to combat, puzzles and the tone of the latest entry in the franchise.
The demo was quite similar to what was shown at this year’s E3 event, only the action fast forwarded a bit to get us started faster. Lara starts the demo off stalking some shady individuals working for the organization Trinity in Mexico festivities for the Day of the Dead, where she’s forced to grab a mask in order to blend in. The baddies are very much aware of Lara Croft as the demo takes place some time into the main story and Lara has likely caused a world of trouble already for these mercenaries. While it does look like there will be some sort of stealth/tailing mission set in a populated map, the demo jumped the action to Lara exploring a cave network in search of a Mayan Pyramid.
The gameplay portion of the demo opened up with Lara entering the cave only to be faced with a dead end and a body of water. Controls will feel familiar to anyone who has played through Crystal Dynamic’s Tomb Raider reboots. The water also looks great and that’s where I took Lara after gaining some XP loot in the cave. Get enough XP and Lara will be able to level up, much like the previous two games in the series. Now, if you have any sort of fear of what goes bump in the depths of the water, this segment may not be your cup of tea but I thought it was one of the highlights of the demo. In traditional horror film fashion, an eel swims in front of the camera as Lara swims through a tiny crack. It’s enough to let you know that there is something in the water with you but Lara isn’t quite privy to this information yet. The swimming mechanics are simple, you can swim to the surface and back which is needed as Ms. Croft doesn’t have a lung capacity like Bayek in Assassin’s Creed: Origins. That is to say, she’ll need to surface in less than a minute or she’ll begin to drown. While this part of the level isn’t open and finding oxygen is impossible to miss, it definitely sets a tone for the rest of the playtime.
Before making her exit, that eel returns to attack Lara. It’s a brief jump scare moment but there’s never any danger to the player. The same can be said of exiting the pool of water. Lara ascends a narrow passage, only to be blocked by a falling rock. She’s able to squeeze by slowly and she eventually makes it. But I never felt responsible for her escape other pressing X repeatedly to escape. I think using the joystick to place Lara’s hand and to look for something to grab on would’ve been a much more interactive and engaging way to do this other than a quick time event. Despite the limitations though, the scene was wonderfully tense and the sound of Lara’s panic really helped drive that going into the deep isn’t such a great idea.
Next up was a puzzle segment which featured weighted platforms. Every time Lara jumped onto one of these platforms, another one would rise in response to Lara’s weight. In theory, this works well enough but I found that the camera was of no service by the time I got to the third platform. The camera decided to focus on a fourth platform, which would be essential in the next stage of the puzzle. But by focusing on that more distant platform, the game made it seem like Lara had to go to that platform right away, resulting in Lara’s demise for me and the player next to me. While this is still early demo material, it’s worth noting that some of the animations while jumping-and falling-seemed a bit glitchy or rough around the edges. We eventually figured out that we had to jump onto a different ledge all together, which would’ve been easy enough to do if the camera wasn’t suggesting to go somewhere else altogether. From there, using counterweights helped solve the rest of the puzzle. A later puzzle worked much better thankfully. It required moving a cart from one hill to another while using a wench, spinning platform and the rope arrows as tools to solve the puzzle. Once at the top of the pyramid, Lara ignores the advice of her colleague on the earpiece and takes a relic from the pedestal, which of course was a bad idea.
From there, it was a combat scenario. Pressing Y allowed Lara to swing her climbing axes and the D-pad allowed me to cycle through multiple weapons, including the bow, a shotgun and a machine gun. I started off stealthy though, pick guards off from the shadows in stealth takedowns. From there, a quick arrow headshot to a guard on a vantage point and a stealth takedown thinned the heard before I whipped out the shotgun. Enemies are smart, outflanking me numerous times and forcing me to stay on the move. Switching weapons mid-fight is easy and firing an arrow into a henchman’s head at point-blank range in a firefight was most satisfying. Lara isn’t a bullet sponge either and this section was a welcome challenge as I navigated the onslaught of enemies.
The demo didn’t really offer any insight into the narrative, aside from Lara has it out for the organization Trinity. This is supposed to be the darkest game in Crystal Dynamic’s series and thematically, it certainly fits the bill. It sounds like I was a bit harsh on the demo, but I did enjoy my time with it. I just think there’s more work to be done right now on making the animations more fluid, some of the designs more up to par and making sure the camera isn’t trying to trick the gamer. Finally, I hope the game won’t rely too heavily on QTEs as there are definitely better ways to do those gaming moments these days. But in the end, the demo felt very safe and familiar, which may be great for die-hard fans of the series but I’m not sure how innovative or fresh this entry will be once it releases on September 14th.
What are your thoughts on the game so far? Like what you see or have reservations? Let us know and be sure to check out my impressions of Marvel’s Spider-Man game on PS4 and an opinion piece on the state of dilution of diversity in Hollywood.