I’ve been a fan of Tomb Raider since the franchise’s PlayStation roots. Despite some missteps along the way, (I’m looking at you, Angel of Darkness.) the 2013 reboot completely blew me away. It was a Lara gamers had not seen before. She was still learning how to become the heroic adventurer we’ve come to know and love. With 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara’s journey dove into the more mystical elements the franchise is known for. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, we’re expecting to see the end of Lara’s origin story. While I’m excited to see how everything plays out, if the demo is any indication, I don’t think the trilogy will be ending on a high note.
Let’s start with what the demo gets right. Lara spends most of her time in an actual tomb. This is a piece of criticism a lot of people (myself included) had about the reboot. In this regard, Shadow of the Tomb Raider excels in putting Lara in the element she shines in. Additionally, the demo focuses on some of the new gameplay mechanics like swimming, rappelling, and camouflage. With swimming, Lara can navigate up and down waterways. An interesting element when it comes to swimming is that she can run out of breath. In the demo, the tomb had an underwater cave, and to survive, she needed to find places to breathe. As someone who has claustrophobia, these sections stressed me out. On top of this, there was also a barracuda (or eel) that was stalking me with every stroke I took.
Rappelling is a new feature that, while not the focus in the demo, I can already picture being used for some puzzles in the full release. With rappelling, Lara can traverse vertically with her ropes to safely navigate to structures below. Another impressive feature is being able to camouflage yourself while waiting for enemies to pass by you. In the demo, Lara was able to hide alongside a wall, and then jump out into the open to slaughter unsuspecting soldiers as they try and find her. Additionally, with the press of the right stick, Lara can enter survival instincts, which is almost like Batman’s “Detective Mode” in the Arkham video games. It’s a cool feature that helps to survey the battlefield before going in for the kill.
Besides these mechanics, the overall demo felt like something was lacking. The visuals were surprisingly lackluster. As someone who constantly praised Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider for their graphical flair, something was “off” about the visuals in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. There was a lot of grain, and the black colors seemed very blotchy. Lara, in particular, didn’t look great at all, and that’s a shame since she’s the most crucial aspect of the game.
The combat surprisingly didn’t feel as refined as it was in the other games either. The shooting didn’t feel too responsive, and I found these sections to be quite dull. Lara works best as a character when she is exploring tombs and being a fantastic adventurer. The latter part of the demo focused on “killer Lara,” and it felt out of place. There are two types of Tomb Raider games out there: the ones that explore the archeological side, and the ones that feels like an ’80s action movie. With each game, it feels like she’s becoming more and more like a badass with a bow and gun, and less like an explorer.
I’ve always thought that Lara in the rebooted franchise has an identity crisis. This demo confirms my feelings. This is the first game in the trilogy not developed by Crystal Dynamics, and it shows. Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn’t feature the charm that the other games in the reboot have. There is a lot of promise in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and it shows with the new gameplay mechanics. If executed correctly, we can have a fantastic conclusion to the trilogy. Unfortunately, the demo has concerned me. With only three months until the game officially releases, I’m certain that this demo is an accurate representation of the final product. Lara deserves much better, but unfortunately, I don’t think Shadow of the Tomb Raider is going to be the great send-off for the heroine I’ve adored since the ’90s.