On Thursday, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics unveiled the first gameplay for Shadow of the Tomb Raider at three locations, with about an hour of the upcoming game available for media to get their hands on and play through. This will mark the final chapter of a prequel trilogy that was started with 2013’s Tomb Raider.
The latest installment of the formidable and iconic video game franchise bows in the same year as a reboot of the film franchise based on the game. While the film opened to less-than-stellar reviews, the early demo of the game appears to be in line with the first two installments of the trilogy, which were both fondly received by fans and critics alike.
The overall arc of this trilogy, which culminates in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, is following Lara Croft as she develops from unskilled skeptic to Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. As such, the new game has a distinct focus on combat, survival, the cunning of the lead character, and yes, tomb raiding.
In fact, the opening chapter of the new game involves the raiding of a tomb, and the dire consequences and horrible events Croft sets in motion through her well-intentioned spelunking. While trying to remain as spoiler-free as possible, the stakes couldn’t be much higher this time around, and it’s possible that it all ends up being Lara’s fault.
This is an absolutely gorgeous-looking game, and it handles like a dream in this early build, despite the massive bag of tricks that Croft brings with her this time around. You’ve got the wall scramble, ice axe climbing, rappelling, the bow and arrow which has a lot of different uses thanks to some occasional handy ropes, crafting on-the-fly weapons like Molotov cocktails, a bevy of firearms, and the return of swimming and underwater exploration, which leads to some truly clammy moments if you get anxious at video game claustrophobia or lack of oxygen.
If you’ve followed this trilogy from the opening moments of Tomb Raider, where Lara has to figure out how to keep a torch lit in a cave, it’s been a slow progression to this game, where Lara Croft is a cold-ass killer fully versed in jungle stealth murders and trying to keep her eyes on the prize of keeping dangerous artifacts out of the hands of evil men — even at the expense of seeming a bit callous.
Croft’s running mate Jonah is back this time around, and the opening scenes of Cozumel, Mexico, are beautiful and quaint, and it all goes horribly wrong in short order. By the time you’ve finished your first hour of gameplay, you might be looking at nothing less than the end of the world, and you’ve been through the muck murdering fools in a dense jungle before you get there. In a brief flurry of preview images upon completion of the demo, you have an image of Croft rising from the water that’s a clear homage to Martin Sheen’s iconic moment in Apocalypse Now, and the comparison is strikingly apt. And earned, if the opening stretch of the game is any indication.
If the game plays as well as what we were able to experience on Thursday, this is definitely a game that any fans of survival, adventure, or Uncharted-type games will want to check out. But frankly, we’re all a little concerned about what will happen to Lara Croft if she manages to come out the other side of this one in one piece.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider will be released worldwide on September 14 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.