I often wonder what freakish individuals were enlisted into focus testing to give publishers the idea that everyone wants things mean and moody. Had they invited me, there would be more games set in cheery pubs where you win by having the best bit of nostalgia about early noughties television. Also, the health system would be built entirely on the consumption of floral gums. There is none of that stuff in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, but for a game that is touted as a brutalising hell slog, I’m surprised by how much fun I had with its first five hours. It’s a tropical paradise full of unmarked platforming and preposterous animal attacks; it is, in other words, classic Tomb Raider. Further thoughts in this video.
The short version: for all its unhappy packaging, this is a bright, boisterous adventure. And I really wish I could show off the new challenge tombs. There’s a hint of one to come in the lead image on this article, and it’s a good one: a towering scaffold made of whirling blades and churning cogs, a deliciously unreadable contraption that you throw Lara into and hope for the best. I played through the whole demo with the platforming guides turned off, part of the new flexible difficulty options. This is definitely the closest the current trilogy has got to the confusion and eventual satisfaction of scaling temples in Tomb Raiders Legend, Anniversary and Underworld.
I’m told the rickety structure is one of the bits built by Lara’s traditional handlers, Crystal Dynamics. They’re looking after the challenge tombs (amongst other things) while Eidos Montreal manage the systems and overall shape of the campaign. It’s actually something of a swap for the two teams, as Eidos handled the challenge maps in Rise of the Tomb Raider. And everyone seems comfortable in their roles: the stealth is more flexible and playful, as you’d hope from the house of modern Deus Ex, while Crystal are clearly having a riot on deathtrap duty. They’ve hit that Goldilocks sweet spot, only this Goldilocks later killed the three bears and crafted them into a hat with +1 armour.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider lunges out of the water and attempts to grab your ankles on September 14th, where it launches on Steam, priced at £45/€60/$60. It’s made by Eidos Montreal, with a little help from Crystal Dynamics and a PC port by Nixxes Software, and published by Square Enix.
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