Lara Croft is back. But the world she inhabits in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is darker, a fierce jungle full of dense, gloomy shapes. They pass beneath the player like a ghost, or perhaps whip away into the trees. Tomb Raider has always had this uneasy affection for the supernatural, an appreciation of the dark. And although Lara has come a long way since her caving days, she is always followed by a certain dimness.
Tomb Raider (1996)
Absolutely awful shadow. It’s just a vaguely oval-shaped patch of semi-darkness. Some say this is forgivable because of technological constraints of the time, but no. Just not a good enough shadow, sorry.
Tomb Raider III
Still an oval. Who’s paying these jokers?
Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness
All right. There are few observations to make about the shadows in the most maligned of Lara’s adventures. Firstly, we must give the developers credit for breaking with convention, and projecting the shape of a human body rather than, say, an oblong disc. However, there are some inaccuracies. For instance, shadows are typically darker than the surrounding environment. But perhaps we learn something about Lara's inner goodness here. Even as an angel of supposed darkness, she cannot summon a shadow darker than an overcast sky in daytime.
Tomb Raider: Legend
A noticeable improvement. This shadow is dark, strong, almost brooding in its composition. And it conforms roughly to Lara’s posture. Good, good. Of course, it is also entirely detached from her body. This is perhaps to be expected from an archeologist with as serious a case of arrested development as infamous shadow haver Peter Pan.
Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris
Now we are starting to see some artistry. Here both Lara and her companions have been depicted as casting Warhol-esque circles. The shadow is no longer a blackened representation of the human form (or ancient Egyptian god form), but a deep red ring of co-operative intent, a sensual blue band of twin stick compassion.
Tomb Raider (2013)
Here we see Square Enix bringing their characteristic finesse to the series. Lara’s shadow has become a wolf. It is biting her leg, snarling, possibly infecting her with rabies, a strong meditation on the frailty of the human body. In some way, are we not all being savaged by that dark presence which follows us everywhere on our gap year? For all it’s faults, Tomb Raider (2013) had the courage to say: yes, shadows are wolves.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Here the developers bravely decided to have all of Lara’s shadows tethered to the face of the main antagonist, Konstantin. It paid off. Her shadow has never looked better. We even see some remnants of the old oval philosophy in Konstantin’s eyes – but it’s more than just a rehash. These shadows are darker, grittier. Truly rebooted shadows. Perhaps these dark shapes will finally allow Lara to become… The Tomb Raider?
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
It’s a jaguar now.