Shadow Of The Tomb Raider has a hub city, granular difficulty and a certain complex
Heart of Croftness
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the climbing stuff and stealing stuff and pushing giant stone cogwheels water, here comes another shark with 'EXTREMELY SERIOUS ORIGIN STORY' carved into its hide. Shadow Of The Tomb Raider threatens to complete a birth-of-badass-Lara tale we've already heard twice over, but there's good news for those of us for whom there was never any mystery around why someone would want to be like Indiana Jones. SOTTR introduces a hub city to Tomb Raider for the first time, a den of shops and sidequests and secrets and time-lost Mayan civilians who immediately look to the ever-so-clever Englishwoman to resolve their every crisis.
What's jumping out to me most, however, are new difficulty settings, which include the option to remove those immersion-breaking paint marks that show you exactly which rocks to climb up.
Let's start with the ancient, hidden city of Paititi, which Square Enix reckon is the largest hub ever to feature in a Tomb Raider game. Looking at the video below, I don't think we can expect something of Gotham or Liberty proportions, but it's certainly a big step up from the small camps of Tomb Raiders past. I'm looking forwards to it - in the last couple of Tombies, I've had a much better time dicking around and exploring ever-outwards from camp in search of optional challenges and mysteries than I have being propelled along by the flabby storyline.
I feel less heartened by the video's implied frequency of Mesoamerican tribal sorts asking Lara to save their families, find their missing nik-naks, resolve disputes and whatnot. These folks have survived here, hidden for centuries, but suddenly they're totally reliant on this well-to-do European outsider to solve all their problems?
I see no signs of the Far Cry 3 'but it's satire, honest!' riposte to that, either - though it would be fascinating to see this series attempt something that wasn't excruciatingly earnest and heavily-exposited. Perhaps the 'Shadow' of the title might imply that the game wants to explore the dark flipside of Lara smashing through the remnants of ancient civilizations for personal gain. Or perhaps it just looks good on a poster.
Anyway, also detailed in the video are the new difficulty settings, which allow you to individually set puzzles, exploration and combat to Easy, Normal or Hard. I'm very down with that - if there's some element that's frustrating me, I can tone it down without making everything else too straightforward. On the flipside, I really want to try setting exploration to Hard, so that the white paint marks (copied from Uncharted's red and yellow markers) that denote where you can and can't climb disappear. A little less videogaminess, hopefully - though, on the other hand, these games can be so arbitrary about what you can climb on that I might just find myself plunging to endless messy deaths because I wasn't allowed to dangle off a perfectly good rock.
I also note that puzzle-tombs, the highlight of the last two Raiders, are repeatedly described as "brutal." I hope that's just melodrama, because 'brutal' is a less alluring adjective here than 'clever'. I want to be figuring out sunlight patterns and pulling ancient levers, not endlessly dodging spikes and sawblades.
Not long to go, anyway - game's out September 14.