The New Lara Croft Is Rambo With a PhD in Archaeology

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Will Show the Darker Side of Lara Croft Through Gameplay and Narrative

The year 2013 saw the Tomb Raider franchise gain the reboot and origin story it deserved. A reimagined Lara Croft was born, and her moral dilemma was established through her primal effort to survive. However, following the official reveal of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and my hands-on time with the demo, it’s clear that the newest Lara is an eclipse of the first. The curious and guileless student is gone, left stranded on the island of Yamatai; afterward, the judicious investigator left herself in a tomb in Siberia. Lara is now unhinged.

Cold and calculating, the young and adventurous Croft is still young but a little more brutal. This drives not only her actions but the combat of the next iteration. Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics, for the most part, rebuilt the franchise by using cinematic scaffolding and brilliant rendering. Basically, theatrical scenes and fast-paced escapes have become a part of the formula, and it would explain why Eidos Montreal hasn’t switched support beams. Tomb Raider’s theater is still present in the next game’s narrative, something I witnessed as I waded through an intense, visceral scene of destruction in South America. So, aside from the return of key destruction and high-octane action sequences, what is the new developer bringing to the table? Swimming, for starters. Lara has been taking swimming lessons, and she utilizes her new talent to reach areas that would otherwise be inaccessible. Also, some puzzles are going to be submerged this time around. It’s how the devs justify the return of a mechanic we witnessed from the original Tomb Raider games.

What else can Lara Croft do? In addition to her usual dexterity, climbing now comes with the ability to rappel down terrain. Though the game has definitely broadened its scope in terms of what the player can do, Tomb Raider is more comparable to Uncharted than it ever was. Not a bad thing, considering how accessible the former feels, and that’s no grief to the new Lara. There are simply more ways to get around, thanks to the addition of rope.

A curious new instrument, however, has been added to Lara Croft’s personal arsenal. Simple as it may be, it serves as a suitable reflection of her unhinged character. The instrument I speak of is a dagger. Stabby stab. Not only has the IP’s stealth gameplay been improved, thanks to the inclusion of a new environmental blend mechanic, but the blade supplements the guerilla persona that has seemingly taken over our raider of tombs. Lara Croft is Rambo if Rambo held a Ph.D. in Archaeology and was far, far, far, far more beautiful. You’ll even notice more definition in her physique, which is more imposing than we’ve seen previously (probably from all those swimming lessons). And as one dev explained, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the culmination of Lara Croft’s origin story, where she crosses from the scholarly side of the spectrum to become a shadow warrior, to become the definitive “Tomb Raider.” I’m paraphrasing, of course. The game’s Key Art is nothing less than a reflection of Lara’s transcendence.

Some other key points I learned from my time playing the Shadow of the Tomb Raider demo and from speaking to developers – Elaborating on the blending mechanic I mentioned earlier, Lara can now make herself invisible by clinging to walls of shrubbery. There will be more underground and underwater tombs, and they will be dark, which facilitates the game’s theme of descent. Furthermore, Lara will have access to traps she can use to ensnare and dispatch enemies. On that note, according to the game’s narrative director, Lara Croft will be waging a war through “fear.” Sounds vague, I know, but there will be new game mechanics that make for bloodier—possibly more horrific—outcomes than previous games.