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Demo Reviews: Shadow of the Tomb Raider

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Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for. The official reveal of Shadow of the Tomb Raider starts right now! The Survivor Reborn team was lucky enough to attend the press event in London, and yes, we got our hands on the demo.

So, without distracting you further, what did we think?

Laurie’s review:

First impressions of Shadow of the Tomb Raider: It started with a cutscene between Jonah and Lara in Mexico. While the voice acting has massively improved in this game (no more asthmatic Lara), Camilla’s voice acting is still pretty bad. You could hear the American accent still in there on certain words, which just really throws it off. Walking around as people celebrate the Day of the Dead was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, it felt very Uncharted, but it’s a great touch as you have people talking around you and you can listen in to random conversations.

The Jungle is absolutely stunning and the level of combat (what we have seen in the demo) is great! Tomb Raider is about tomb raiding, not about killing an endless stream of goons!

Lara has a new tool that she can use to abseil down to lower levels which would otherwise kill her if she just dropped. The wall run from the LAU trilogy is back, which filled me with dread, but it seemed to be a lot easier to handle than in previous games, so it’s not so bad! The use of white ledges has reduced as well. While there are still some in places, it was still a gamble on some jumps and I tried many a leap-of-faith, which was fantastic!

SWIMMING IS FINALLY BACK IN A TOMB RAIDER GAME! And it’s amazing! The first swimming section is adrenaline inducing and super claustrophobic! She has big lungs so Lara can swim for long periods of time, giving you the chance to explore underwater rather than following a plotted path forced by the game. The water also looked absolutely stunning.

The physics puzzles from previous games are still around, but that’s something I never expected to change in the current gen of gaming. The climbing of the indoor pyramid using these puzzles kept the game flowing and at points it was difficult to figure out where to go (with the lack of obvious white ledges).

I don’t want to spoil the story too much, but we get to meet the main villain in the demo, who actually (at the moment) seems to have a lot more depth to him than just being plain evil. If anything, when he comes into contact with Lara, it is Lara who is actually in the wrong and has brought the world to the brink of the apocalypse (d’oh!) and he plans to rectify it. I am very intrigued to find out how this plays out in the full game.

There’re still the spectacular set pieces that feel very Uncharted and follow a very set path. There’s a tsunami/flood section that felt that it was directly ripped from the Reboot as you directed Lara through the rapids. But it did feel very sombre and very potent when it calmed down and you’re back to controlling Lara again and you have to swim through the bodies of all the innocent villagers that have died in the flood.

The final cutscene sees Jonah come into his own, when he actually brings Lara down a notch or two (“It’s not always about you, Lara!”)

Lara’s physical appearance itself: Lara’s is noticeably more buff (those arms, man!), and she looks a lot more battle-worn in the face and a lot more mature than in the previous games. Her clothing has had a change as well, with her top being a very classic style, while she is still wearing her green necklace. She has her black gloves as well so, if you were to look at her from the wrist up, you would see she is turning into the classic Lara we thought was lost with this Reboot!

In terms of weaponry, she has a fully tooled-up bow, so you can attach ropes already for pulling and attaching items together etc. There was no sign of the dual guns, however, but Lara did have a trusty pistol in her thigh holster, so we’re halfway there! Lara also seems to be carrying a trusty knife with her now, fitting in with the stunning artwork we have seen of Lara of late.

Overall, I was truly impressed with the demo. It seems that we are getting closer to the style of Tomb Raider a lot of fans have been crying out for for over a decade now, while still keeping in line with the rebooted style of the trilogy. It’s dark and gritty, but it doesn’t rely on combat to fill in the action part of the game. It actually feels like a Tomb Raider game… however, it also feels like it relies heavily on features from Uncharted to achieve this. With the Mexico location, it initially felt like a flashback to Underworld, but there was just so much colour and variety within the environments that it soon became something much more original. The progress Lara has made gives me a lot of hope for the next instalment now that this trilogy has ended. I truly cannot wait to play the full game!

Chris’s review:

First of all, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way so I can focus on the great stuff. During the gameplay, Camilla is fine. During a couple of the cutscenes, her voice acting is dire. Honestly. I was cringing a fair bit.

So, now I’ve said that, let’s get on to the vastly stronger aspects of the game!

Visually, Shadow is absolutely breathtaking. Lara’s facial animations, the environment – they’re all top of the line and look beautiful.

The environment itself is brilliant. There are lots of little nooks to explore, with the demo all being focused on Mayan ruins. It’s proper Tomb Raider stuff. It felt like a cross between Uncharted 4 and TR Underworld, which isn’t a bad thing at all – personally, I think it’s quite a good thing. At the same time, certain things made it feel very ‘samey’, and all too similar to Reboot and Rise. Lara’s animations haven’t changed, and the puzzles we played were all tug-rope based. With it just being a demo, I hope there’s a wider variety throughout the game itself.

The story we saw all revolved around Lara hunting Trinity and trying to stop them acquiring an ancient dagger, but Lara’s actions seemingly set an apocalypse in motion. It’s all very Amulet of Horus and the Tomb of Set, so thematically I’m quite excited to see such a classic Tomb Raider trope brought back to the franchise.

Speaking of bringing things back: proper swimming has returned after ten years and it’s awesome, being featured in a very tense section, and included a terrifying enemy straight out of Tomb Raider 2. Unlike Rise, you’re no longer only able to swim just beneath the surface and then forced back up. If you want an idea of the swimming, look to Underworld. Underwater is fully explorable!  (Oh, and the swan dive from Rise makes a return.)

Quick Time Events felt more natural – at first. The camera completely changed at one point and was very close and claustrophobic up against Lara, but we are still in control, and there weren’t button prompts – it was quite intuitive and felt very interactive. You were still in control. At one point a button prompt does appear, but I have my fingers crossed these don’t feature often during the game.

Some miscellaneous little points worth noting:

White ledges are back in the same way they were in Rise: someone was clumsy with that ancient white paint. The feature from Rise for learning language skills is back. Shooting little secret things in the environment is back. Various things now seem to give Lara health; I think I picked up medicinal herbs and some sort of rare beetle that regenerated health. Killing Lara is much like it was in Legend. Jump off somewhere high and the camera stays up high and blacks out. Oh, and her outfit? It’s like a cross between Underworld and classic. That classic teal top has been modernised and brought back!

I played for twenty-something minutes and came into contact with three enemies, all simply disposed of via stealth. From what we played, there weren’t hordes of enemies, which was something I was glad to discover. Reboot and Rise relied too heavily on throwing enemies at Lara, and this demo went a great way to prove that isn’t necessary for a great gaming experience.

I was impressed by what I played, and I didn’t manage to finish the demo, as I tried to explore as much as I could and push the boundaries of the path. September seems like such a long way away right now, but I’m really looking forward to playing more. Shadow has a lot of promise, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Matt’s review

If you’ve read anything I’ve written about Tomb Raider, you’ll know that I’m not that keen on the direction taken by the latest reboot. However last night’s playthrough filled me with a hope that I haven’t felt in years.

The Shadow demo opened with Lara moving around a Day of the Dead-themed event incognito, interacting with random strangers while tracking a target. It was a scene straight out of the Uncharted playbook honestly. The graphics blew me away and I found that I was dawdling through this stage as I took everything in.

Eventually, Lara emerges at a dig site and casts off her cloak and mask to reveal her classic tank top and newly buff physique. My god, those arms! Oh, to be swept off my feet by arms like those. It was a shame though that the added muscle was cosmetic: she still has the same clumsy animations when climbing, certainly at the moment anyway.

Lara can now rappel from her climbing axes, and wall-running makes a return from the LAU trilogy. What I was most impressed with, though, is Lara’s ability to swim! There were two extended tense underwater sections which had me holding my breath along with Lara: Shadow had already succeeded in making me care about her where Reboot and Rise failed.

The cinematography was excellent: the reveal when stumbling on to a pyramid underground, and a mad dash to try and outrun a tsunami at the end were suitably epic.

There were series-standard physics puzzles to solve but it would have been nice to have more variety. Lara solves a constellation puzzle left behind by the ancients who built this temple in a cutscene which would have been nice to complete for ourselves rather than quite so many rope arrow puzzles.

There was also a throwback to The Last Revelation in that Lara supposedly sets the Apocalypse in motion.

While Lara looks and sounds more confident, and there’s less redundant chatter during open gameplay, Lara does still have that sullen edge at times. Indeed, when she finally comes face-to-face with her enemy, she comes across as a rank amateur, unable to add a witty retort and blindly stumbling through this adventure. Now this is for storytelling’s sake, so I’ll let it fly for now – so long as we see some maturity as the story progresses.

In short? I’m sold. I’m pre-ordering, and I don’t do that lightly these days. I only hope that this snippet doesn’t turn out to be what Syria was to Rise: i.e., promising so much that the rest of the game fails to deliver on.

 

Reviews written by Lori Croft, Chris Carpineti, and Matt Taylor. Edited by J. R. Milward.


Demo Reviews: Shadow of the Tomb Raider by Survivor Reborn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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About Chris Jones (6 Articles)
I'm a London-based Welshman, video editor, designer, and passionate gamer.

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