I was lucky enough to attend one of the Shadow of the Tomb Raider reveal parties that Square Enix threw across the world. With one in London, the UK, and Montreal, Canada, mine was held in Los Angeles in The Mayan theater, which was appropriately themed, well, Mayan.
In case you’ve missed some of the hints leading up to the big reveal, the final game in this trilogy will have us following Lara Croft across Mexico and South America as she attempts to stop the end of the world and solve an ancient Mayan mystery, all while having to face the consequences of her actions like never before.
Along with the opportunity to interview Narrative Director Jason Dozois and Lead Game Designer Heath Smith, press was given the opportunity to play an hour long demo of the game, showing the confidence the team has in Shadow.
In this final installment, Lara must master a deadly jungle, overcome terrifying tombs, and persevere through her darkest hour. As she races to save the world from a Mayan apocalypse, Lara will be forged into the Tomb Raider she is destined to be.
I’m sure all of you are interested in how the game played! First and foremost, the game is beautiful. The character modeling in the game is some of the best I’ve seen in a long time, and the settings are lush and life-like. Candles flicker about Lara as she wanders through a Dios De Los Muertos celebration, and the moon casts realistic shadows as she traverses through the darkened passages of tunnels and the jungle itself. Even water, which can be notoriously difficult to animate, looked amazing, especially in the demo’s final climactic moments as it rushes all around Lara.
Those of you that loved the last two installments will be pleased to see your favorite gameplay mechanics return in the form of climbing, multiple weapon choices, and crafting. This game is adding rappelling to the mix, though, a fun mechanic that allows the player to get to new areas, and to swing across wider gaps than before. Stealth is still there as well, but now if you break cover and are caught, you have the opportunity to hide again, without having to kill all the enemies in an area–the game wants you to learn how to use the jungle as a tool.
Puzzles are back as well, but with unique twists to them. Unlike in previous installments where if you missed a jump or a duck you might die, this time, if you make a wrong decision in a puzzle, there will be consequences for you as well. All of this is to up the tension, as the new tombs are creepier and more dangerous than ever.
The game has brought back an old Tomb Raider mechanic (I’m talking the originals), in swimming. There were only a couple areas in the demo that included it, and while I usually hate swimming sections, the controls worked smoothly, and with little areas where Lara can catch her breath, I found myself feeling tension without the deep annoyance that usually comes with swimming/potential drowning situations.
As a small aside, deaths have been slightly toned down in this game. While Lara can still die in some pretty brutal ways (I tend to learn in this game through dying–so I died quite a few times), the graphic nature from the first installment isn’t there; the camera no longer lingers on Lara’s body as she is impaled/shot/crushed. The impact of death is still conveyed, but without the weird sense of voyeurism I often felt existed within Tomb Raider.
Mayan culture and myths will play a large part in Lara’s journey, both storywise and gameplay wise. Lead Game Designer Heath Smith stated, “The Maya were great believers in duality–that everything had a dark and light side. This is something we’re exploring with in the gameplay and the narrative. For example, the jungle setting–it’s trying to kill you, but if you respect it, the jungle can cure you as well.”
The idea of Lara becoming who she is ‘meant to be’ will be important as well. Smith said, “Lara needs to learn how to balance these urges that she has, and how to balance that need to raid tombs with the impact that will have on the world.” Narrative Director Jason Dozois had this to add, “What we want Lara to learn, through the story, is acknowledging that there is a human cost to raiding artifacts–there is a way to do it that will protect people, and there is also a way that could destroy the world as well.”
While the choice to use the Maya came organically from the previous game (where we saw Lara state she needed to go to Mexico), the developers worked with historians and researchers to add more depth to the story, not simply wanting to use the Maya as a stand-in culture for Lara to use. “We’re trying to be fact-based-fiction,” Dozois stated, “So we did a lot of research on what the cultures were like, and if they had gone to Peru, how would that have worked? We did a lot of research on archeoastronomy and on the Mayan culture in that aspect, just to come up(?) with inspiration. But it’s still a fiction, it’s not an actual representation of the religion or anything like that.”
Smith added, “I recently went to Teotihuacan in Mexico. It was a city where it wasn’t just one culture, it was all these different cultures and these cosmopolitan multicultural metropolis for its day. We always try to ground our fiction in something believable. So that’s where we take some inspiration.”
As with previous iterations of the games, this won’t be a ‘multiple choice’ type of story–we are there for Lara’s journey. “I love both story types, but there is an advantage to doing a linear story. We can tailor these emotional moments and really strike empathy as you are with her on this journey,” as Dozois says.
Smith mentions, however, how you play the game can change–you can choose to be more stealthy, or you can cover yourself in mud and go full ‘rambo’ on the enemy.
As Lara will be facing consequences for her actions as never before, it will mean also exploring some darker aspects of her personality–something that will be unique to Shadow. Dozois expressed there were some difficulties in delving into these aspects of her character. “The solution is not solely in Lara– it’s in the challenges that she faces; not just the environment but also the characters as well. We saw Dr. Dominguez in the demo–it took a lot of iterations to create a character who may be ‘bad’ but also right. That’s much more dramatic than just a man who wants to end the world.”
Smith added that it was important to hold others up to Lara as a mirror, so she could see other sides in a sympathetic way; one character that helps in that is Jonah. “He’s sort of her moral compass.” He also mentioned that some of the spaces she will be going into will, “not just be full of skeletons that she can’t talk to anymore– they are full of real people that she will have to confront.”
As emotion seems more important than ever, I was curious about the use of motion capture. Team Silent used motion capture during the creation of Silent Hill 2 to create one of the most emotionally resonant games ever–by using the technique to have the VAs act the scenes out repeatedly before ever stepping foot in the booth. Dozois said they used a similar method for Shadow. “On especially challenging scenes, the VAs would act through them three or four times, so when they go into the sound booth, they knew what emotions we wanted to get across. So it isn’t the technology is different, it’s the approach of how we prepare.”
Most importantly, both Dozois and Smith asserted that their teams’ collaboration was important to create Shadow’s story. “It’s about getting a lot of people from different points of view–you don’t always agree with everything they say, and it’s not always easy, but the result is there.
Collaboration, diversity, creates a better result.”
Pre-orders are available now for the Standard, Digital Deluxe, Croft, and Ultimate Editions. For full details on pre-order items, the Season Pass, key beats in the upcoming campaign, and more information on Shadow of the Tomb Raider, please visit the official website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider releases on September 14, 2018!!