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Credit: Square Enix

E3 2018: Playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider is beautiful and very violent

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Jun 14, 2018, 12:30 PM EDT

After two highly enjoyable and successful entries in the Tomb Raider reboot, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Square Enix would offer a third game in the series as soon as possible. Announced earlier this year, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is setting itself up to be a darker game than its predecessors, though the exploration and action are right in line with what we've come to expect from the most recent iteration of Lara Croft.

Violent Femme

Beginning at a Day of the Dead festival somewhere in South America, Lara gives chance to a man known only as Dominguez in the hopes of finding a coveted ancient relic before he does. The demo we played at E3 this week hopped and skipped around the narrative bits, throwing us right into some tomb exploration on the trail of this mystical item. Where previous games in this refresh of the series did include tombs, Shadow of the Tomb Raider promises more than ever before. It also wants to take the traditional idea of the tomb and flip it upside down. By that, the tombs in Shadow are geared to be much more subterranean in concept, drawing light from alternative sources below the surface, rather than relying on openings in the ceiling to shine on objectives.

That's not to say there won't be outside light at all guiding Lara's way; the hidden Mayan temple we first uncover is exquisitely lit by moonlight from a crevice above it. For the early elements of that cave, though, Lara relied on the shimmering water at the base of the cave, which was reflected like an eerie lattice across the walls and ceiling. There were some simple puzzle-platforming elements to make use of in this portion, but nothing that was too taxing. Later tombs will supposedly require some more outside-the-box thought, but even then, the Survival Instinct ability Lara has should cut out much of the guesswork on what elements of a stage are vital for progression.

shadow of the tomb raider e3

Credit: Square Enix

Once out of the tomb, Lara is faced with fending off some of Dominguez's hired thugs, and this is where Shadow starts to set itself apart from the last two games. Lara accepted violence reluctantly in 2014's Tomb Raider, and she was more savvy and willing to do what was necessary in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Here, though, Lara seems to believe she's the only one who can save the world and has a bit more of a hero complex. Violence was always in the Tomb Raider games, but Shadow seems to forgo any earlier attempts at humanizing Lara's actions, and instead puts a premium on killing.

Lara has a host of new ways to inflict damage on foes, but it's the new stealth elements that really take her from hunted to hunter. Like Dutch in Predator, Lara can find herself covered in mud and throw herself against some wall foliage to blend into the jungle. With so many goons unaware of her presence, it's much easier to spike them in the back with a climbing axe. Ballistic weapons and Lara's trusty bow are back too, but the outbursts of destruction they bring with them is expected. It's the more brutal nature of Lara's hand-to-hand combat that might make some fans a bit uneasy about our lead character's newfound love of assassinations. They sure look pretty, though, so there's at least that.

Just Cause 4 E3

Credit: Square Enix

Just Cause 4 Action

Unlike the Tomb Raider series, Just Cause is a franchise that's never shied away from being an unabashed action epic. Every Rico Rodriguez adventure has been loaded with massive explosions, big stunts, and charismatic characters. With Just Cause 4, Avalanche Studios is ratcheting all those elements up another few notches thanks to a new game engine, Apex. The massive open world is still a big part, and the island of Solis will feature multiple biomes with varying weather patterns thanks to this new engine. The South American island is stunningly rendered, and the rainforest area where the hands-off demo took place was just beautiful to behold. It was also incredibly dangerous thanks to the new dynamic wind and roaming tornado that Rico had to deal with.

While trying to fend off the Black Hand from exerting its will over the people of Solis, players will have to contend with natural disasters. In addition to being shot at constantly, there'll be tornadoes, blizzards, and sandstorms to contend with, though you can use them to your advantage too. These untamed beasts of Mother Nature wreak havoc on anything in their paths, including Black Hand bases. Watching an entire section of a map get swept up into the sky is cool, but the fact that all those items in the sky have physics means there's a lot of unique ways Rico will be able to bend things like a tornado to his advantage.

Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit

Credit: Square Enix

You've Got Captain Spirit

Of course, action-intensive third-person games aren't the only titles Square Enix brought to the show this year. Dontnod Entertainment also returned with a spin-off of its acclaimed Life Is Strange adventure game with The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. Set in the same world as Max's and Chloe's escapades, Captain Spirit follows a day in the life of Chris, an incredibly imaginative kid who looks just like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. The one-episode tale will be made available for free later this month, and acts as its own story, though there will be some nods to the original Life Is Strange, as well as Dontnod's planned sequel (but not last year's Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, which was handled by a different developer).

In Captain Spirit, we'll have to help Chris find the best way to spend his Saturday, including putting together a superhero costume and fending off imaginary foes around the house. There's not much of an indication what the overall story will be about, but there's clearly a lot of tension in Chris' house. His mother is out of the picture, and Chris' dad is not adjusting to being a single parent well at all.

There are clues scattered all over the home that will shed more light on the household, but for the purposes of the demo, Dontnod was very focused on just showing us what one "heroic" mission for Chris might be like. Let's just say that if you have any memories of Kevin McCallister and the furnace, the influence on Captain Spirit will be very obvious. Even with those similarities, Dontnod has our trust given how well the first Life Is Strange turned out. Plus, this game is free and short, which will make it a perfect escape for us one lonely Saturday, too.