Fans have been eagerly anticipating the release of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and at San Diego Comic-Con this week we got ourselves a hands-on preview. We also talked to lead writer Jill Murray and lead game designer Heath Smith.
In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, 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 ultimately be forged into the Tomb Raider she is destined to be.
Created by a team of veteran Tomb Raider developers at Eidos-Montréal in collaboration with Crystal Dynamics, the game will be available on September 14 for the Xbox One family of devices, including Xbox One X, PlayStation4 computer entertainment system, and Windows PC/Steam.
We were treated to a sneak peek at the fictional Peruvian city of Paititi, which is the main hub for the game. Here you’ll meet people from a fictional migration down from Mexico, with isolated people from the Mayan and Incan cultures. The city is beautifully rendered—shockingly so. It's multi-leveled and contains a full economic system of bartering using gold for currency. The citizens have developed religions and speak several languages. You can even use an immersion mode where you hear the dialogue in Mayan with subtitles. Lara will have to up her language skills to progress. English is spoken, too, and that comes from an organization you might recognize — Trinity. They’re involved with the Cult of Kukulkan, that has factioned off the people of Paititi. When she’s trading, she can purchase old and damaged clothing items, fix them, and use them to barter. Some of these items are actually significant to the story. You’ll notice Lara’s clothing is South American, a gift from the people of the city.
While visiting the marketplace, we learned that the llamas are very friendly. Though you can hunt them for food and materials in the wilds of the game, you can actually pet them in the city of Paititi.
In the city, you’ll find monoliths that have clues to riddles. They reveal things Lara can find or do. If the puzzles stymie you, fear not. There are adjustable difficulty settings in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and you can adjust things like combat and puzzles separately. In one example, we saw a clearly marked climbing tree, but if you have the difficulty up, they’re harder to find.
There are, of course, challenge tombs, but they’re well hidden this time around. You’re also going to find crypts, which are not the same as challenge tombs. Where you think you would normally find the end, you’re only at the beginning.
We did some underwater swimming, something we were told was requested by the community. You can swim on the surface, of course, but if you dive down, you can find hidden entrances. You’ll also find piranha and moray eels that can kill you. There was one point in the hands-on level where we swam down through tunnels and almost died while squeezing through a tiny hole to get air (there are air pockets that can help extend your swim).
Another new feature is grappling and rappelling, which absolutely adds to the game, and on the level we played, we had to use it to get to the top of a pyramid. It’s pretty seamless.
There is a jungle level toward the end of the game. Lara has been separated from Jonah, and she’s in a forest full of Trinity operatives. Lara uses the stealth techniques she gets in this game, hunting while camouflaged in mud, with arrows that make the target hallucinate. The last shot of the scene here was Lara emerging from the water, with fire behind her, after a harrowing climb up towers while being shot at by operatives, a helicopter, and tanks.
Murray (who told us she likes to pet the city llamas) told us how the actual South American cultures that the game embraces influenced gameplay. “They’re particularly interesting because their astronomy and mathematics were so developed, so any time in the story that there’s something like a riddle that uses the stars to lead you from place to place, if you actually check all of that out, it’s accurate. The artists went into great detail with things like city layouts. The melding of everything is where the fiction starts to come in, because that’s something that never happened. The question is: If people came together into a protected, defined area, how would they evolve, and what would they become if they lived together?”
Murray gave us more info on the Cult of Kukulkan, saying, “There is a connection between the Cult and Trinity. That’s where the English comes in. The city is somewhat divided where this cult leader believes he will bring about peace and prosperity and freedom for Paitit. And then the rebels think that he will use that power to further his own aims, and that they will be left behind.”
Smith talked about the new features. “So we really looked for inspiration in the old games.” He said that this is the third game in the trilogy, and she’s really becoming the Tomb Raider we know her to be. “She’s never been in the sort of situation before where she’d need to rappel or go underwater. Last time it was freezing, so there was ice. You couldn’t go underwater very well. It’s not just about swimming freely, though. You will have to be careful you don’t run out of breath.” As for those undersea creatures, “It’s taking that underwater exploration to a different level. There’s treasures and secret areas to find as well. And reinterpreting it through the survival lens of this series.”
Choosing the Amazon, said Smith, was about taking Lara out of her comfort zone. "At the end of Rise of the Tomb Raider, she’s attained a level of competence. So we wanted to put her in a situation where there are certain skills and certain abilities she needs to learn. Part of that is the environment, so when she faces a combat situation, basically, she’s trying to become one with the jungle. She’s trying to become the ultimate predator. This is something she’s dabbled with before, but never as intensely as this.” He explained that she’s now using fear tactics against the enemy. He said Peru provides a hostile environment where everything is trying to kill you. “Everyone knows the fantasy as a kid of going to Peru and finding a lost city in the Amazon jungle… it’s very much a fantasy we wanted to provide.”
He spoke further on another aspect of Lara’s evolution. “The other challenge in this game is social. How does she deal with when she finds a tomb and it’s not unpopulated and dead? That’s a new challenge for her. She normally finds skeletons. What does she do when there’s people? How does she impact those people?”
Then there are those stealth kills. “You saw that in the video. One of the things you might have seen is a skill you can upgrade that allows you to do a double takedown, based on using fear tactics. Another one you saw was the rope pull, where she can string people up, again, to intimidate the enemy and make them freak out, and shoot and call their buddies. It’s about her disappearing into the environment, becoming one with the environment.
“She has to learn how to recover from her mistakes… in the earlier games, when you were spotted, that was it. They came in with guns blazing, and you couldn’t lose the enemy. They always knew where you were. They were throwing grenades at you. This time it’s about returning back to stealth, so you can actually lose the enemy. You can play cat and mouse with them, which hopefully will give you the fantasy of being the ultimate predator.”
Are you excited to check out Shadow of the Tomb Raider when it hits stores on September 14 for Windows, PS4, and Xbox One? Let us know in the comments!