Early trailers for Shadow of the Tomb Raider have portrayed Lara Croft as a ruthless killer. Someone who can hide in the jungle and silently dispatch armored soldiers with sophisticated traps and fast, calculated strikes. The underlying message is clear: The beloved archaeologist is now the hunter rather than the hunted.
Developer Eidos Montreal is framing the game as Lara's pivotal shift from reactive to proactive fighter. In 2013, when Crystal Dynamics rebooted the franchise, players were introduced to a younger, inexperienced tomb raider who had never been in a firefight before. By the end of the game, she was a capable survivor who could shoot her way out of a bad situation. The sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, went a step further, portraying a wiser and more resourceful explorer who could go on the offense when needed.
The third instalment, due for release on September 14th, completes her arc from naive survivor to seasoned assassin. It also explores a tomb raider who is passionate, energetic, and, on occasions, obsessive. At the start of the game, she is pinned under a large rock and injures her leg trying to break free. Lara's best friend, Jonah Maiava, asks if he can take a look at her wound, but she quickly brushes it off: "No, I'm fine." Moments later, the cavern collapses, and Jonah has to practically drag Lara away while she takes photographs with her camera.
Later, the twenty-something archaeologist tracks a Trinity henchman through Cozumel, a Mexican island celebrating the Day of the Dead. "We need to be careful," Jonah urges. Lara doesn't reply. "Lara?" "Yeah, yeah, I heard you," she whispers. The character then sneaks into a temple and, worried that Trinity henchmen are closing in, takes a fabled artifact called the "key of Chak Chel." Lara doesn't realize that it must be paired with a special box to stave off a series of apocalyptic events, though. Devastated, she watches as a tidal wave rips through the town, destroying buildings and pulling citizens underwater.
Jonah urges Lara to stay and help for a while. "These people need us here," he says. The tomb raider, though, wants to leave and find the silver box. It's a reasonable stance -- if Trinity finds both pieces, they will gain the power to reshape reality. Lara is visibly torn by the decision and later apologizes to Jonah for wanting to leave the town so swiftly.
Croft's journey from prey to predator wasn't part of some master plan in 2013. It's something that Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal have developed over time. "Sometimes themes will kind of emerge," Jason Dozois, narrative director for Shadow of the Tomb Raider said. "We don't always sit down and go, 'All right, reactive to proactive, go.' I wish it was that, but it wasn't that." Shadow of the Tomb Raider is also the first game in the rebooted universe that wasn't penned by scriptwriter and story designer Rhianna Pratchett.
Rise of the Tomb Raider ended with the revelation that Lara's father, Richard Croft, was murdered by Trinity. It also proved definitively that he wasn't crazy in his search for immortality. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, then, needed to explore how Lara would process and react to this information. "Imagine you're Lara," Dozois said. "As Lara, I thought that my father committed suicide and that he was wrong. I wanted to prove him wrong [originally], and then maybe he was right? But he still committed suicide. But then it's like, OK, he didn't commit suicide?! He was murdered?!"
The previous two games have debunked everything Lara knew at the start of the 2013 reboot. "All these core bits of information that really defined who you are as a person, those are gone," Dozois said. Where does that leave her at the end of Rise of the Tomb Raider? Understandably angry, and motivated to both stop Trinity and restore her family's name.
This information contextualizes the combat in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Gameplay alone makes Lara seem like a cold, calculated mass murderer. Within the larger story, though, the fights take on new meaning as high-tension moments of revenge. That's why many of the skirmishes are smaller in scope, too, than Rise of the Tomb Raider — it's supposed to feel more personal this time. "It's not like a shooting gallery where you have 50 guys coming in and you're like, 'All right, I need to reload!' It's more immersive and more emotional," Dozois said.
As with previous games, you'll need to be stealthy to succeed. Shadow of the Tomb Raider urges you to stay in cover and purposefully move around the map, taking out enemies as they slowly patrol the area. Alerting a soldier isn't a complete disaster, but it makes your life substantially harder. If an entire squad is looking for you, it's trickier to stay hidden and take them out like Batman.
The game has some elaborate pieces similar to Rise of the Tomb Raider. There are fewer "assault moments," though, that force you to kill large groups of enemies. "That, in a way, dehumanizes the enemy, because there are so many targets," Heath Smith, lead game designer on Shadow of the Tomb Raider said. With fewer enemies on screen, the team hopes each kill will feel more important and carry some emotional weight. "Lara has to grow up, not only emotionally in the narrative, but in her gameplay," Smith added. "That means the player has to employ more advanced techniques, such as striking, disappearing and repositioning."