FutureFive recently had the opportunity to spend three hours in the company of Lara Croft, sampling the first few chapters of the upcoming Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
The Tomb Raider franchise holds a very special place in my heart. It was Lara Croft's first adventure that welcomed be back into gaming after spending my early twenties drinking and getting up to mischief. I remember thinking, on first seeing the jaw-dropping Tomb Raider visuals on the original PlayStation back in 1996, that video game graphics could not get any better.
Here we are 22 years later with the third instalment of the 2013 rebooted Tomb Raider franchise.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider starts with the dramatic plane crash that you may have seen in the E3 trailer- with Lara sitting in the cockpit as the fuselage and Lara's Kiwi friend, Jonah, is ripped away. After this momentous tease, the game cuts to two days earlier with Lara and Jonah on the trail of Trinity in a Mexican town.
Whilst the town celebrates the Day of the Dead, Lara inadvertently sets in motion the Mayan apocalypse, dooming the human race. Whilst the first two games where hardly tales of sunshine and rainbows, Shadow of the Tomb Raider takes a very dark turn, indeed.
A massive set-piece has Lara fighting for breath as a wave of flood-water engulfs the Mexican town. All around her people struggle in vain to escape. I controlled Lara as she tumbles though the water, catch her breath from air pockets and swimming past the drowned bodies of the townsfolk. Believing the flood was the same as that etched in a Maya carving, heralding the apocalypse, Lara next stop is Peru and the plane crash.
I was hoping that, by three games in, Lara had managed to grow into the confident, sassy character that originally propelled the franchise to such great heights in the 1990s. Unfortunately, Lara Croft still seems to be stumbling around, finding her feet as an adventurer. But it is this naivety that causes Lara to unleash a deadly cataclysm on the world that, naturally, only she can make right.
The gameplay in these first few hours is virtually identical to the last two Tomb Raider games, which is not a bad thing. I only additional element notices was that this time, Lara can not only hide in bushes, but also in foliage-covered walls. As with the last game, as fun as it is to run and gun, the best way to survive is by using stealth to silently take down enemies one-by-one.
The jungle setting of Peru adds its own dangers. I'm not sure is it was an intended tip of the hat to Lara's trait, back in the day, of killing endangered species, but the Peruvian setting affords Lara a potentially lethal confrontation with not one, but two Jaguars. The arena-style battle is hard fought resulting in the death of one beast, with the other escape with its mate's carcass.
The game promises more tombs that ever. With only a few hours of play, I was only able to complete a few of the puzzles, the mechanics of which are very similar to the previous two games.
Whilst not as mind-bendingly complex as the puzzles in the original Tomb Raider games, the puzzles are still are pretty ingenious. The developers have employed a meticulous attention to detail in realising the ancient Mayan mechanisms. This coupled with the games superb visuals treats players, even in these early hours, to some amazing-looking environments, easily on par with or indeed surpassing those in previous games.
Three games in, in would also seem that Camilla Luddington, the voice of Lara, has better settled into the role, delivering her lines without sounding so breathlessly overly-earnest this time.
With just a few hours under my belt, Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks like it is going to be a great game. It's slightly darker and the stakes -- the potential end of the world -- higher. Let's not forget the exotic locations, intricate puzzles, tombs to raid, combat and hunting- all the ingredients for another epic Lara Croft adventure.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is out for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on 12th September.