I embraced the jungle and spent some time as the most brutal incarnation of Lara Croft in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The newest demo from Square Enix takes place late in the game, when Lara has learned to use the jungle itself as a weapon to take down Trinity and stop a Mayan apocalypse. Many fans were surprised by Lara’s brutal nature of the E3 Shadow of the Tomb Raider trailer, and I was eager to see what it feels like to play as a vengeful tomb raider at the top of her game.
Lara is hopelessly outnumbered, with Trinity goons, who generally move about in groups of three, on the lookout. Promotions and riches are promised to whomever can bring in Lara’s head, and Lara’s bow and arrows don’t seem like they’ll be much of a match against these well-armed, if not overly intelligent, henchmen. Fortunately, Lara has a whole new bag of tricks, and exploits them all in order to get the upper hand.
The first thing I will say is that the gameplay is incredibly tough; I wasn’t actually able to get through the entire demo in my half hour. That said, the tools and flashy killing moves which Lara comes equipped with are user-friendly enough that I kept on trying for quite a while. The mechanics themselves are simple, but figuring out how to commit bloody murder, then quickly melting back into the underbrush, losing the scent of your would-be killers, and setting yourself up to do it all over again is an absolute necessity, if you don’t want to quickly die in a barrage of gunfire the moment Trinity’s guards spot you.
It all begins with a tree. Climbing to a branch provides the perfect vantage point to fire a fear arrow; these specialty arrows can be crafted from resources Lara gathers from the jungle itself, and cause your enemies to hallucinate, freak out, and then open fire on their own comrades. You can then linger in the shadows and wait for them to simply drop dead from the poison, but why do that when you can end them with style? The Y button is your best friend while in the jungle; with a quick tap of it, Lara launches herself from a tree, pouncing on her victim and impaling him with her climbing axes. If that’s not a brutal enough end for you, you can simply hold down the Y button, at which point Lara will shoot her enemy with an arrow which has a rope attached to it, use that angle to loop said rope around the soon-to-be dead man’s neck, then hang him by dropping off the back of the branch.
Leaving a corpse suspended, Lara then slinks silently back into the underbrush, picking the bodies clean before moving on to find her next trio of victims. While fear arrows are probably the most efficient way of eliminating a threat, they’re also a limited resource. Lara can’t craft on the fly, and arrows can only be reused if you can track them down. One poorly aimed shot and you can find yourself at a massive disadvantage. In order to succeed, you, like Lara herself, will have to become a master of the terrain, learning where you can get lost in foliage, how to stealthily double back while you’re being chased, and which trees you can quickly climb in a pinch. Resourcefulness, tenacity, and reaction time means everything when it’s you, three poisoned arrows, and the jungle against the full might of Trinity.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider will be coming to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on September 14, 2019, be sure to check out all our ongoing E3 coverage for more screenshots, videos, and hands-on coverage.