Shadow of the Tomb Raider hands-on preview: Jungle boogie

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is promising Lara Croft's defining moment and the game's first few hours certainly make it appear that it's headed that way. Shacknews goes hands-on to learn more about the third chapter in the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy.

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A lot has changed since the first Tomb Raider reboot from 2013. Lara Croft started out a plucky survivor, inexperienced to the world around her and someone hardened by her surroundings. Her character arc is set to hit its apex in the upcoming Shadow of the Tomb Raider, a game that Square Enix, Eidos Montreal, and Crystal Dynamics have repeatedly stated will represent Lara Croft's defining moment. Part of reaching that character climax involves investigating a mysterious prophecy that points to a full-blown cataclysm.

To get an idea of what's ahead of Lara Croft, Shacknews went hands-on with the third chapter in the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy once again. I was fairly familiar with the game's introduction, having joined Lara in her continued hunt for Trinity and her excursion through the game's first tomb shortly following the game's original announcement presentation. Today, it was time to find out what happened after Lara claimed the Mayan dagger, which foretold the coming of the Mayan apocalypse.

Those accustomed to the Tomb Raider's difficulty levels will be relieved to hear that these settings have been refined for this final chapter. It's no longer a straightforward selection of easy, medium, or hard. Settings have separated out to address combat and exploration, allowing players to mix and match their difficulty settings as they see fit. For example, they can set the game's enemies to be relentlessly difficult, while setting the game's puzzles to an easier setting, which will offer up clear markers painted in the environment to help point the player in the right direction. The latter was a particularly big help, as I didn't nearly scratch my head with the game's puzzles as often as I did through Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Getting lost can be easy, since Lara Croft is surrounded by the vast Peruvian jungle. In looking to solve the puzzle of "where the Twins confer," she and companion Jonah seek to fly out into South America. Their plane quickly crashes, Jonah gets momentarily displaced, and the pilot is later found mauled by a jaguar. Lara is mainly left to her own devices, where her Survival Instinct ability comes in handy in helping find crafting supplies. Just as in the previous Tomb Raider games, Lara can craft arrows on the fly, as well healing herbs and other concoctions. This proved useful in the first battle with a wild jaguar, which certainly won't be Lara's last encounter with a wild beast.

One of those concoctions is a plant that opens up a Perception ability. After finding Jonah, Lara is ambushed by a second jaguar. The Perception ability allows her to detect the jaguar coming from a distance. This allows players to aim their arrows right between the beast's eyes. The jaguar is quick and it can be tough to hit. If the jaguar successfully tackles Lara, survival may come down to a quick-time event.

After killing the jaguar, Lara emerged victorious with a new jaguar-skinned outfit. Different outfits can be unlocked over the course of the game, with each one offering different abilities. For example, this jaguar-skinned number can help increase Lara's stealth.

The extra stealth was helpful against the first of what's sure to be many groups of Trinity forces. These often segue into sections that feel reminiscent of games like Batman: Arkham Asylum. Lara Croft can perform several different types of stealth takedowns, including overhead takedowns with rope arrows, standard ambushes from nearby shrubbery, and takedowns into nearby bodies of water. The idea is to use the environment to the player's advantage, which for Lara can include using her swimming abilities to her benefit or finding nearby mud puddles and covering herself for camouflage.

One of the other main reveals from this demo is the lesser hub town. Lara comes across Kuwaq Yaku, a smaller hub city filled with merchants. Players can stock up here, explore the nearby challenge tombs, or opt to take side missions. This is meant to be an introduction to hubs and is a mere fraction of the size of eventual main hub world Paititi.

It's here that it should be noted that Lara won't be alone on this journey. While Jonah popped up at the start of Rise of the Tomb Raider and didn't really show up again until towards the end of the story, Lara's friend will be an integral part of the Shadow of the Tomb Raider narrative. He'll frequently help push the story forward, as Shadow of the Tomb Raider further explores their friendship. They prove to be such good friends that upon reaching Kuwaq Yaku, they meet a friendly guide, prompting Lara to act as Jonah's wingman.

Lastly, it was time to try out the Eagle Challenge, a section meant to test Lara's mettle as an explorer. This trial centered around a central mechanism, with the idea being to get the multiple pieces running and activate the path forward. Again, this is where the refined difficulty settings helped out, in providing a general path of where to go next, but the puzzles still proved quite tricky, implementing verticality and platforming requirements to push ahead.

This is just the start of Lara Croft's latest journey, as players further explore the Peruvian jungle, upgrade Lara's combat abilities, and help the denizens of Paititi. It's a story that looks to cap off the trilogy that began in 2013 and one that looks to refine all of the gaming mechanics that the series has introduced since then. Shadow of the Tomb Raider will introduce Lara Croft's finest moment when it releases on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on September 14.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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