Lara Croft has been on a personal journey since 2013’s impressive Tomb Raider reboot, from inexperienced archeology grad to seasoned survivor. When we meet Lara in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, she’s no longer running; she’s hunting down the world domination-obsessed military organization Trinity and its leaders, attempting to get one step ahead and turn their plans to ash.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, as they say, and a series of hasty decisions on Lara’s part unleash a chain of cataclysmic events that have everyone from her longtime ally Jonah to Trinity’s head-of-command confronting her with the deadly consequences of her actions. At once, this new chapter feels more weighted and grounded than previous entries, and every part of the game reflects Lara’s journey into a heart of darkness.
Nothing highlights this more than Shadow’s setting: the dangerous jungles of Peru. Lara has always been quick to use her environment to her advantage, but here she melds into her surroundings with confidence and ease. She can sink into beds of vines to sneak past enemies, or cover herself in mud for instant camouflage. New skills can be unlocked either through a traditional skill tree or by discovering ancient totems, like the extremely satisfying Eagle’s Talon, a rope takedown that starts with Lara dropping onto an enemy and ends with them strung up from a tree branch. Lara leans into her predator status here — in many ways her combat style is savvier and more ruthless than ever.
That’s not to say Lara isn’t being hunted. A particularly exhilarating new addition to the series finds Lara face-to-face with other seasoned predators: the lethal jaguars of South America. A far cry from the wolf packs of previous entries, these encounters are contained, strategic experiences that will test Lara’s survival skills. The two encounters I played through had different setups, one allowing for ground traversal and another offering multiple chances to gain higher ground. In each one the jaguar weaved its way in and out of Lara’s field of vision, stalking its prey and leaping out to strike with deadly force. Using the available environment is key to avoiding its attacks, and utilizing the newly introduced Perception herbs (which function similarly to the series’ Medicinal herbs) can help you keep track of the predator’s position and go in for the kill.
Tombs have always been a centerpiece of the Tomb Raider games (go figure), and in Shadow they do not disappoint. Puzzle sequences are ingeniously implemented, putting players’ logic to the test and rewarding progress with a rush of sweet, sweet endorphins. The tombs themselves are more expansive and treacherous than before, withmany requiring underwater traversal — a classic Tomb Raider staple making its first appearance in this trilogy. Strategically placed air pockets and the need to sneak past deadly piranhas or eels raise the stakes in these delightfully challenging diving sequences.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider offers customizable difficulty settings that allow players to modify the difficulty of puzzles, traversal, and combat separately. Are you breezing through combat sequences but getting stumped by the puzzles? Or perhaps you’d rather not get any puzzle hints, but need some guidance when moving through the jungle? You can toggle these settings to fit the game to your preferences and craft a truly unique tomb raiding experience.
As a longtime fan of the series, I’ve loved following Lara on her journey to becoming the fully fledged Tomb Raider. Shadow of the Tomb Raider exemplifies the elements that drew me to the series in the first place: thrilling exploration, engaging combat, and challenging puzzles. But it’s the moral exploration of Lara’s identity that has me most excited to dive back into Shadow of the Tomb Raider when it launches September 14 on PS4. Until then, you can preview some of the combat gameplay in our latest episode of PlayStation Underground: