We go deep inside the next Tomb Raider which hits stores on September 14.
By Harold Goldberg
A Montreal evening, streets puddled up from a cold, all-day rain that has just let up. I’m walking around an industrial area that’s being revitalized. In other words, there are obstacles everywhere. Thirty minutes later, I’m in a cafe full of towering plants, obviously meant to strike contrast to the factories and condo construction nearby. The owner yells at the server for something she had no control over. That’s not the Lara Croft way, for sure.
I move to the DJ/EDM/rap venue New Gas City, a former coal to gas factory built in 1859, and follow velvet ropes seemingly as long as a football field. They twist and turn like the Mother Goose crooked mile to the press entrance. Inside, fog machines spew thick mist near to the floor, setting a humid jungle mood for the new Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which takes place in humid Mayan locales.
As Eidos Montreal’s Dan Chayer-Bisson talks about working assiduously to complete this trilogy, a lone, white rectangle of confetti falls from the rafters, flipping, turning over and over, the last survivor from last night’s party. It was a small metaphor, I thought, for Lara Croft, a survivor, the survivor’s survivor.
For me, the Mayan locale that studio head Chayer-Bisson introduces is the perfect place for an adventurous mystery featuring a strong woman. Perhaps you’ve witnessed the NatGeo documentary about Mayan ruins being discovered by Lidar. The civilization was even more vast and complex than scientists had ever imagined. If you’d watched this documentary before playing, like I had, you’d have felt a need to play and explore. You wouldn’t simply just want to play.
Shadow’s beginning has a Mayan Day of the Dead feel, and you see hundreds of colorful skulls for sale at a thriving night market in which danger lurks everywhere. The skulls leer. They laugh. They set the scene. Later, there are environmental puzzles underwater, and yes, I choked and drowned. It was because I was thinking again about archaeology – because the longest underwater caves, well over a hundred miles long, were found to harbor Mayan cultural artifacts and other new discoveries. The developers knew this too and mined the facts for thrilling results.
Shadow is the final tale in the trilogy which saw Lara Croft move from Tomb Raider’s survival to Rise’s daring decisiveness to Shadow’s confident strength, in which Lara is fully sturdy in mind and in body. The hour I spent inside Shadow of the Tomb Raider proved the game showed promise (Remember, this is a tidbit of a full game, so this it not a review). What I saw recalled the better adventure novels featuring powerful women protagonists like Island of Blue Dolphins, Parable of the Sowers, City of Bones and, yes, The Hunger Games. And like those books, it moves surprisingly fast. In its way, it’s a page-turner.
After the experience, I had the opportunity to speak with Jill Murray, the WGA-award winning writer who’s finishing the three-game series begun by Rhianna Pratchett. In this New York Videogame Critics Circle podcast, you’ll hear how Murray got her start as a novelist, how she moved into games, what it was like to work on Assassins Creed, and what the Keats poem tattoo on her left arm means to her – and perhaps to her writing in Tomb Raider.
Author/journalist Harold Goldberg is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Find out more at harold-goldberg.com