TOMB RAIDER

OXM too k an ex­plo ra­tory trip to Ei­dos Mo ntreal to get up clos e with Shadow Of The To mb Raider and talk to the team about Lara’s new, ter­ri­fy­ing ad­ven­ture

XBox: The Official Magazine - - CONTENTS - Stephen Ashby

Fear. It’s been at the core of the Tomb Raider se­ries since the re­boot in 2013, but this time, the team at Ei­dos Montreal are tak­ing things up a level. Fear is at the very core of Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, and the re­sult is a game that will not only chal­lenge your skills – it will test your nerve. This is the fi­nal en­try in Lara’s ori­gins tril­ogy, and the team plan to go out with a bang. We headed over to their Montreal stu­dio last month to see what the team has been work­ing on, play the game and ask them about their vi­sion for this ex­plo­sive fi­nale. The re­sult is a game that will feel fa­mil­iar to fans of the se­ries, but that shows clear evo­lu­tion in nar­ra­tive and style.

“You’re al­ways asked what is your game in a sen­tence,” ex­plains Dan Bis­son, Shadow’s cre­ative direc­tor. “At the time, the head of Ei­dos Montreal and the head of Crys­tal Dy­nam­ics chal­lenged me to pitch in one word. My an­swer was ‘fear’.” It seeps into ev­ery­thing – the world around you is scarier, the tombs are more ter­ri­fy­ing, and Lara her­self is a fig­ure to dread.

That starts with Lara’s new abil­i­ties, weapons and skills, all of which re­flect the game world. This time, Miss Croft is jour­ney­ing into Mex­ico and Peru, fol­low­ing clues that lead to an­cient Mayan and In­can ru­ins buried deep in the jun­gles of South Amer­ica. The team also teased a huge hub world – the big­gest hub they’ve ever made – for Lara to ex­plore. Ev­ery­where you go, the world is look­ing to kill you; Lara and Trin­ity are like a virus here, and the jun­gle is do­ing its best to push them out.

How­ever, as you progress, Lara will be­gin to work with the things that the jun­gle can pro­vide. That means tak­ing cover and shim­my­ing through un­der­growth, clam­ber­ing into the canopy to find ma­te­ri­als, and am­bush­ing un­sus­pect­ing en­e­mies. New wildlife will ap­pear, in­clud­ing big cats. And Lara’s weapon up­grades will use ma­te­ri­als she finds in there, too.

“What I love and what makes sense in the Tomb Raider uni­verse is, like, you’re not go­ing to find a bazooka against a tree,” laughs game­play direc­tor Vin­cent Mon­nier. “Ev­ery­thing has to make sense. You’re us­ing your en­vi­ron­ment, and that’s what makes you dif­fer­ent to the Trin­ity guys, who are out of their el­e­ment. You’re clever enough to take this, and craft some­thing that’s re­ally cool. The way [her ar­se­nal] evolves is al­most pri­mal, rather than tech­ni­cal or mil­i­tary­grade things.”

That ar­se­nal – the pis­tol, shot­gun and rifle all re­turn, along with the trusty bow – is backed up by a range of new abil­i­ties. Aside from climb­ing trees and press­ing against leafy sur­faces, Lara will be cov­er­ing her­self in mud, Preda­tor-style, to hide from Trin­ity goons, and will now be able to hang from ropes to ac­cess new ar­eas be­low those fa­mous white cliffs.

“We had her mus­cle up and toned her mus­cles to en­sure that she could do things in tra­ver­sal that she couldn’t do with the frame she had on Rise and Tomb Raider,” says Bis­son. Lara can ab­seil down sur­faces if needed, too, and even run along the cliff, while hang­ing from the rope, be­fore jump­ing off to an­other sur­face. Sounds fa­mil­iar, right? “These [moves] are kind of about nos­tal­gia at the same time, but you can see that she’s much more ca­pa­ble,” says Bis­son.

Un­der­wa­ter ex­plo­ration has also ex­panded this time around. Rise had some brief un­der­wa­ter sec­tions, but in Shadow Lara will be ex­plor­ing un­der­wa­ter cave sys­tems, and div­ing deeper into the earth than ever be­fore. While Rise had you as­cend­ing, and get­ting closer to God, in Shadow, the op­po­site is true – it’s a game about de­scend­ing down, ex­plor­ing the depths and the dark­ness that lives there. Hey, we said it was all about fear, didn’t we?

Spelunk­ing

The team were ea­ger to ex­plain that this fear ex­tends to the tombs that Lara will ex­plore in Shadow, too. “The tombs have evolved even more from Rise – I worked on the tombs in Rise. Fear is re­ally the core lens for the game, so what we’ve done is we’ve

“We had her mus­cle up to en­sure that she could do things she couldn’t be­fore”

“What we’ve done is we’ve made sure that ev­ery­thing is ac­tu­ally ter­ri­fy­ing”

made sure that ev­ery­thing is ac­tu­ally ter­ri­fy­ing,” says Mon­nier. “It’s not only the way you go, but what you see. The puz­zle and the phys­i­cal el­e­ments are de­signed to ac­tu­ally kill you, so when you ma­nip­u­late some­thing it’s not only solv­ing the puz­zle. You have to be clever, you have to look around and say, ‘okay, should I be touch­ing that right now, or should I se­cure some­thing?’ and that’s what I love.”

We only saw one tomb in our playthrough, and to be hon­est it wasn’t all that ter­ri­fy­ing. It fea­tured a sim­ple puz­zle in­volv­ing mov­ing, weighted plat­forms and a cart that we had to use to knock a new route into place. It was clas­sic Tomb Raider, and re­ally we were left want­ing a lit­tle more – it all felt a lit­tle too fa­mil­iar. Still, we only played through a sec­tion at the very start of the game – this is re­ally just a taster for what the rest of the game will of­fer. What was scarier was the route in and out of the tomb it­self. Af­ter dan­gling down over a rock that looked like a skull we en­tered a dark cor­ri­dor with odd dec­o­ra­tions hang­ing from above. The wind was rush­ing in through cracks in the rock, dark­ness sur­rounded us, and we’re not ashamed to ad­mit we were a lit­tle freaked out.

As it turned out, this was partly thanks to the creepy sound de­sign, as au­dio direc­tor Rob Brid­gett later ex­plained. “One of the things we’re do­ing is us­ing a mu­si­cal score that isn’t what you’d tra­di­tion­ally ex­pect here. We’re us­ing a lot of South Amer­i­can in­stru­ments and tex­tures. We also found that a lot of those sounds also work in the con­text of a sound ef­fect. We can put some of those sounds in a tomb, and have them as ac­tual sounds in that space. So we hope the player is un­sure about what is sound and what is mu­sic, and there’s a feel­ing of fear and un­cer­tainty.” Rob, let us tell you now: you’ve bloody nailed it.

Of course, this wouldn’t be TR with­out a few jump scares, and that’s an­other el­e­ment that Brid­gett has worked on. “Build­ing to a mo­ment like that, you have to make it quiet grad­u­ally so you don’t no­tice be­fore some­thing like that hap­pens, so it feels big­ger when it does oc­cur,” he ex­plains. “There are a lot of things like that where we’ve worked with the nar­ra­tive, and worked with the flow and the game de­sign to craft those mo­ments and make them feel more in­tense.”

The same goes for the story it­self, and the emo­tional beats that the team are try­ing to hit. The sec­tion we played be­gins with Lara and Jonah (yep, the love­able guy is back) hav­ing a beer in a small Mex­i­can town dur­ing Día de los Muer­tos – Day of the Dead. The pair are fol­low­ing the re­search of Lara’s fa­ther, and Trin­ity are also in the area. We start by ex­plor­ing the town and look­ing for clues, and oh my god it’s one of the coolest gam­ing en­vi­ron­ments we’ve seen in a while.

It’s dusk. The town is filled with peo­ple talk­ing, mu­sic play­ing and friends danc­ing in beau­ti­ful orange torch­light. The at­ten­tion to de­tail is in­cred­i­ble, and the world feels real. We could’ve ex­plored this tiny area for

an hour, but soon we spot­ted a Trin­ity agent, and the mis­sion took pri­or­ity.

Still, when was the last time you watched Lara Croft look­ing re­laxed, laugh­ing with a friend and hav­ing a beer? It feels like a slow start, but there’s a very good rea­son for that – like the grad­ual build to a jump-scare, this is the calm be­fore the storm. “In or­der to make some­thing scary on­screen, you have to have these lighter mo­ments as well. These mo­ments that are emo­tion­ally very dif­fer­ent to that, just so you can feel it,” muses Brid­gett. “You’ve got Jonah and Lara hav­ing a very re­laxed con­ver­sa­tion and get­ting ex­cited about some­thing. They’re in this safe marketplace, and the mu­sic is very happy and pos­i­tive, and you al­most need that in or­der to go to where we take it. You need these mo­ments of light in or­der to give you that dark­ness.”

It’s per­sonal

And boy does it get dark. Fast-for­ward back through the marketplace, down into the skull rock, through the creepy cave and across the weighted plat­forms. Af­ter solv­ing that first puz­zle, Lara finds a dag­ger on a stone plinth. She’s un­sure whether to take it, and Jonah tells her to leave it, but when she hears Trin­ity clos­ing in, she grabs it. Bad idea. The tomb starts shak­ing, and Lara turns around to see paint­ings on the stone be­hind her de­pict­ing the Mayan apoc­a­lypse, marked by four nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. Uh oh. Did Lara Croft just trig­ger the end of the world? No time to find out. Run!

Af­ter ex­it­ing the cave, we come across more Trin­ity guards, and a very fa­mil­iar shootout sce­nario plays out. There isn’t much new here – on-the-fly crafting is still A Thing, and shoot­ing red bar­rels makes a very pretty ex­plo­sion. It’s clas­sic Tomb Raider, with­out much of the evo­lu­tion we ex­pected. Again, this is the start of the nar­ra­tive, and more im­por­tantly this isn’t in a jun­gle, so we didn’t get to play with any of her Arnie-in­spired abil­i­ties.

Un­for­tu­nately for Lara, de­spite us eas­ily tak­ing out the goons, she’s al­most im­me­di­ately over­run by more of Trin­ity’s hench­men, along with their leader – Dominguez. He asks Lara for the dag­ger, and a mys­te­ri­ous (and prob­a­bly apoc­a­lypse-stop­ping) box, but when he re­alises she only has the dag­ger, things get a lit­tle weird. Dominguez blames Lara for caus­ing the apoc­a­lypse, and storms off say­ing he’s go­ing to have to fix her mess. Wait. Are Trin­ity… good­ies?

Turns out the Mayans re­ally don’t mess about, be­cause at this point the first dis­as­ter – a flood – hits, spark­ing one of the big­gest set-pieces of any Tomb Raider game to date. We are washed down streets that have turned to rapids, dodg­ing py­lons and grab­bing car doors to slow down. We swim past the corpses of lo­cals in sub­merged shops in a fan­tas­ti­cally eerie and heart-wrench­ing scene. We leap across rooftops as trucks wash past, de­stroy­ing things as they go, un­til we breath­lessly reach Jonah. It’s quite an in­tro­duc­tion.

The end of our demo sees Lara des­per­ate to fol­low Dominguez, re­claim the dag­ger and save the world. Af­ter all, she caused all this… didn’t she? “She’s re­ally forced to con­front her own com­plic­ity, and the ques­tion of how you can be com­plicit in some­thing when you al­ways had good in­ten­tions,” script writer Jill Mur­ray tells us. “I think that’s end­lessly in­ter­est­ing to ex­plore.” Jonah is more con­cerned with help­ing the in­jured sur­vivors, and the re­sult is an emo­tion­ally-charged scene that sees Jonah roar, “NOT EV­ERY­THING IS ABOUT YOU!”

“When you see what Dr Dominguez is say­ing, it’s like they both have hon­ourable in­ten­sions, it’s just the method­ol­ogy that is wrong,” ex­plains Ja­son Do­zois, Shadow’s nar­ra­tive direc­tor. “Jonah’s point of view is just ques­tion­ing ‘ are you re­spon­si­ble for this? You don’t know that, it’s just what some­one said to you.’ To me it’s great drama be­cause ev­ery­one thinks they’re right to an ex­tent, but they’re all slightly wrong.”

Act­ing out

This emo­tional scene rounds off an ac­tion-packed seg­ment, leav­ing us with a clear in­di­ca­tor of how the rest of the game will shape up. Camilla Lud­ding­ton re­turns as Lara, of course, and through a com­bi­na­tion of script and performance cap­ture the team hopes this will be the most pow­er­ful, be­liev­able Lara we’ve seen yet.

“When we wrote the scenes this time, we tried to leave a lot of room for the ac­tors to per­form,” says Mur­ray. “You can only take the script so far on the page and at that point it’s the ac­tors that bring life to it – but in or­der for them to bring life to it, you have to let them prac­tice their craft.”

Do­zois agrees. “We also worked very closely with the performance cap­ture direc­tor, who was ac­tu­ally a mem­ber of our team as op­posed to be­ing hired as an out­side,” he says. “To­gether we helped struc­ture the story so when you go and shoot, you have that free­dom to work with the ac­tors, and maybe im­pro­vise a line to take the scene fur­ther. The one on the rooftop is one that came back with an ex­cel­lent re­sult. We thought it was a great scene, but when you see that take and what Jonah is do­ing, it’s such a pow­er­ful mo­ment. Camilla’s face when they cap­tured that, that’s her nat­u­ral, sur­prised re­ac­tion to that take, and that comes off so well. We knew it was some­thing very spe­cial.”

It’s a fit­ting end to our day with Lara’s next ad­ven­ture. We’re left with plenty of ques­tions, and a huge de­sire to see more. We’re still yet to see the up­dated crafting, com­bat and stealth that the team is promis­ing, or what ‘be­com­ing one with the jun­gle’ re­ally means. There’s still plenty that they couldn’t say – which means the next few months will be most in­ter­est­ing. Stay tuned to OXM for more on the fi­nal seg­ment of Lara’s ori­gins tril­ogy.

“When we wrote scenes we tried to leave a lot of room for the ac­tors to per­form”

the of­fi­cial xbox mag­a­zine

the of­fi­cial xbox mag­a­zine

BE LOW Shadow’s game­play feels quite fa­mil­iar – we’re hop­ing for more next time we see it.

be­low This is just an­other bad day for Lara. That lady just can­not catch a break.

AB OVE Who needs guns when you’re a badass with a bow.

BE LOW With so many skulls around it’s no sur­prise this turns deadly.

LEFT Wad­ing through murky water is tame for Lara.

above The team used the ex­tra power of the Xbox One X to push the graph­i­cal performance to the max­i­mum.

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