Crystal Dynamics talks surviving Shadow of the Tomb Raider: "Literally everything around you can kill you"

Lara Croft is back in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and this time she's dealing with Trinity soldiers and human sacrifices in the jungles of Peru. After going hands on with the new game - and getting to grips with Lara climbing through temples and her nasty habit of nearly drowning - we sat down with Crystal Dynamics brand manager Chris Johnston to find out more about the final chapter in Lara's origin story. 

Lara has evolved at this point, but how do you strike the balance between badass and psycho?
Chris Johnston: In the game it's always about Lara reacting to what's being thrown at her, and we always try to make sure that's done in a very realistic way, so it's never overdone. We always try to make sure that Lara remains a very likeable character. That's just who she is as a person; it's about her responding to her surroundings and her wanting to survive.

Lara looks dismayed in the CGI trailer for Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Is it going to feel different playing as this new, evolved Lara? Will things have changed in terms of her combat abilities?
This is the most capable Lara Croft that players have seen in the origin story. So as she goes through the jungle, it's about her becoming one with it, about using the jungle to her advantage. She's outgunned, she's outnumbered, she's not made of Teflon, so she needs to be very smart and resourceful in combat. 

That includes things like using mud as a camouflage, using the trees to do aerial takedowns. Stealth is going to be a big factor in the game as well, because these Trinity soldiers are badass - they're fully loaded with these big machine guns, so it's about players being able to strategically take them down. If you're an all-guns-blazing player, sure, you can go and craft weapons on the fly, explosives [too]. If you're more of a stealth player, you can hide in the bushes, let things play out a bit more.

One of the new things in the game as well is that - if you remember in Rise of the Tomb Raider, once you engaged in combat, you couldn't return to stealth. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, if you can escape from everyone and they can't find you, it will reset so you can go at it again. 

The jungle feels like it's going to play a huge role this time around.
When we look at our environments, they're characters to us. If you think about Yamatai [the ancient Japanese kingdom from 2013's Tomb Raider], it's a character as much as anyone else. Same with Rise and Siberia, same with this jungle. This is the most unforgiving and brutal place Lara has ever been - literally everything around you can kill you. It's about Lara adapting to those surroundings and using them to her advantage. 

Lara's face has definitely changed. What was the thinking behind that?
When you look closely, you can actually see scars on her face from Tomb Raider. Every single game, you can see what she's been going through, you can see the marks. It's almost like scars are badges of honor for her as she goes through each of these games. 

If you look at her character model, her face is the same, but her actual musculature has changed. After doing all that climbing, after being very obsessed with wanting to find Trinity, that's all taking a toll on her body. You want to make sure that's visible to the players as well. 

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Introducing swimming was a big focus for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and in the hour we played we nearly drowned twice...
When you talk about swimming, it's something that's very nostalgic to the franchise. In Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara is able to go underwater, but doesn't have full 360 degree exploration. So we're taking something that's classic to the franchise and putting it through a survival lens. 

We took inspiration from National Geographic videos of these scuba divers exploring, and they literally have to take off their scuba gear to fit through some really narrow cracks. So it's one of those things where we're making the player feel comfortable for a bit, and then all of a sudden, we throw something at you that you're not really expecting.

You say this game is where Lara becomes the Tomb Raider. When you started the trilogy, did you always know how this game would end?
It's a difficult question to answer, because I don't work on the narrative team, but there was definitely an end point that we saw. There were plenty of things along the way where we wanted to keep expanding on the storyline and showing the growth of the character. That's the really important thing for us: showing how Lara is evolving.

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Rachel Weber
Managing Editor, US

Rachel Weber is the US Managing Editor of GamesRadar+ and lives in Brooklyn, New York. She joined GamesRadar+ in 2017, revitalizing the news coverage and building new processes and strategies for the US team.