'Shadow of the Tomb Raider' Explores the Emotional Toll of Becoming an Icon

Adventurers tend to travel light, but Lara Croft packs a lot of (emotional) baggage in her latest outing, Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The story opens in Mexico, with Lara hot on the heels of the nefarious organization known as Trinity, attempting to snag an ancient relic before they do. She gets there first, but there's a teensy little problem: by taking the artifact, she unwittingly triggers a Mayan apocalypse. Whoops.

Since 2013's Tomb Raider, the rebooted franchise aims to make Lara a more complex character. This Lara Croft is someone capable of making mistakes while also showing great courage and formidable survival instincts. She's also got a more down-to-earth appearance and backstory, allowing fans to better understand an ordinary young woman's journey to become a world-class adventurer.

lara croft shadow thoughtful
Lara has a thoughtful moment in "Shadow of the Tomb Raider." Square Enix

"She was perfect. She was a kind of James Bond. Hypersexualized. Maybe it was good for this time, I don't know," Eidos Montréal Head of Studio David Anfossi told Newsweek, speaking of the mid-1990s version of the character. "She is iconic because of the previous games, but for me it was the wrong way to be iconic. Now she's iconic and respected because of her true character, facing obstacles and learning from that and becoming a strong woman. Not because she has—sorry!—big boobs and shorts."

For the team at Eidos Montréal, Lara's personal growth and evolution is every bit as important to the story of Shadow of the Tomb Raider as its daunting exploration and exotic environments. "You want to work with this very iconic character and explain what she faced to become this tomb raider, the person she is now. You cannot do that with a caricature," Anfossi explained. "You want to touch people."

The rituals and traditions of Mesoamerican cultures made for an optimal setting in which to explore this definitive chapter in Lara's life, now that she's finally mastered the survival skills she learned in Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider. "We wanted Lara to experience extreme situations, and the Mayan culture is very extreme in the sense that they have this cult around death. It's a very brutal civilization, but a very educated civilization at the same time," said Anfossi. "But also, there's a mythology around the gold temples … something unreachable. Lara is, at the beginning of the game, very driven by revenge. But she will learn through the game—sorry, spoiler!—that it's totally unreachable. She will live with Maya and Inca civilizations throughout the game, so she will learn that brutality is not the only answer, but there is something other than that."

lara explores a tomb in shadow of the tomb raider
Lara explores an ancient site in "Shadow of the Tomb Raider." Square Enix

Immersion is key to the success of Shadow of the Tomb Raider and the team at Eidos Montréal wanted its portrayal of the Mayan and Incan culture to be both historically accurate and respectful. The team worked with professors and cultural consultants to ensure its treatment of myth, tradition and daily life was precise.

"[The story is] linked to the end of the Mayan calendar, so we have to understand that perfectly: the purpose of this calendar and the prophecy and everything. You will spend a lot of time living with them to understand what school was like at this time, fishing, the market," Anfossi told Newsweek. "Also, there is a purpose on the story side: Lara will understand her true nature and what she's meant to be through this contact with the civilization, because of their culture and how they live every day. If you're not true to that, it's difficult to justify how Lara will evolve throughout the game."

Shadow of the Tomb Raider comes to PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One on September 14. Check out our hands-on impressions of the game, here.