It’s kind of serendipitous that Square Enix is celebrating Tomb Raider’s 25th anniversary in October. Just in time for Halloween, likely unintentionally honoring the spooky season, the publisher has unveiled early development footage of a canceled Lara Croft adventure that saw the British explorer trying to survive the horror.
The project was called Tomb Raider: Ascension. It eventually got scrapped in favor of Crystal Dynamics’ successful 2013 reboot. But based on newly revealed prototype gameplay, Ascension sought to take elements from games such as Resident Evil and Shadow of the Colossus to make a tense, grotesque survival horror experience sorta like The Evil Within.
And it’s actually frightening! The prototype footage below shows a pre-rendered (and eventually, a lo-fi) Lara Croft roaming around some viney underground cave before encountering a monstrosity with tentacles and stretchy appendages and other weird shit. These enemies are very gross.
But one of the more terrifying parts is a sequence about two minutes into the seven-minute gameplay video. Lara burns her way through what looks like an ornate temple, setting ablaze not just the structure itself, but also a number of creepy, frenzied, spiky-headed enemies with long...fingernails? The music set over the footage is eerie and has plenty of sharp stings to induce a jump scare or two.
Things get stranger when Lara hits more open environments. After some horseback riding, she’s greeted by a big-ass monster that could have been a Dark Souls boss in another life. This horrifying thing initiates a chase sequence that would scare me half to death.
There are two other, albeit shorter, videos that accompanied the prototype gameplay. One dives into early concept art, showcasing that Lara Croft in Tomb Raider: Ascension would have traveled with a young girl, recalling a core mechanic in Ico. The other highlights Xbox 360 box art and even gives us some voice-over.
According to Video Games Chronicle, Square Enix’s digital book Tomb Raider: The Final Hours reveals that Crystal Dynamics abandoned the project because doubt fomented. Apparently, the team had no faith that Tomb Raider: Ascension would be as good as Batman: Arkham Asylum. This comparison drove the studio to pivot development, ultimately resulting in 2013's Tomb Raider.
It’s worth noting that while Tomb Raider: Ascension may have never materialized, much of the prototype’s vibes can be sensed in Tomb Raider. Furthermore, the 2013 game’s plot involves a ceremony called an “ascension.” They may be totally different games, but the DNA of Ascension nevertheless seems present in the reboot.
The reveal of this canceled Lara Croft adventure comes several months after fans uncovered yet another scrapped project. That one, a 10th anniversary PSP remake of Core Design’s very first Tomb Raider game, resurfaced in January and is now playable on PC via direct download.