E3 2011 – Tomb Raider Preview
I want you to forget everything you knew about the Tomb Raider franchise. Forget the green tank top, the dual pistols, the tombs, the raiding, the boobs, and most importantly, forget everything you know about Lara Croft.
Now, allow me to introduce you to Lara Croft.
She’s 21, fresh out of college and currently hanging upside down in the cave of a madman after her first expedition at sea has gone horribly wrong. Desperate to break free, she swings herself like a pendulum, eventually knocking into a torch. The torch creates a flame that she uses to ignite herself, breaking her bonds and sending her down into the water below.
She’s safe, but she fell onto a spike that pierces her abdomen. A quick time event allows the player to mash the X button as he or she looks on at Lara’s agonizing face as she rips the spike out of her body.
This intense scene sets the stage for “Tomb Raider,” the new reboot developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square-Enix.
While other titles in the series focused primarily on adventure and treasure hunting, this new “Tomb Raider,” seems to place the focus on realistic survival in an extremely harsh environment with a main character who is little more than your average young adult. This Lara isn’t a smart mouthed, gun toting, femme fatale who can overcome any situation by circle strafing around her enemies while shooting her pistols and performing side flips.
She’s scared, vulnerable, realistically proportioned and relatable as an ordinary human thrust into an extraordinary circumstance where she must do what she has to in order to survive.
As Lara explores the cave after removing the spike, she’s suddenly grabbed by her crazed captor. After shaking him off (through a quick time event), Lara quickly starts running deeper into the cave as the camera gets really up close on Lara’s terrified face as she frequently turns her head to check to see if the maniac is still chasing her. The whole scene is incredibly well done with believable voice acting coming from Lara, intense music and fantastic camera work.
As the demo continued we were introduced to the role fire plays in the puzzles. For example, in the puzzle that I saw, Lara had to find a way to ignite a barricade of explosive barrels, but the problem was that the path from the fire source to the barrels had a waterfall that would douse the flame. In order to help Lara out, she could call upon her instincts with a press of a button. While in this vision mode, items that were necessary to the solution of the puzzle were highlighted in gold. This is all completely optional, so those who would prefer to solve things on their own can choose to completely ignore it.
Through some clever use of fire and physics, Lara blasts open the barricade, but gets swept away by the current and tumbles, rather painfully, until she finally reaches the bottom. Now we’re treated to some traditional platforming as Lara leaps across chasms until she’s once again caught by the native.
“I just want to help you” he screams. Lara doesn’t believe him as she kicks him away and a boulder crashes on his head – provided that you passed the quick time event of course. The cave is crumbling down around Lara now as she makes a break for the light.
When she emerges, we get a first glimpse of the island. Shipwrecked boats that have clearly been there for a long time can be seen off in the distance, giving off the impression that this island definitely has some sort of strange mystery behind it. Not unlike “Lost.”
Next our demo jumped ahead in time to a point in the game where Lara has met another survivor. An older man named Roth. After Roth gets attacked by a wolf and gets a nasty wound on his leg, Lara takes it upon herself to enter the wolves’ den and retrieve both a radio and first aid kit that had been stolen.
It’s worthy of praise when I genuinely felt dread every time Lara went over to check on Roth’s vitals. In just this short demo, the game had effectively made me connect with Lara enough to actually care about whether her only companion the world right now lived or died.
The journey to the wolves den had Lara jumping from cliffs, to pieces of wreckages, to tree branches, with every animation looking extremely fluid. Even more fluid and natural than Uncharted, dare I say it. Noah Hughes of Crystal Dynamics commented that the team didn’t want to have that magnetic feeling you get from other platformers where it feels like your character gets sucked to the next object you’re supposed to jump to. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing really depends on how tricky the platforming gets and how well Crystal Dynamics was able to implement the jumping system, but from the demo, all of the platforming seemed relatively painless.
As Lara made her way to the wolves’ den, you could frequently hear her talking to herself much like how Drake does in Uncharted. Instead of mostly sarcastic and action heroey one-liners though, Lara’s comments reflect her self-doubt and her attempts to convince herself of what she has to do. As she hears the howl of a wolf, she tries to talk herself out of the fear by saying “Oh god… Come on, you’ve got to do this.”
As Lara reaches the wolves’ den, there’s a feeling of dread as shadows of wolves can frequently be seen scurrying across the cave. Once Lara finally reaches the radio and first aid kit, she’s finally attacked. Another quick time sequence has her fighting off and killing the wolf by repeatedly stabbing it in the neck with a small knife. “Sorry… It was me or you,” says Lara. Hughes says that Lara doesn’t kill for sport, but will do whatever she has to in order to survive.
After Lara patches up Roth, the two have a warm heart to heart conversation and for the first time in the entire demo, we see Lara look relaxed and not fearing for her life. A welcome change of pace, and I look forward to seeing how the mentorship relationship between Roth and Lara grows.
But unfortunately that will all have to wait, because this is where our demo concluded. In case you haven’t been able to feel my excitement by now, I’m extremely psyched about this game. Not only is it a fresh take on a beloved gaming icon, but it’s also shaping up to be a very unique action platformer with engaging and likable characters, high production values and a story seemingly full of mystery and intrigue.
While no hard release date has been set, make sure to keep an eye out for “Tomb Raider” in 2012.