Tomb Raider – Hands-On Preview

Title   Tomb Raider
Developer  Crystal Dynamics
Publisher  Square-Enix
Platform  Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Genre  Open-World Survival
Release Date  Q1 2013
Official Site

Reboots always seem to be a tricky business; between the whiny fans complaining that they’ve changed it so it sucks now and the constant expectations of the current gaming market, there’s a definite rock versus hard place scenario. Yet, this generation of consoles has seen a vast array of remakes and start-overs, complete with a subtitle beginning with ‘R’, or forgoing subtitles and numbers entirely, and it’s slowly becoming more difficult not to be cynical about it. Well, it was until Crystal Dynamics unveiled Tomb Raider, bringing a new iteration of Lara Croft literally screaming and kicking onto our screens back at last year’s E3.

Back in June, I finally made my way to the hallowed halls of the Los Angeles Convention Centre, and came out near-singing the praises of everyone involved with the game, much to the chagrin of everyone else in the car seeing as they’d already banned me from lyrical outbursts. In the months following the presentation that dropped my jaw and left me naming Tomb Raider my game of E3, my excitement failed to waver, so when the time came to get some hands-on with the new Tomb Raider, I grabbed a controller with relish.

As the demo was comprised entirely of what I’d already seen at E3 several months prior, I took the opportunity to try and explore the surrounding areas and delay the end of my experience as much as possible. Guiding Lara through the hazards that awaited her, the controls were more than responsive and intuitive to boot, so there was never any difficulty or frustration on that front. Jumping actually felt a bit mixed, as in context-sensitive situations it was completely fine, but it felt slightly floaty when the linearity gave way to the more open sections of the environment. Some quick-time sequences that would normally give me pause blended in well with the action – serving as a way to keep the player focused on the action rather than there for the sake of inclusion.

As Lara scavenged for food to survive, I took the opportunity to explore the dense pocket of forest and made sure to leave no stone unturned, and it was here that I found myself falling further for Crystal Dynamics’ reboot. Scattered throughout the environment were plenty of avenues to explore, with most of them offering a reward in the form of additional arrows or a new vantage point. As the landscape was more free-forming, Lara’s jumping seemed to become slightly less precise than in the guided sections but, if anything, this seemed to help reach certain sections of the map. Piquing my interest further was the presence of a small scavenge box that could only be opened with the pry tool that came later on in the demo, leaving me itching to come back and explore the area again once I’d gathered more tools.

In the area where you’re first provided with the pry tool, I found a treasure hidden nearby, bestowing some additional experience and allowing me to investigate it at all angles, though I found it odd that its discovery only gave me a fraction of the experience other actions were relinquishing. It seemed off that if collectibles are to be a part of the final release that they apparently gave so insignificant a reward. A later collectible took the form of an abandoned scripture that would be narrated upon examination, providing a small facet of back-story to the island that Lara and her cohorts have been left stranded on.

Once my experience meter had filled, I took to a base-camp and spent as much time as I could observing the survival skills Lara could learn throughout the course of the reboot. Each skill belonged to one of three tiers, with bronze skills needing only one point to activate, silver two, but those pertaining to gold required a whopping five to adopt. While I wasn’t sure how many points you’d acquire throughout the game, it was evident that some skills would be more useful than others depending on your playing style, particularly as those in the highest tier served to encourage additional exploration, ranging from revealing nearby tombs to negating the damage taken from long falls.

Thinking I’d only be able to activate one ability, I opted for the arrow retrieval I’d seen in the presentation, so that I’d be better able to supply myself with ammunition for the rest of the demo. However, I could also have chosen to gain additional experience from salvaging plants or been able to more effectively pick out animals with Lara’s survival instinct, which was activated via the left bumper and turned the surroundings into a stylish monochrome. Other abilities in higher tiers included re-appropriating animal corpses as salvage, and increased rewards for looting, each allowing you to adopt another style of play if needed.

As my time with Tomb Raider drew to a close, the only obstacle that lay before me was the infamous scene that caused weeks of discussion – Lara is captured, bound and forced to attempt escape, when her plan goes awry when she’s discovered and set upon by the gang’s ringleader, who gets a little too close for comfort in the eyes of many pundits. It’s certainly an uncomfortable scene, and its inclusion is something I defended back when I crowned Tomb Raider my game of E3, so I was intent on discovering whether the price of failure would indeed leave Lara tarnished as so many seemed obsessed that she would. Making sure to fail at every opportunity the quick-time event sequence gave me, I discovered that the consequences of failure involve Lara either being throttled to death, or shot through the face in a manner incredibly similar to her aggressor if your button mashing reigns victorious, but nothing else.

Where the assumptions of many turned out fruitless in that scenario, it’s a somewhat safer bet that, come Tomb Raider’s release, players are going to see something absolutely special. I found myself leaving the demo even more excited for the title than I was when I left E3, even though I was treading now-familiar ground. Being able to explore the world in greater detail and uncover hidden depths of the island gave me a greater sense of the scale of the game, and I have no doubt that when it releases, Tomb Raider is going to be the reboot that’ll make everyone stand up and love Lara Croft all over again.

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