One of our Best of E3 award winners from 2011 was back in full force at Square Enix’s booth for this year’s show. Tomb Raider showed evidence in a behind-closed-doors, hands-off demonstration that her upcoming adventure will truly be one of maturation: the hardening of a scared young girl into the imperturbable Lara Croft with whom gamers have grown familiar over the past 16 years.
We saw a very human representation of Lara this year, with numerous key moments driving home the themes one can expect when the game [finally] sees a release. Throughout the demo, the girl was battered beyond the abuse her body had already endured via the shipwreck, capture, and escape that open the game.
Even the simple task of crossing a log bridge proved daunting to Lara, as looking down an endless chasm would undoubtedly be to anyone who places a high priority on self-preservation. We witnessed Lara approach a few in-game moments like this, with a pause and a deep breath, before pushing herself forward. In the case of the log bridge, a slip and a cling made the act even more tense.
Difficulty of traversal, whether tangible to the player or not, was absolutely conveyed as Lara leapt to ledges and climbed an abandoned airplane hanging over a waterfall. On-screen button prompts were used to regain stability when Lara lost her grip or when her support gave way, and one time, a ledge broke under the weight of her hands, leading to a couple of emphatic thuds and a slide down a rainy rock slope.
Weather wasn’t just for show; the rain was a key part of the immersive setting, splashing droplets on the screen, making a disheveled Lara shiver like a wet dog, and providing another moment to humanize the girl when she paused under a rock ledge to drink the dripping rainwater out of cupped hands. Night fell, and she spent the night curled up on the cold ground next to a campfire pieced together from a few twigs and brush, lit using matches pulled from her friend’s discarded supply bag found along the way.
Experience points earned as Lara progressed were spent on survival skills at such campfires, and later we saw a salvage option that allowed Lara to reinforce a primitive axe she needed to use as a crank handle. Salvage will presumably be used for a variety of weapon and item upgrades in the final game.
Lara had to show ingenuity in a number of situations. She burned a path through a pile of wooden barrels with an improvised torch, and smashed her way through a locked door with the aforementioned axe, initially pulled from a slab of meat to Lara’s obvious disgust. She even had to hunt deer for food after pulling a bow from a hanging corpse and falling hard on the ground below. Again, her emotional anguish crept into view as she apologetically cut meat from the animal to feed herself. When she spoke on a two-way radio, words gave way to sobs.
Later in the demo, Lara came upon other people, beginning with her friend Samantha and a creepy man who Lara’s body language told us she didn’t trust. The green Lara’s instincts proved correct, as the man took Sam with a knife to her neck and ran; a bow-wielding Lara pursued.
Panicked action filled the rest of the demo, beginning with wolves’ slow-motion attacks on a crippled Lara in the painful clutches of a bear trap, and continuing with another capture by armed men after a reunion with some also-stranded comrades provided a short-lived glimmer of hope. Quick-time commands were used during the most intense moments, including a particularly disturbing struggle to avoid sexual assault while her hands were bound behind her back.
The demo ended with that slow-motion-emphasized struggle, during which Lara managed to free herself, grab a gun, and blow the man’s head apart. It was then that an utterly distraught, near-broken girl changed, and a stronger, less innocent Lara Croft emerged.
We’re very excited to see more of this transformation occur before our eyes when Tomb Raider arrives in early 2013.