Tomb Raider Preview

It’s been three years since the last full console title in the Tomb Raider series was released. It was also the last of the old Lara Croft, as Crystal Dynamics is now rebooting with a dramatic new approach to the tone of both the series and its leading lady. This new, younger Lara Croft is a much more grounded and humanized character than the Lara who had young male gamers scouring magazines and the internet for the mythical nude code back in the late 90s. Many were curious if this new direction would do justice to the series’ origins while striking a bold course. From what I was able to see at E3, the product is all positive.

At the start of my demo session I was introduced to the first on-island gameplay sequence. Lara is fresh out of college and 21 years of age. She is on her first archeological adventure with her mentor Conrad Roth, a middle-aged male explorer who seems to be an old partner of her father. Unfortunately their ship is torn apart and capsizes in the midst of a massive storm, and Lara blacks out during the event.

We come in when Lara finally regains consciousness. She discovers that she is in some sort of cave, strung upside-down and tied up. The only method for her to escape is by lighting herself and her bonds on fire via a nearby cauldron. After engulfing herself in the flames, Lara painfully writhes back and forth to free herself. Once she does, she plummets to the cave floor, impaled by a metal rod. Crystal Dynamics really drives home the gritty theme that the game will feature right out of the gate with this scene. The player, taking control of Lara, is forced to remove the rod from her abdominal region (with a quick-time button mash). She lets out a wail of pain before slowly stumbling to her feet.

Once she gets her bearings, Lara begins to make her way through the cavern. Candles illuminate what seem to be small ritualistic shrines of sacrifice, mutilated corpses suspended in the air by all four limbs, each in front of a drawing. Torches also give light to the cave, and Lara is quick to grab one to help guide her way. Shortly after acquiring the torch, she is forced to pass through a narrow passage with a waterfall at the end. Upon crossing the flowing threshold, the water extinguishes her torch, showing the player that this basic rule of physics will be honored in the game.

Reflecting on her captivity, it becomes obvious that Lara was put in her earlier hanging position by the natives. After reigniting her torch and making it to a crawlspace, one of them finds the young adventurer and tries to silence her for good. As the savage man grabs her leg, a quick-time event kicks off. The player must quickly jostle the left analog stick back and forth in order for Lara to kick herself free. To show the consequences of failure, the Crystal Dynamics representative playing my demo session did not try to free Lara. The result showed the savage pull Lara underneath him before driving a scythe-like weapon into her chest. A lesson has been given to all who aim to play the game: You won’t get a second chance. Get the QTE right or you’ll have to start the sequence all over again.

After the crawlspace collapses between Miss Croft and her pursuer, the native is heard calling and teasing for Lara to come out. She is forced to continue forward, as it is the only path afforded to her. When Lara drops into a segment of the passage that comes up to her neck in water with a very low ceiling, some of the graphical muscle behind Tomb Raider flexes. The water ripples and Lara tries to swim her way through the cave as terror and fright cover her face. The flames from her torch lick across the cavern’s canopy.

The next segment of the cave brought with it the introduction to both the puzzle-solving elements in Tomb Raider and Lara’s “survival instincts.” Players will be able to activate the “survival instincts” with the Y or triangle button, initiating a sort of eagle vision. This will show you how the end result of a puzzle looks among other functions. After using the vision to see that a blocked passageway must be blown open, my demo player showed how to solve the intricate puzzle. Using the torch to burn ropes and thus operate a sort of elevator shaft, Lara eventually gets flammable objects onto the lift and sets them ablaze. The items drop down a ramp into the passageway, blowing it open and allowing her to escape.

The explosion may provide a way out, but it also cripples the cave’s integrity. A fast-paced platforming segment then begins where Lara has to run and jump her way through the cave to quickly find an exit. As she nears one, the native from before catches up to her, triggering another QTE. This time the savage is not so lucky, as he is unable to avoid the cave collapsing in on him during the second go-around. Shortly after, another QTE sequence occurs as Lara desperately crawls toward a tiny exit and the cavern disintegrates around her. Quick use of both trigger buttons or R2 and L2, one after the other, sees Lara to safety. She emerges from under a tree to find herself on the cliff on a island, looking down upon the wreckage of several ships from various eras.

The action shifts from here, now showing Lara as she travels through the island at night. After hearing the cries and scuffle of wolves and Conrad Roth, Lara rushes to the scene. Roth has killed or scared away the wolves, but is wounded from the encounter. After a quick and unsanitary patch-up job, Roth lets Lara know that the wolves took both their medical supplies and radio transceiver. Since the supplies and radio are needed for both Roth’s survival and the pair’s escape from the island, Roth insists they both go and find it. Unfortunately, Roth succumbs to the pain of his wounds and blacks out upon trying to stand. Left alone with no other choice, Lara puts Roth down safely and timidly sets out.

Lara jumps on and climbs through village houses, shrines, cliffs, and airplane wreckage. She scales walls using the A or X (PlayStation 3) button and grabs onto the edges of cliffs with the X (Xbox 360) or Square button. It all looked very fluid and quite similar to the platforming found in the Uncharted series, though Tomb Raider doesn’t look like it will give you the benefit of specially colored objects to guide your way.

Using the “survival instincts,” Lara is able to find and follow the wolves’ paw prints back to their cave. After finding and recovering the pack with the supplies and transceiver, Lara is attacked and forced to kill one of the wolves, barehanded. After the wolf is defeated, Lara reacts in a much more regretful, humanizing manner than her bravado-filled former self would have. “It was you or me,” she says in an apologetic tone to the deceased animal.

Upon returning to the camp and patching Roth up, the scene cuts to Roth waking to find Lara huddled over the fire. After a short discussion in which Roth goes over with Lara what he’s taught her, he informs the overwhelmed youth that she needs to take the transceiver to the nearby radio tower at the highest peak on the island. Before she departs, Roth hands Lara a pair of climbing axes, emphasizing that Tomb Raider will take place in an open world that will offer several paths to take in order to reach your goal.

Lastly, Crystal Dynamics explained to us how every campsite in the game will act as a sort of hub and menu for the player. Here you will be able to fast travel to other camps, upgrade your weapons and gadgets, and even take part in the game’s yet undisclosed salvaging and crafting system.

Out of the entire demo, the only complaint I could truly lodge is whether or not the voice actress for Lara thought she was supposed to act out pain or sexual pleasure. During many instances where Lara was being beaten, impaled, and dropped, one could close their eyes and think that what they were really watching was a porno and not a game. Perhaps some more work in the audio booth can be done to change that before release.

Aside from the audio, which is not much of a problem, there really didn’t seem to be anything that could keep Tomb Raider from being an absolute hit. Lara is younger, more human, and dare I say sexier than her previous incarnation. The platforming looks smooth and enjoyable, the QTEs come at intensely fitting moments, puzzle solving looks to bring a great challenge, and the graphical nuances help immerse the player in the game world. It seems that Lara is all set for a triumphant resurrection when Tomb Raider releases in 2012 for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.


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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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