E3 2012: Tomb Raider
The new Tomb Raider is about survival. It’s the story of the iconic Lara Croft and her struggle against the elements. We were given a demonstration connecting the vignettes shown in the recent E3 trailer.
The demo picked up right where last year’s left off. Lara had just made it onto shore after narrowly escaping a tomb. On the shore we find a bunch of shipwrecked boats and the inviting yet dangerous peaks of the island hills to explore.
While this was a Crystal Dynamics-led demo, a good portion of what we saw of Tomb Raider were cinematic parts and much of the mechanics appeared to be slightly automated. Few parts felt like we were missing out on the full experience of playing the game.
What did come through, more so than in the prior Tomb Raider adventures, was the sense of connection with the character. Lara trembled violently against the harsh conditions and groaned as she braved her way up the fierce path. She became instantly more grounded than her triangle-breasted former self and more relatable. This evolution comes as an essential modernization for the brand. She is no longer an over-idealized ’90 caricature of a teenage boy’s idea of what a woman is. The modern thing is to be real.
Alongside the newly improved Lara, her environments have undergone a tonal shift to match. The natural elements spring to life with waterfalls, streams, and some wildlife.
At one point in the demo, Lara broke free from the cinematic restraints and was able to hunt for food using a bow and arrow she nabbed from a dead guy who was hanging in some tree. This relayed a potential for opening up the title’s scope beyond the more linear, cinematic moments. After Lara claimed her food and apologized for sticking it with a bunch of arrows, a new ‘survival instinct’ mechanic was shown that allows Lara to retrace her footsteps if players want to jump right back into a mission.
The demo tied a series of high-intensity events together quickly. At one point Lara finds her friend in the company of a strange man and then her friend gets captured. Then Lara gets snagged in a bear trap and then she is found by other friends and soon one of them allows them to be captured. This leads into a stealth-oriented escape segment and a series of quick-time events. It’s a shame with these games that want to be cinematic and utilize quick-time events to accomplish that, rather than aiming for an atmosphere or tone that might be well-conveyed in films.
The new Tomb Raider, while heavily cinematic, looks to be a compelling and naturalistic reboot for a franchise long in need of a tonal shift. And while we were unable to play the cut of content, it’s given us hope that Crystal Dynamics is on the right track and we’re looking forward to seeing how it comes out when it’s released early next year.