PAX Prime 2012: Tomb Raider hands-on
Tomb Raider, the reboot, has long been a game I’ve lusted for. I’ve enjoyed all of Crystal Dynamics’ entries in the Croft legacy, but rebooting the series seemed like the right thing. My least favorite part of the Tomb Raider pantheon has long been the overly convoluted history of the Crofts and the clandestine villains they’ve been at odds with for centuries. All I want out of Tomb Raider is Lara and the unknown.
On the PAX floor I took a moment to play through the ‘Hunting demo’, which was largely the same sequence of events Associate Editor Calvin Kemph watched at E3. The demo picked up with Lara wounded on the edge of sheer cliff, giving way to the ocean far below. The path leading around the cliff was linear and controlling Lara was quite deliberate, underscoring the injuries she’d sustained prior. Far below, strewn across the rocks of the ocean, lay a graveyard of derelict vessels. This Tomb Raider sets a tone quickly and clearly: the world is your enemy.
Not far up the path a large gap obstructs Lara from continuing. Fortunately, an old World War II-era plane has been lodged in the growth, creating a makeshift climbing surface and an undeniable nod to the set pieces of the Uncharted series – it specifically reminded me of the U-Boat reveal, but on a smaller scale. Scaling the plane is done simply with a button press and an analog direction, guiding Lara from one hand-hold to the next, occasionally broken up with a quick input to steady Lara’s grip after a larger jump. Predictably, parts of the plane begin to dislodge from the cliff-face, causing a moment of panic as I guided her to safety.
After setting up a small camp, Tomb Raider treated me to a brief cutscene of Lara huddled up next to her fire. Crystal Dynamics has long stated they wanted to break Lara down before building her up into the hero she’s known as, and this small sequence, even on a crowded show floor, went a long way towards endearing this younger, more fragile Lara to me as a player.
Following the cutscene I needed to find some food. I followed the path into a small clearing and discovered the remains of a man hanging from a tree. Conveniently the man had fashioned a crude bow out of some reeds, so I climbed a near ledge and scaled a tree, allowing me to salvage the bow.
Scattered about the clearing were a few deer and rabbits. Considering I only had three arrows I decided to tackle the larger target and dropped a couple bolts into the rear of the deer; she didn’t drop, though she let out a few heartbreaking, pitiful noises. My third arrow missed, and unfortunately I couldn’t salvage the wayward arrow. As the deer ran about in pain, I set off searching for more arrows, half expecting a Square Enix booth attendee to come to my rescue. I finally found a perch after a few moments with extra bolts and proceeded to drop the beast.
As I moved to the deer’s side a new cutscene took over. Lara took to her knees beside the animal, visibly shaken by the task ahead of her, but thankful of the sacrifice the animal had made for her. Like the moment at the fire earlier, these brief pauses made me empathetic with Lara. Admittedly, the sequences are a bit heavy handed, but they’re undoubtedly effective as a narrative tool.
After butchering the animal I headed back to camp. As Lara had her fill, as did I, at which point I parted ways with the demo. From what I experienced Tomb Raider has a solid, though familiar foundation to build from. It’s hard to look at the game and not think about all the backlash from this year’s E3 concerning the possibly implied sexual-assault of Lara, and the gratuitous nature of the violence perpetrated against her, but separated from all that, this demo felt intimate and impactful. Whether the rest of Lara’s origin can convey those emotions as tastefully is up for debate. We’ll have to wait till next March to find out for sure.