Tomb Raider Preview (PS3)

I have a love-hate relationship with Ms Lara Croft, in that I’ve played nearly all of her games, enjoyed them a lot, but haven’t finished a single one. There’s always some element or badly designed moment that frustrates me so much I give up forever.

With one exception: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, the most recent and most inventive game in the series since the first. If it was clear to us that Lara once again needed a big shake-up that excellent game showed that it was obviously just as clear to Crystal Dynamics. Returning to proper Lara Croft adventures, enter the rebooted, brutal, believable, and if you were feeling unkind, Unchartedafied Tomb Raider. And I got a hands-on with it.

A typical day on Danjer Cove beach.

The demo didn’t last long but managed to highlight a lot of the gameplay mechanics. It’s not too far into the game but clearly takes place shortly after Lara has escaped from the creepy caves seen in that E3 video that introduced the world to the game. Starting out on a cliff-side overlooking a bay of shipwrecks, Lara has to make her way across the narrow pathway towards a camp-site where she knows her friends will be. Or rather hopes they will be.

Arguably the most advertised element in this new Tomb Raider is the sheer brutal realism of it all. Lara gets cut, impaled, burnt, beaten up, bruised and tortured, and that’s only in the first half hour. As such the Lara I played is bleeding, clutching her side, hobbling, and looks like she could do with a shower. I don’t know about you, but in that condition I couldn’t shimmy across a waterfall or jump and grab a ledge with only my fingertips. Lara does both a mere minute after I picked up the pad, but at least this shows the series’ trademark climbing hasn’t been forgotten. There’s definitely more than a hint of Uncharted to the climbing though, with extra-shiny ledges guiding you where she needs to go. There was the occasional ‘press X not to fall’ quick-time moment too.

The climbing was tense and fun, even if it must be said that Assassins Creed III was doing it much better across the way – much more freeform cliff-climbing with no need for shiny handholds. Fortunately Crystal Dynamics certainly aren’t afraid to mess with your expectations, as one regular climb came to a sudden stop with Lara falling into a deep cave. Luckily she found herself near the camp-site, but it seemed to be abandoned – either in a hurry or forcibly. Scavenging a radio but, strangely, not seeking out any supplies whatsoever from the backpacks, Lara moved on and got caught in a torrential rainstorm.

I think that guy’s king of the swingers.

Seeking shelter in a cave she found the remains of an old camp fire. It was here that I really began to feel sorry for the girl as she was cold, miserable, and shivering like crazy. The animation in this game is truly excellent, so much so I almost forgot I wasn’t watching a real actor. Motion captured very well, certainly. Lara made a fire, which apart from keeping her warm would be important later, and went to sleep.

Now the most Tomb Raider-y part begins: the slaughter of innocent animals! Kidding, especially as this time it’s all in the name of survival. A quick search uncovers a dead body hanging from a trap, but the good news is the guy has a crossbow on him. A bit of athletics and some good timing, and hey presto, Lara’s now armed and is ready to take on the local inoffensive wildlife. Aiming the crossbow is done by holding the left trigger and firing an arrow is the right, just as you’d expect. A couple of rabbits, three birds, and Bambi’s mom later and Lara can head back to the fire to cook some meat.

Everything I’d done up until now had gotten me XP to various degrees, which finally turned out to have a point as Lara sat down next to the fire. Camps are where we can spend those XP points on various skills. I went for the ability to retrieve arrows from dead animals, which may have seemed redundant since the demo would be over momentarily but does at least show that hunting animals to survive will be a proper ongoing feature in the game and not just a fancy crossbow tutorial.

This is going to hurt Bambi a lot more than it hurts you.

After levelling and eating some cooked deer Lara was surprised to get contacted by her uncle (I think I heard her call him that at least) over the radio she’d scavenged earlier. After explaining the situation, bursting into tears and being told to “pull yourself together, man” (perhaps he forgot she was a girl) she was told to head up the mountain to reach them. “You can do it Lara,” her uncle said reassuringly. “After all, you’re a Croft.”

This demo of Tomb Raider may have been a lot more linear to play than previous games but there were certainly hints at a compellingly different experience, like survival being first and forefront. Yes there’s shooting, climbing, Uncharted setpieces and the now-obligatory levelling-up system, but Crystal Dynamics could very well be crafting an interesting and unique adventure a million miles away from any hint of Angelina Jolie. And that’s a very good thing in my book.

Most Anticipated Moment: How in-depth Crystal Dynamics will evolve the survival element.

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By Syniz (I just got here) on Oct 04, 2012
I can't wait for this game! Go CD!