Preview by: Mark Turcotte
It seemed like a moment of deja vu this past winter when it was revealed that there would be yet another entry into the 15 year-old Tomb Raider series. The announcement was accompanied by reasons for why this game was going to be the return of Lara, but somehow they all seemed eerily familiar, recalling things that had been said about Lara’s previous 8 sequels. As I walked into Square’s demo room to see what Lara’s new adventure had in store, I had few expectations. When I walked out I was convinced that Lara was finally back and that next year’s Tomb Raider would be the game that fans have been waiting for.
With this Tomb Raider, Crystal Dynamics scrapped everything they knew about Lara Croft and started from scratch. Gone is the seasoned adventurer whom we’ve all come to know, and instead we’re presented with a young woman, vulnerable and trying to survive. Survival is the key to this new game, and I probably heard the word survival 10 to 15 times throughout the 40 minute demo. We began with Lara’s boat crashing, and her falling to the bottom of a cave. A gruesome injury awaited her at the bottom with a bone gouging her side. A quick time event (QTE) forced her to pull the bone out and left her bleeding and in need of medical assistance. From there we saw Lara find a way out of the cave by solving environmental puzzles and using the physics of water and fire.
At one point a native of the island attacks Lara and the game went back into a QTE to have her kick him off. The developer purposely failed the QTE and allowed Lara to be killed. What proceeded to happen was one of the most gruesome and disturbing deaths I’ve ever seen in a video game. The man jabbed her in the stomach, and then got very close to her face whispering, “It will all be over soon.” He hushed her and put his knife to her neck. I was both shocked at the violence that the scene contained and how I felt when it happened. This scene showed again, that survival is the key. This Tomb Raider game is much more lethal than any before it. The environment, characters, and creatures in it are deadly and it’s your job to make sure Lara survives.
The developer continued where he left off and this time successfully completed the QTE event. Lara survived and after a few more puzzles was able to escape the cave somewhat unscathed. One thing I noticed was how fluid her movements seemed to be. One of the problems, for me at least, with the majority of the Tomb Raider games was that controlling Lara always seemed a little robotic. This time, her movement seemed much more free flowing and the camera seemed more dynamic and didn’t look to be much of a hinderance like in some previous installments. In a third person action game this is key. After completing that segment the developer proceeded to a section later in the game that had Lara fighting wolves and trying to save a companion. We learned that she is not alone on this island and that the survival of both Lara and her crew will come down to the success of the actions she takes.
The most striking thing about the game was its presentation. I think the team at Crystal Dynamics played a lot, and I mean A Lot of the Uncharted series. The cinematic flare that this game has not only draws you into the story, but also adds a beautiful environment and main character at that. In just 40 minutes I developed an attachment to this new Lara, and began to get a sense of things to come. Most of this was presented in her on screen actions and reactions to what was going on around her, something that the Uncharted series has perfected. The addition of meaningful and cinematic QTE events adds to the tension and overall story that this game is trying to present. It almost felt like there was a little bit of Heavy Rain inspiration thrown in.
I was blown away by the direction that Crystal Dynamics is taking the Tomb Raider series. It’s exactly what fans have been wanting, and possesses what will surely draw in new players. It seems as if development teams that have attempted this before had just made another Tomb Raider game and never caught up to the current state of action games. The titles always seemed a little dated with their controls and mechanics. This Tomb Raider not only looks to be the best entry since the original, but appears to be setting itself up for one of the biggest and maybe successful releases of 2012. Lara may have been lost on many adventures over the past 15 years, but come next year she will have found her way back.