E3 2012: Tomb Raider Preview – Survival of the Fittest
Written Wednesday, June 20, 2012 By Dan Webb
Lara’s had some tricky outings in her time – I mean, she was in Angel of Darkness for one, and that was rough on all of us – but her adventure in Crystal Dynamics’ reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise has to be the toughest time she's had yet. Stranded on an unknown island off the coast of Japan, Tomb Raider tells Lara Croft’s origin story and how she’ll have to dig deep and survive on an island full of inconceivable terrors.
The multi-faceted E3 behind-closed-doors demo – which was completely different to that shown at the Microsoft press conference – kicks off near the beginning of the game as Lara sets off into the wilderness to search for survivors. In typical Tomb Raider fashion – with a smidgen of Uncharted thanks to the fluent animations, cinematic moments and dynamic movement – Lara navigates a narrow cliff edge as thunder booms around her. Spotting a crashed plane hanging from the cliff, Lara shimmies and jumps her way up it to gain access to higher ground. In typical Uncharted cinematic fashion, the plane crumbles around her and falls, just as Lara makes her way to safety.
She’s alone, injured, lost and in need of companionship. All the young soon-to-be adventurer can find is a backpack, calling out to see whether it belongs to anyone and getting no response, she continues on. With the trees swaying, wind howling and the rain lashing down as if the end of the world was nigh, the very cinematic – but playable – opening involves Lara jumping for ledges, slipping off, falling and being subjected to hell, establishing what will no doubt be a testing time for the young adventurer. Finding a handheld transceiver, she lights a fire and settles down for the night.
Tomb Raider is a tale of survival, so in the next sequence of events Lara has to venture further into the unknown to find food to survive. In order to hunt though she’ll need some equipment and thankfully – or rather, unfortunately, depending on how you look at it – she finds a fellow companion, Dale, dead and hung up in a tree with a bow over his shoulder. It’s dark stuff. Very dark indeed. Climbing up the tree and walking on the branch, Lara is able to grab the bow, so now she just needs to push on and find something to hunt.
In the next area Lara must kill a deer for food in order to survive. The stubborn deer prance and jump through the trees and the stream, making Lara work for her kill, knocking her over in the process. After a few arrows in the midriff of the deer, Lara is able to take the helpless animal down, apologising to the poor beast as she stands over its corpse. It’s an important moment in the game and a pivotal moment in Lara’s life. It’s her first kill, and being forced to rip it open for meat with the arrowhead moments later surely just adds to the trauma.
From there it’s a matter of using either the survival instinct – which gives Lara beacons to head to – or landmarks like the stream to head back to base camp. Incidentally, it’s here where Lara – who’s been gathering XP all this time – can upgrade her skills, this time choosing to unlock the ‘arrow retrieval skill,’ allowing her to pick up arrows off downed creatures. Things take a turn for the better in the next sequence of events, with Roth getting through to Lara on the walkie-talkie – instructing her through the old ruins in the mountain. Huzzah! She’s no longer alone!
Upon finding the cave entrance – that will take her towards the other survivors – and making her way inside – with the door slamming behind her, no less – Lara finds herself in a bind once again. Crawling through a wooden shaft, surrounded by tree roots older than the ages and ancient markings scribbled over every surface, Lara finds herself at a jammed door, unable to progress. The fire puzzle makes an appearance in this latest room, like it did at E3 last year. Here, Lara must burn her way through some obstacles to grab a pry axe to open the jammed door in order to progress. I feel like I have to mention the musical score here as well, which was phenomenal, and definitely makes you feel on edge throughout the claustrophobic environment.
After making her way through, Lara catches up with Sam who is talking to a stranger, named Matias, who’s supposedly a teacher and another fellow survivor. Lara instinctively detects something is rather off with this suspicious character and before she can react, it turns out he’s one of the island’s savages and he kidnaps Sam, running off into the dark abyss of the island’s jungle with her in tow. In an attempt to save her friend and in the midst of chasing after her, Lara finds herself in an even bigger spot of bother, with her leg being trapped in a set of sharp bear claws. Yes, she’s having a bad day!
As the birds eerily disperse from the trees, you get the feeling that danger is inbound, and that it is. Lay on the floor in agony, Lara has to bust out the bow and kill a set of wolves that come tumbling through the brush. Thankfully, they come one at a time and Lara’s survival instinct kicks in, slowing down time so she can fire an arrow at the ferocious wolves as their choppers hone in on the fresh meat that’s stumbled into their hunting ground. Lara, a young explorer who came looking for adventure, is now up **** creek without a paddle.
Lara manages to fumble her way out of the trap and into the next area, which according to Crystal Dynamics, is what's classed as an exploration area. After meeting up with a group of survivors from Lara’s plane and heading up to the ritualistic temple at the top of the hill, Lara now has her next task. In order to progress through the gate of the temple, Lara needs to first strengthen her axe. That means exploring and gathering enough salvage to upgrade her axe at a campfire. Lara has to climb, jump and explore a large open area with another shrine in the south and plenty of nooks and crannies in between to find the required salvage. Once she’s done that, she’s able to progress through the gate at the shrine and continue up the mountain pass.
Like every corner in the rebooted Tomb Raider, danger lurks in the shadows and after being ambushed by a group of savages, Lara and Whitman become prisoners themselves. In a horrific turn of events – we don’t want to spoil it for you so let’s leave it at that – Lara finds herself trying to escape from the savages as they all team up together to find the young prisoner. Sticking to the shadows and hiding behind objects, Lara has to avoid the torches and the line of sight of the savages to get out from under their grip. Nipping into burning huts and hiding in the nearby ruins, Lara’s E3 adventure ends when a savage discovers her. In the heat of the moment the two wrestle with one another, before Lara bites the savage’s neck, triggering a QTE sequence to get the gun and with it, Lara kills her first human. Pretty dark and traumatic stuff for the young adventurer, I’m sure you’ll agree!
In all though, taking into account what we’ve already seen of Lara’s new adventure, everything is shaping up rather swimmingly. We feel like we’ve hardly scratched the surface of the brutal and dark tale of Lara’s origins yet, having seen a lot of content from early on in the game, and we’re excited to see what more Crystal Dynamics has in store for the budding adventurer. Having seen a glimpse of the RPG elements, a bit more of the actual platforming and some of the exploration environments, all we need now is some wide-scale tombs or environments to traverse and we have all the makings of an impressive reboot. Colour us excited.
Tomb Raider is scheduled for a March 5th and March 8th 2013 release in North America and Europe respectively.