Today we were treated to a behind-closed-doors demo of Tomb Raider. This isn’t your familiar Lara Croft, however: the premise behind her entire adventure, including her backstory and even her personality, has been completely reimagined.
It’s a reboot in the truest sense of the term, and apart from some harmonic dissonance with the rest of the series’ history (and genre), it looks utterly fantastic. Visually, it’s hyper-realistic, featuring some of the best graphical effects and art that we witnessed at this year’s show. The outdoor tropical jungle environments showcased at the start of the demo are truly breathtaking and convincingly real. From the very beginning, as Lara runs along the cliffs of the island, water droplets litter the camera and ocean waves below roll into shore. You can literally feel the moisture.
And you can feel the tension, too, as she shimmies her way eventually to waterfall where her plane is hanging in the balance, LOST-style. As she climbs up the fuselage to reach the other side of the divide, the first signs of the game’s parallels with the critically-acclaimed Uncharted emerge. This won’t be the last that you hear of that comparison; the game is, in fact, seemingly closer to Uncharted than it is Tomb Raider in the gameplay sense.
Trees sway in the wind as Lara’s ridiculously detailed character model convinces you of the pains of her struggle. She’s stranded, of course, and it isn’t too much further up the path until she eventually settles down for a moment and starts a fire, momentarily giving up on any hope of finding someone at the other end of her shortwave radio. Shivering, she remarks to herself about how hungry she is. She’s got to push on if she has any hope of surviving this calamity. As she resumes her wooded journey, birds and deer scurry for cover.
A corpse hangs from the trees. As Lara contemplates making her way up to it to borrow its bow and arrow, the shadows of the leaves dance across her surprisingly believable proportions. She balances her way out to the corpse along a tree limb and retrieves the bow, falling to the ground for her efforts.
If it doesn't feel like Uncharted yet, it will.
Natural landmarks are a major design point in Tomb Raider, and the development team went out of their way to point this out. If you follow the stream, for instance, you’ll eventually wind up back at base camp. This eliminates the need for an intrusive map interface, and it adds to the sense of bewilderment and aloneness. Back at base camp, however, you can upgrade your skills and items, however, using SP. This is more in line with the sort of game-like design that will help keep the adventure on the tracks.
This is a different Lara Croft than we’ve grown to know: she is vulnerable, unsure… human. She is forced to kill a deer for food and is visibly shaken by the task of taking its life and gutting it. She cries on the radio after reaching a soul on the other side.
Eventually, she stumbles into a cliffside cavern, obviously human-made. Descending a ladder into the depths, she grabs a torch to light the way and begins to conjure memories of her old PlayStation adventures—but it doesn’t last long. After burning some obstacles with the fire (which looks great by the way), she locates a ritual chamber, steals an axe out of an unidentifiable animal corpse, and hikes a misty, moody path up the mountain. White sun streams through the heavy shade of the foliage as she, amazingly, locates Sam (one of her squad members).
However, as you might have guessed, Sam’s shortly thereafter abducted by a savage-seeming man who appears to live on the island. Lara gives chase but finds herself snared by a bear trap—just as a storm materializes. Lightning and thunder crackles on the horizon as sheets of rain fall and bushes surrounding her on all sides sway uncontrollably. A pack of wolves suddenly jumps out of the bushes and requires Lara to quickly dispatch of them using a bullet-time slow-motion effect that takes hold just before they attack.
She’s rescued by her group, and one of the guys is wearing a pretty awesome “ESC” button shirt. Of course, they split again to look for the missing teammate, and Lara leaves with a partner. They stumble across another camp adorned by hieroglyphics and Lara begins collecting “salvage” to strengthen her handy axe. Once the improvements have been made back at base camp, she ratchets up the door and they both squeeze underneath into the unknown.
This is, of course, a bad idea, and it isn’t long before they’re confronted by more savages. Your friend is, predictably enough, an idiot, and he manages to get you captured. As you’re walked to your destination by the enemy, a building in the distances burns with rolling flames, reminding us of just how amazing the eye candy in this game is going to be.
The next series is saturated by more Uncharted-like gameplay, mostly featuring quick-time events and random button press prompts. It’s times like this where the spell is broken and it seems for a moment that we’re indulging more in a film than an actual game, but I guess we’ll need to reserve judgment on that point until it’s finished and we’re able to experience the full adventure. Nevertheless, after a few more struggles, Lara blasts a dude in the face with a pistol, then turns and cries, nauseated and broken. She is no longer invincible, and this is a Lara that, game or movie, we’d like to know more about.
What sort of action tale would it be if your friend didn't get captured?
From our short demo of the game, Tomb Raider looks to be shaping up extremely nicely. It will likely divide fans based on their expectations of its presentation and gameplay, but no one will be able to argue its beauty and atmosphere. With the proper balance and attention to mechanics, it could very likely be a wonderful example of how a series reboot ought to be done.