E3 2011: Tomb Raider Eyes-On Preview

By Colin Tan on June 16, 2011, 8:13PM EDT
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Pain, self-doubt and fear are just a few of the sentiments portrayed by the young, 21-year-old Ms. Croft in Crystal Dynamics newest Tomb Raider game. It's no longer an adventure about the iconic buxom archeologist, but an origins story, a rebirth of how Lara Croft comes to be, well, Lara Croft. What you saw at the Microsoft press conference was but a glimpse at something bigger. Sure, there were a ton of quick time events, but when the game actually makes you fear for Lara's life, you know you have an experience worth exploring on your hands.

Lara Croft is young, fresh out of college, she's out to find adventure, but as the beautiful CGI trailer explained, adventure found her. It's not long after the shipwreck that Lara finds herself strapped up and hanging upside down in a dark, damp cavern. Here we find the first of many physics-based puzzles. Using momentum, Lara swings herself towards another strapped up skeleton hanging beside her, bumping it towards some hazardous looking fire. The corpse starts to burn and as physics will have it, fire and hot air rises; the fire continues to burn upwards towards the rope, following a path back to Lara. "It's going to hurt," she says to herself, before the fire burns up her hanging prison and she free falls down towards the cavern floor.

If you've watched the demo, you don't need me to explain what happened next. For the clueless, well, let's just say that an unfriendly metal spike awaited young Lara at the bottom of the cavern floor. Blinded to the pain from the shock of the fall, Lara grips the spike, ripping it out from where it had impaled her. Her vision's blurry, she can't walk straight, she stumbles, but the only thing on her mind is to get out of there, to survive.

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That's not all that's waiting for her in the cave. Jumped by a crazy cave-dwelling individual, Lara struggles to free herself from his grasp. Just for show, Crystal Dynamics deliberately failed the button-mashing event, resulting in a rather gruesome death where a pickaxe was introduced quite violently to Lara's throat. Like I said, it was visceral, everyone in the closed-doors demonstration cringed at the sight of it.

What followed next was a showcase of the world's elements in action. In addition to real-world physics, fire and water play a big role in the puzzles that Lara has to overcome. Fire will spread over any flammable surface while water puts it all out. A combination of the two presents some interesting puzzle elements for the young adventurer. To help her out, she has a handy-dandy Survival Instinct view, not unlike Batman's Detective Mode or Ezio's Eagle Vision. This view highlights elements in the area that can be interacted with.

Long story short, Lara has to blow up a couple of barrels to make her getaway. Unfortunately, due to the explosion the cavern starts to collapse. What ensues is a harrowing escape that ends in a dismal panoramic look at the island on which she has been shipwrecked. It all looks great.

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Flash forward a few missions into the game and Crystal Dynamics starts to show off the game's open-world approach. Anything you see on the island, Lara can visit and explore. A temple off in the distance? She can check it out. A radio tower behind that mountain ridge? She can scale that. There are many puzzles that await her and most of the time, she's going to be reluctant to do it. This is a key point in the new Tomb Raider that separates it from previous iterations.

Lara is frightened, she's alone on the island with no help. When she finds that her mentor, Captain Conrad Roth, has also survived the wreck, she's overjoyed. But Roth is gravely injured from fending off a pack of wolves. Lara freaks out. Realizing that it's up to her to locate the trauma pack and a radio, she is left with no choice but to step up to the plate and locate said items within the wolves' den. Where Lara doubts herself, Roth has faith in her. "I can't bear this, I'm not that kind of Croft," she says. "Yes, you are, but you just haven't found out!" rebuts Roth.

Also, fans with a keen eye will note that the old man is wielding two rather familiar looking pistols. He's also the one Lara jumps towards to in the CGI trailer when their ship is torn apart.

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The basecamp Lara finds herself in will act as a sanctuary and a hub to take on missions. The more she explores the island, the more basecamps can be set up. To accommodate traversal, there will also be a "Fast Travel" option between basecamps.

Tomb Raider is definitely look pretty slick. The one aspect of the game that Crystal Dynamics did not showcase at E3 this year was the combat. However, the studio assures fans that combat is not being neglected. In fact, it's quite "ambitious," as Tomb Raider brand director Karl Stewart puts it. In any case, keep an eye out for the rebirth of one of the most iconic video games character to grace the industry. She's set to make a splash by Fall of 2012.

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