Every year we witness an inevitable march of titles moving out of the holiday release season, either to avoid the industry's blockbuster juggernauts or simply to add an additional layer of polish. Crystal Dynamics' reboot of the Tomb Raider series happens to be one of those games poised to overwhelm the early 2013 release calendar. After getting a chance to check out a fairly substantial demo of Tomb Raider, the new-look Lara Croft appears to take the series in an intriguingly brutal direction.
That being said, I have to admit feeling a little concerned about the vision guiding Tomb Raider after watching the demo footage from Microsoft's press conference. That brief sequence showed Lara Croft frantically navigating a narrow series of shooting galleries, with explosions turned up to eleven. Simply put: it looked like a clumsy Uncharted knock-off, one without any of the personality.
Thankfully, our behind-closed-door Tomb Raider demonstration showcased the game's exploration elements, upgrade and collection mechanics, and surprisingly oppressive narrative tone, all of which help distinguish Lara Croft from Nathan Drake (Wait... Isn't that supposed to be the other way around?). These inclusions spice up the tried-and-true blockbuster action formula of corridor shooting and vertical traversal, wherein Lara will periodically have time to explore open areas to hunt wildlife, gather supplies and/or rest at a bonfire. These Dark Souls-esque basecamps allow Lara to upgrade her weaponry and combine other items within her inventory. It's unclear how deep these elements ultimately go, but they certainly help Tomb Raider stand out in a sea of polished action-adventure epics.
Tomb Raider's strikingly bleak narrative also sets the game apart. The folks over at Crystal have seized the creative freedom a reboot provides to try something different within this well-established universe. As mentioned previously, a young 21 year-old Lara finds herself stranded on a seemingly remote tribal island, trying desperately to locate friends and other survivors amongst the ensuing chaos. Everything Lara experiences from that point on - whether it be stumbling through tropical brush and suffering painful injuries, getting caught in a bear trap and being attacked by wolves, having her friend kidnapped at knifepoint, or fighting off an attempted rape - is simply excruciating. There are things to be truly feared on this island, and I cannot wait to see more of them.
Based on Tomb Raider's promising E3 showing, coupled with Crystal Dynamics' storytelling and presentational aspirations, it seems there's a lot to look forward to when Lara Croft returns to PS3, Xbox 360 and PC on March 5th, 2013.