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'Tomb Raider': Preview - E3 2011

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Tomb Raider

© Square Enix


Tomb Raider reboots the classic series by recasting a younger Lara Croft and pitting her in her toughest challenge for survival yet. Shipwreaked on a mysterious island on her way to Japan, she encounters dangerous locals and harsh landscapes to explore. We go hands-on with Lara Croft's very first adventure at E3 2011.

Tomb Raider is a complete reboot for the series, starring a 21-year-old Lara Croft before she became an intrepid videogame treasure hunter. While aboard the research ship Endurance a storm leaves her stranded on a mysterious island, forcing her to battle both the island's hostile inhabitants and its deadly environment to escape. It's a gritty reboot that makes Lara a more realistic, vulnerable character than her bold and confident self in other Tomb Raider games.

Tomb Raider

© Square Enix

Tomb Raider

© Square Enix


Tomb Raider screenshots: Escaping the Scavenger's Cave

A new Lara, seeking light in the darkness

The E3 demo began with Lara captured by the island's inhabitants, and dangling upside down over a pit lined with skulls and bones. She is hardly the first victim, as another body hangs beside her, covered in cloth sheets. A nearby torch introduces players to what appear to be the key puzzle mechanics in Tomb Raider: physics and fire. By swinging her body, Lara can knock the second corpse into the flame, causing the dead body and the beam from which she hangs to catch fire. Lara plummets into the pit, but she is free of her restraints, and must venture through a series of underground caverns to escape.

Further through the caverns, Lara encounters a wall of debris blocking her path. Using her new survival sense, key items in the environment become highlighted in a yellow glow. One such item is an explosive barrel at the base of the wall. Though Lara has a torch, it is not lit, and the only source of fire is on the other side of a waterfall. The waterfall puts out the torch, requiring Lara to solve a puzzle to find a new way to use fire to clear the debris. Careful exploration reveals two weighted platforms attached to each other via a pulley system, allowing Lara to ignite wooden crates and move them through a small opening in the wall that goes around the waterfall, rather than through it. As with the first puzzle, its solution is found through the manipulation of fire and real world physics.

Tomb Raider

© Square Enix

Tomb Raider

© Square Enix


Tomb Raider screenshots: The new-look Lara Croft

Survival at any cost

Realistic injuries are one of Crystal Dynamics' major focuses for Tomb Raider. Though Lara frees herself over the demo's opening pit, when she lands, her side is impaled by a metal spike. By mashing the X button, Lara removes the spike, but the injury does not heal right away. For the duration of the level, Lara continued to hold her side as she walked. The developers say that the game will have custom animations for walking on different terrain as well as being dependent on her injuries. Lara's abilities to jump and climb appear to be unaffected by these injuries, but the visual effect is unnerving to say the least, drawing players deeper into the world of Tomb Raider.

Twice during her underground escape, island inhabitants found Lara and began a chase sequence through tight tunnels. These chase sequences are controlled through quick-time events, prompting the player to repeatedly press a button to run or flick the left analogue stick to kick at her pursuer if he tries to grab her legs. If even one button prompt is failed, a grisly death sequence is shown, illustrating the dire consequences of Lara's survival situation.

Tomb Raider

© Square Enix

Tomb Raider

© Square Enix


Tomb Raider screenshots: At the base camp

A more grounded, human story

The demo then jumped ahead to a later portion of the game. Lara had survived on the island for three days after her initial capture, and had finally received a sign of friendly life in a transmission on her radio from the ship's captain. When she arrived at the captain's location, he is badly wounded from a wolf attack and unable to walk. To make matters worse, the wolves ran off with Captain Roth's pack, containing emergency medical supplies, leaving Lara the only one capable of retrieving them. This scene stands out in the demo due to the excellent voice acting and characterisation. The developers at Crystal Dynamics made a point of explaining that all voice work for the game was performed while acting for motion capture, rather than recording them separately. The extra work shows, and the emotions and friendship between the two characters is well above par for videogame voice acting.

The surrounding area was an abandoned mountain village, allowing Lara to show off some of her jumping and climbing skills to reach the wolves' cliff top cave. Lara's jumping may take some getting used to for a few players, since she does not automatically target the next available platform or ledge as is common in similar games like Uncharted or Prince of Persia. This difference is not noticeable in most situations, only really coming into play when jumping to thin platforms which seem to require more precision. Lara also has a limited ability to climb up a sheer cliff face. If a platform is just out of reach the player can repeatedly press the A button to make Lara scramble up the wall. The distance she can scramble is limited, but it works well to prevent players from being forced to replay large portions of a level because of one missed jump.



Once the medical supplies are recovered, the abandoned mountain town becomes Lara's new base camp, acting as a hub and granting Lara the options to upgrade her survival skills, travel quickly to previously visited areas and craft new items from salvaged materials. None of those options were shown during the E3 demo, but they hint at a deeper experience than has been seen from the Tomb Raider series in the past, and one we won't unfortunately won't see on store shelves for well over a year.

Tomb Raider will be available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in late 2012.

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