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Tomb Raider multiplayer preview: Lara Croft and her crew go online

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Tomb Raider PS3 cover art

Tomb Raider saw a surprise reveal in the New Year when multiplayer was announced, making it the latest formerly single player-only series - along with Uncharted, Dead Space, BioShock and God of War - to include a competitive online mode.

At its core, Tomb Raider's multiplayer is not unfamiliar to other third-person shooters already on the market. There's a similar range of automatic rifles and explosive projectiles, a progression system that unlocks new character skins, weapons and perks, and a prestige system that resets your stats.

There are, however, a couple of interesting mechanics that leverage Tomb Raider's story and harsh island setting to help make multiplayer its own.

Tomb Raider multiplayer

© Square Enix



What new does Tomb Raider's multiplayer offer?

As well as a suite of traditional multiplayer modes - including the tried-and-tested Team Deathmatch - is 'Rescue', an asymmetrical offering that has a team of Survivors collect medikits and opposing Scavengers working together to stop them from doing so.

Each area has a number of traps that can be set. One type will snag players by their legs and string them upside down, forcing them to fire away from a stationary, inverted perspective or shoot themselves free. Another simply (and quite brutally) crushes them to death if they trip over a rope.

There are also global environmental effects described as 'game changers'. In the map we played, the team who rang a bell high above a tower brought on a sandstorm. While both teams were affected, the player's team who activated it saw icons displayed on screen showing enemy locations, while the opposition was blind.

Tomb Raider multiplayer

© Square Enix



Square Enix explains why it added multiplayer to Tomb Raider

The key question, however, is why add multiplayer to Tomb Raider at all? Multiplayer producer Joe Khoury explained that the idea was first thrown around with the reboot's conception two years ago, since multiplayer had been warmly welcomed with co-op in the acclaimed downloadable spin-off Tomb Raider and the Guardian of Light.

"Off the bat, [the] conversation with Crystal Dynamics was: 'Is there something that can exist in the multiplayer realm for this game?'" he told Digital Spy.

"Because they had a good reaction to Guardian of Light, fans loved it and they loved playing with friends in the Tomb Raider universe, so if it was possible, how would we do it?"

The campaign story's two parties - the stranded shipmates and the scavengers - are perfect opposing sides that make a perfect fit for multiplayer.


"These two sides that have very different goals," he said. "For us, and then the island in itself with all these different environments that we could use, we used the context that exists in single player to make them playable in multiplayer.

"Scavengers don't want Lara to leave the island. That's the goal they have in multiplayer as well, and survivors want to survive... that's their goal in multiplayer, and to co-operate with a common goal and get rescued off the island."

With that in place, then there was logistics; Crystal Dynamics was focused on the core campaign, and so developing multiplayer on top would have meant taking "a hit" on its quality. The studio instead employed the services of Eidos Montreal to make multiplayer, a decision that Khoury describes as "perfect".

Tomb Raider multiplayer

© Square Enix



How does it play? Traversal and the bow are king

Another way that Tomb Raider's multiplayer takes cues from the campaign is how the maps offer an attractive approach for traversal. The dry, arid setting we played in took place at multiple tiers, with wooden towers, rickety bridges and zip lines linking it all together. These can be climbed freely to reach objectives or vantage points.

Each position is balanced. Standing on a tower essentially paints a target on your head, but you can effectively snipe on players below. The middle ground level sees you in danger from attacks from above, but allows you to duck out of sight much easier.

Finally, an underground lair with corridors and corners allows you to approach enemies without detection, or take the time to set traps for those rushing from the heated battles above.

Actual moment-to-moment gameplay has similar strengths to the campaign. Traversal is great to get to grips with, and while shooting is sturdy and fun, it ultimately falls into the Uncharted trap of not feeling quite as remarkable as a dedicated shooter.

And like in single player, praise goes out to the bow, which rewards patient sniping play with a satisfying twang and thud as it hits its target.


Our only complaint with core combat is with the melee attacks. These are an ideal way to quickly dispatch nearby foes, but awkward detection sees players running round in circles swinging at thin air.

Frame rate was also a problem, but mechanical tuning and graphical performance are usually fine-tuned last as development draws to a close, meaning both these aspects could see improvements come release.

> Tomb Raider preview: Three hours with Lara Croft's first adventure

Tomb Raider will be available on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC worldwide from March 5, 2013.

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