Tomb Raider First Look Preview -- From Buxomly Jaunts To Brutal SurvivalBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Jun 10, 2011
From the opening minutes of the new Tomb Raider, it’s painfully clear (literally) that you need to forget everything you know about Lara Croft and her previous exploits. Forget the bright presentation, the generally light tone, the overly sexualized character model, and pretty much every other preconceived notion about what a Tomb Raider game is/has been, because this time around, Crystal Dynamics isn’t f-ing around. This journey is about life and death in the most brutal and desperate sense, and this Lara Croft is like no female heroine you’ve seen before.
Why such a grim and foreboding introduction? Oh, I don’t know. Could it be because the game starts with a dirt and blood covered Lara waking up in breathless panic hanging upside down in a skeleton-strewn cavern, wrapped in some sort of cocoon? Or the fact that in order to escape, she has to swing back and forth so she can bump another cocoon into a nearby torch to set fire to a beam so that she can then swing into the spreading fire, ignite herself, and break free? Or that when the cocoon does burn away that she then plummets some 40 feet and then lands on a broken stick that drives itself through her side and that she must then tear out of herself, all the while screaming in terror and agony? Yeah. That might be the reason. And that’s just the very beginning of a 20-minute demo that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.
As you’ve no doubt heard, Tomb Raider aims to be much more than a standard reboot. Yes, it’s an origin story of sorts as it follows young Lara on her first adventure, but it uses this premise to take the franchise from action-adventure to survival-adventure. This could not be clearer as we watch Lara, holding her bleeding side (ala Nathan Drake in the opening of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which is hardly the only resemblance between the two sequences), stumble through the wet, torch-lit, skull and bones-strewn cavern she has fallen into.
Environmental traversal and puzzle solving, two core components of all Tomb Raider games, are still here, but they’ve taken on an entirely different feel, because so much of the game is physics-based. For instance, fire and water behave realistically, so when Lara finds her path blocked by some collapsed pylons, she grabs a nearby torch and burns the wood away. In another area, she sets fire to a cloth-wrapped beam that causes the fire to spread to an explosive barrel that then blasts a hole in a wall, clearing her path yet again.
As Lara crawls through the newly formed hole, a man suddenly grabs her legs and tries to pull her back. Lara kicks at the man (via a quick-time event, which, had she failed, would have resulted in the man driving a pickaxe into her chest, bringing Lara to a brutal and bloody end), who keeps grunting, “Stop!” With one final kick, Lara frees herself and manages to scramble onward just as a massive boulder collapses behind her, to which Lara replies, “Shit that was close.”
In the next area, Lara enters a water-filled cavern with a gap of about a foot between the root covered rock ceiling and the top of the water. As she wades through the water, the camera sits just over her shoulder, creating a spectacular sense of claustrophobia. At various points, her head pans around to look at the skulls and bones lining the passageway. Her torch, which she struggles to hold over her head lest it touch the water, licks the ceiling as it lights her way forward.
We move into an expansive cave, but not before passing through a mini waterfall that promptly extinguishes Lara torch. Water rushes through the cave, carrying boxes, explosive barrels, and various pieces of debris into a grate leading to the only logical exit. Here we encounter our first multistage environmental puzzle. To solve it, Lara must use her newly lit torch to burn away four pillars to release the cage they were holding down. When the cage rises, it lowers a makeshift basket of sorts into the rushing tide, which then collects wooden barrels and boxes that Lara must then light on fire (lighting them on fire without the basket in place causes them to float through a waterfall, extinguishing them before they can reach the explosive barrels and open the exit).
Lara jumps into the cage, causing the basket filled with flaming debris to rise and, thanks to the momentum caused by the lifting, to drop the barrels into a collection area at the top of a mechanized chute. To knock the debris down the exit, Lara shoves the chute’s door, sending the fiery helpers on their way. The ensuing explosion opens the exit, but also triggers a full cave collapse. Time to run.
Lara sprints as rocks fall all around her and the very walls around her are shaking and pitching inward. At one point, the floor gives way, sending Lara tumbling end over end into a tunnel below. She runs onward, and eventually has to leap from one collapsing rock to the next, narrowly avoiding death with each jump. She dives through a hole, only to be grabbed, yet again, by another terrifying man. Only this time, when Lara frees herself, a boulder collapses directly on the man’s head.
Further ahead, Lara leaps across a massive gap and lands on a distant ledge that she then promptly slides down. Just as she’s about to fall into the abyss below, she snags the edge with one hand and pulls herself up. The final sprint has Lara crawling frantically (Right trigger, left trigger, right trigger, left trigger) up a long shaft towards the sunlight at its end. Lara dodges two large boulders (again, triggers) before bursting through the cave wall to freedom. Out of breath, Lara picks herself up, as the camera pans around her to reveal a coastline littered with ships from varying time periods. With the sun beaming in our eyes and our hearts still pounding, the Tomb Raider logo fades into view, bringing the first part of our demo to a spectacular end.
In the second half of the demo, we're introduced to Lara's companion, Conrad Roth, a grizzled adventurer who happens to be the captain of the capsized ship Lara was on, and who also happens to be quite adept at killing wolves with his trusty pistols. After his dramatic entrance, Roth passes out, and it’s up to Lara to drag him out of the pouring rain and tend to his gashed open leg. This section takes place in a temple courtyard, and is one of the game’s base camps. You can jump between base camps once you’ve unlocked them, which will come in handy since the entire game world is explorable from lowest valley to the highest mountain peak. You’ll need to acquire the right gear before you can progress to new areas, but it’s all open from the start of the game. The base camp also lets you upgrade Lara’s abilities and gear and even build new items.
Lara investigates a nearby cave to find a transmitter needed to send a signal from a radio tower on the top of mountain peak far away. Inside the cave, Lara is attacked by a wolf that gets properly shived as a result, an act that Lara clearly isn’t ready to stomach just yet. She’ll mature, physically and emotionally, over the course of the game, but for now, she’s a still very green.
In order to heal Roth, Lara then has to traverse the surrounding structures—leaping across rooftops, running up rock faces, etc—to locate a medkit. She returns to Roth and bandages his leg. Roth then speaks some inspiring words to Lara before handing her what will surely be one of her most valuable assets in the game: an ice pick axe. With the snowcapped mountain range looming far above in the distance, our stunning first look at Tomb Raider wraps up.
If Tomb Raider wasn’t on your radar already, I strongly advise you to make the necessary addition immediately. This isn’t just one of the most intriguing and promising reboots around, it’s one of the most intriguing and promising titles period. It’s just a shame we have to wait until 2012 to see the final product.