Tomb Raider is another series that was in desperate need of a reinvention. Crystal Dynamics chose to take us back to where Lara’s story began. From what we’ve seen, the reinvention is not only poised to win favour with fans of old, but should win over masses of new fans – I have never been as impressed with a Tomb Raider game as I am with the upcoming game.
The demo code for rAge 2012 begins with Lara washed up on the shore. I assume the full game will begin with the sequences leading up to Lara finding herself washed up on the shore. I picked up the controller and was looking around, off the side of the cliff overlooking the wreck along the rocky beach. The scene was realistic-looking and breathtakingly beautiful. The conditions bleak and desperate.
At this point the Megarom representative urged me to put on the head-phones. “You have to listen,” he said. And what a difference this made. The forceful current was crashing against the rocky beach beneath. The wind was gushing in – the mood was as tense as it was desperate, the shore Lara had washed up on is anything but hospitable.
Heading in to the jungle reminded me of Tomb Raider games of old – the shuffling on ledges and climbing around the feral grounds. You need to climb up a train’s cart hanging off the edge of a ledge. Climbing up the cart reminded me of a similar scene from Uncharted, a series that Tomb Raider seems to share similarities with. Lara needs to get across a log from a ledge to another, and while we’ve seen this before, I can’t think of a game that makes this such an event. The camera-angle switches to above Lara, showing you the extreme fall Lara would take should you not keep her balanced. Her movement here looks as realistic as she desperately tries to maintain her balance. Slipping off and needing to hit the X button to grab the log, to hold on for dear life, is highlighted or intensified by the sound-effects – my heart beating a little harder with the tension. I can’t believe how much of an event something that has been done a million times plays out here.
While looking around the jungle, what grabbed my interest the most was the excellent, dynamic camera work. The camera angle dynamically pans around Lara, realistically as she looks around for clues or paths, for anything that could help. The jungle is uninhabited, the sun’s rays peering through the tall trees. When looking at the graphical quality, I can understand why the game may have been delayed for so long – the new Tomb Raider is intensely detailed, the jungle was detailed and shaded every you can see. The scoring is also of the highest quality – dramatically intense to further the desperate mood of the adventure you are about to embark on.
Up to then the game felt like a traditional Tomb Raider game, but one that seems to be pushing on the capabilities of the current-generation’s audio-visual possibilities. The gameplay was familiar too until this point. Lara then needs to hunt for meat, she is weak and beaten-up from whatever events led to her being washed up on the island. Running around the jungle, Lara finds arrows, but no bow. Looking around further I noticed Lara looking in the direction above, moving the camera to see what it is she was looking at, you discover a man hanging upside down from a tree, a bow slung over his shoulder.
The gameplay introduces some new elements here – you need to climb up a small ledge, shuffle across a branch. You are cued to simply lean the thumb-stick towards the man with a deft touch to grab hold of the corpse, to retrieve the bow he was carrying. Hunting we will go…
The hunting mechanics are familiar, they do work well, and I look forward to more of this aspect. You need to shoot a nearby deer for her meat, to help Lara heal. The emotional part of Lara in the game is introduced here. She bends down to the fallen deer, and apologises for her actions in time of need. Crystal Dynamics did promise we would see more of the emotional side, and that was evident in the level I played through. The desperate mood was always apparent, not only by how Lara looks; muddy, sweaty and beaten up; but by her body-language, her panting and facial expressions.
My time with the game answered the burning question for me – will it be more of the same in a glossy new package? I don’t think so… this looks to be an emotional adventure, with exciting new gameplay, while still delivering the charms the series is known for.
I would highly recommend you keep an eye on this one!