Tomb Raider Hands-On Preview – Entering the Dragon’s Den
Written Tuesday, December 04, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
For someone who had such a tough time killing her first animal in the opening few sequences of her defining adventure as a young woman, the inexperienced Lara Croft seems to show much less remorse for gunning down a room full of the island’s natives. It’s an odd moment that took us a little by surprise. A sequence of events that starts with a slow-mo breach, has you diving for cover and blasting foes with automatic rifles before flying through a heavily fortified camp and blasting any foe you see to smithereens. Wait…is this Tomb Raider?
In all my years of gaming and playing of many Tomb Raider games – when I say many, I mean all – not once have I seen Lara take on so many foes with so many automatic weapons in such a short amount of time. In fact, after a while I baulked at a certain section that seemed more like Call of Duty than Tomb Raider that I staunchly refused to use guns and stuck with Lara’s bow and arrow instead. Someone’s been playing too many Nathan Drake games. Uncharted this is not, so it shouldn’t be treated as such.
Why start on that note, you may wonder. Simple, because I wanted to get it out the way so we can focus on what is otherwise shaping up to be a hugely impressive game.
It was effectively the only blip in an otherwise positive hands-on session with the first three hours of the game – roughly about a quarter of Tomb Raider's play time if reports of the game being 12-15 hours long are to be believed.
The first three hours sees Lara shift from an unconfident, but obviously talented and blessed archaeologist, and turn into a one-woman killing machine. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but you slowly get to see Lara reach her full potential. The whole reason Lara and her buddies find themselves stranded on the island of mystery just south of Japan is actually due to Lara’s instincts, which appear to have been right on the money.
Despite Tomb Raider being a reboot, the roots of the franchise stay true to the series for the most part in the opening few hours. The reinvented climbing mechanics allow for a new sense of freedom and mobility, and thanks to the climbing axe that we picked up midway through, things seem a lot more realistic now too – no longer are you just looking for ledges to grab onto, but now Lara can use the axe to climb various other surfaces. We found ourselves climbing abandoned planes, ascending ruins and Japanese-style temples, and a particular highlight, navigating up a huge rock wall alongside a majestic waterfall.
As this is a new beginning for Lara, as it is for the Tomb Raider franchise too, with new RPG mechanics on offer so you can “upgrade” Lara. This hands-on also gives us a proper look at the new hub areas in action. Dotted around the hub you’ll find statues that you’ll have to illuminate – for what reason remains a mystery for now – goodies to find, like salvage that Lara can use to upgrade her tools, and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. Some areas are essentially locked away for the time being as Lara lacks the abilities to reach them, but these are areas you’ll be returning to on more than one occasion.
Tomb Raider’s strengths in terms of gameplay come from its puzzles and most notably, its tombs – I say tombs, but we only found 1 of the 2 in these opening three hours, one of which wasn’t accessible. Our first tomb, the “Tomb of Unworthy” involved trudging through a series of pitch black caves, surrounded by stalagmites, before solving a series of puzzles involving fire and weights, that when solved opened up some valuable riches for Lara. It was a simple tomb, but if this is the sign of things to come, then we’re mildly excited to see what’s in store for Lara.
Considering that we only got chance to explore just one tomb in three hours though is a bit disconcerting, because Lara is at her strongest in this latest iteration when she’s solving puzzles and exploring the unknown. Let’s hope Crystal Dynamics hasn’t lost sight of this. It is after all why a lot of us play Tomb Raider games.
Finally, welcome to cliché heaven where I state that the island is shaping up to be one of the game’s biggest characters. The truth is though, it really is and whichever way I say it, I’m going to come off sounding like a smug son of a bitch. The origins of the island, its World War II roots, and the legend of Queen Himiko and her powers provide a great backdrop for Lara’s awakening, probably somewhat more than Lara’s adventure itself. Then there’s the island’s inhabitants, notably Mathias, who add another layer of intrigue into the already complex web of mysteries.
It’s that intriguing that you’ll often search out the collectible journals scattered around the world just to hear more and uncover the truth. Not since a certain TV show regarding a plane crash on a desert island have I been so gripped by the story of a weathered piece of rock and its inhabitants. With every sacrificial chamber and hidden marking you uncover, they’ll leave you just wanting to find more.
Other than the aforementioned gunplay section in our hands-on though, everything else is pointing in the right direction for Lara Croft. With plenty of platforming, exploration and puzzles, it feels like a new beginning for the franchise somewhat, one that should put it on the right path after a shaky few years. The island, its inhabitants and its origins play a big part in delivering the substance in Lara’s first adventure and if Crystal Dynamics can keep on delivering there, this here reboot could shock a few people – in a good way – by giving the franchise a little more depth than it might have had in recent years – “Look mom, Lara’s got huge cans!” That said, Tomb Raider definitely needs more tombs to raid and it absolutely needs to dial back the gunplay sections. They feel more out of place than James Bond at a Weight Watchers meeting.
Tomb Raider is scheduled for a March 5th and March 8th release date in North America and Europe respectively.