Tomb Raider Hands-On Preview – Entering the Dragon’s Den

Dan Webb

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.

  • Like many others I have seen posting here, I have never played a TR game (watched my bro do a few), but this is shaping up to be my GONY! Very excited:)
  • Shame it has forced shooty bits in it. Sounds ilek it may ruin the whole thing. I felt legends had tombs/puzzles then forced enemies in a large section. not needed.
  • Shooty bits have always been the worst part of Tomb Raider games. Puzzles and platforming are where they ought to focus.
  • Wonder what TR can offer in the hunting department considering AC III and Far Cry 3 just had pretty good punts at it.
  • This is the next retail game I really want to buy. I'm gonna wait and see on bioshock because the first game bored to me so much. The new one looks good, but hard to say if I'll have fun with it.
  • I am not sold on this. 12-15 hrs of story and then throw in tons of collectibles (which I don't collect unless they bring something to the story like said journals). 2 tombs so far and Uncharted/CoD moments. No matter how great or terrible this game looks/plays I will still get it, but I am undecided as to how soon yet...
  • Foxy Raider
  • this is the only game on this generation of consoles i actually want, im finishing up borderlands then apart from playing lots of battlefield 3 and mopping up a few other games its a case of nothing much else to do ,so bring this on
  • poo i never liked too much shooting in lara, it was one of my fave franchises, but i cant say i liked alot of the write up, i dont want to upgrade lara or shoot and have cvool cinematic shit, i jsut want to enjoy tomb raider, it didnt even need a reboot, not she is jsut a scruff looking kid that you feel bad perving over. loads of poo
  • #9 What you talk about poo? Lara is alway use her dual guns and her favourite weapon but really original Tomb Raider series is not too much shooting and got lots of platforming. I am sure reboot Tomb Raider will have lots of platforming but recents lots talk about her guns, graphics, hunting in forest and skills thing like that. :) I cannot wait for Tomb Raider and will preorder it soon.
  • Well, whilst I'll still get the game, I don't like the sound of big shooty sections. It will be good to see the origin of the woman that was first introduced all that time ago in Tomb Raider but not if it suffers due to sections being too much like the many shooters out at the moment.
  • Lately it seems the great gamestudios who have an great game and a great game caracter seem to jump the boat to take a great concept and form in into something that also is suited for those new to the francise. To bad this often results in games like as an example the latest Hitman whats basicly a mere shadow of its former self. Taking away all the great things that made the game stand out from others and add stuff we seen on so many COD or COD wannabees. We sure not need a Tomb Raider aka COD. What did make Lara and the Tond Raider games great where the tombs and the great puzzle parts and lets not forget her acrobatic moves to get from one part to another. Okay agreed as been mentioned here Lara always used her guns to good use to dispose the animals and sometimes human enemies standing in her way so thats nothing to new, but question will be if they not might overdo it to much in terms of gunning down hordes of enemies. Anyways no matter i def will get this game and hope i,m not ending up as much dissapointed as i was with Hitman.
  • Well-written, 'unbiased' (as unbiased as opinions could get, I guess :P) preview. Thanks! I hope there will be more tombs to raid. Bigger ones with traps and stuff. There should be more threats than humans and the occasional wolf. I'm talking about deadly contraptions and enemies of the creepy kind (like mummies :P). I also never liked too much combat in my Tomb Raider. For me, it was always about discovery, exploration, mastery of platforming, solving puzzles and some gun fights thrown in. You never knew what you were going to get. I mean, who ever expected not one but TWO T-Rexes down in that dark pit, in the first level of Tomb Raider 2? Nobody did, of course. :D (Oops, did I just spoil it... oh well, it's an old game. If you haven't played it by now, shame on you, haha. :P)
  • Its looking more and more promising to me, I have not enjoyed the last couple of Tomb Raider games, so cannot wait to sink my teeth into this one :)
  • Hello again.
  • [email protected]#9..What was that 1st sentance again? :p
  • I'll pass.
  • You need to register before being able to post comments

Game navigation