E3 2011: Tomb Raider

The origin story of Lara Croft looks to be one of the most painful tales to ever relive as the E3 2011 presentation for Tomb Raider focused on putting gaming's favorite heroine in some brutally violent situations.

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QUICKTAKE: After resuscitating Lara Croft with three strong Tomb Raider games, developer Crystal Dynamics has chosen to embark on a complete reimaging of the series. The new Tomb Raider begins with the story of Lara's first adventure. She's young, fresh out of college, and one of the spoken goals of the game is to humanize her by showing her vulnerability. That's all well and good, but as a long time Tomb Raider fan, I felt no attraction to new Lara. Beautiful as the game may be, the scared young woman at the center of this game has a long way to go to prove to me she's worthy of the name. THE DEMO: A two-part demo, the presentation opened with Lara disoriented, hanging upside down, strung up like a spider had wrapped her in a cocoon. As she gathered her wits and looked around she found herself hanging in a sea cave adjacent to a bloody, candle-lit shrine that oozed occult atmosphere. After swinging her way over to catch her wrappings on fire and fall to the ground, she beat a frantic escape through the caves. The second section highlighted a more open exploration area that started to hearken back to Lara's adventures in her prior life. Starting at a base camp in the hills, she ascends to a wolf den up on a cliff side above an abandoned village. Once at the mouth of the cave, she goes back underground to retrieve a lost radio and survival gear. DETAILS: The first part of the demo set out to establish the atmosphere for the new game, both visually and in its approach for how the game will play. More than any prior Tomb Raider the action followed a script, with a strong push being felt to Lara moving through the environment to the next event. The look is very dark, grimy, and bloody. On falling in her escape, Lara lands on an exposed piece of steel rebar that skewers her in the abdomen right where her kidney would be. Despite the realistic look, she shrugs off the grievous injury after holding her side a few moments. After such a grievous wound, it's a bit odd to see her only a few minutes exerting herself to make jumps she can barely span. Throughout this section, quick time events played a big role in the action. For a series that built its reputation on Lara's acrobatic exploration ability, it seems like a step backward to watch her escape dangerous situations by pressing a button at the right time. For a brief moment in the middle of this stretch she got back to figuring out how to get through an area by solving an environmental puzzle. But after that, the big escape was another cinematic experience of timed button tapping in response to onscreen prompts rather than being in full control.

Lara's origin story looks to be one painful tale to relive in Tomb Raider.

The second area of the demo offered a little more hope. The abandoned village Lara had to climb through appeared to offer a number of potential routes. In fact, the player running our demo missed a jump and rather than running back around to get to where he fell, started up a different path to ascend to the cave. But once Lara retrieved the missing gear and started making her way out of the den, it was back to quick time events. A ferocious wolf attacked, but fending it off was just a matter of hitting the called for on time. At the close of the demo we got a little taste of the "base camp" system that serves as a hub for Lara's adventures in the game. At it she can upgrade her survival skills, salvage useable items from the wreckage she brings back from each mission, and fast travel around the world to places she's already been. These elements bring in a game mechanic to match the narrative evolution of Lara from scared and vulnerable to smart and resourceful. Tomb Raider isn't due out until next year, so a good amount of development time remains. And the developers were up front in saying that they specifically weren't showing combat this time around. This being E3, where every presentation is about dazzling the crowd, it could simply be that this demo was tailored to create the maximum dramatic impact. It certainly achieved that. I found myself in the minority versus the many who saw it and were thrilled. We should get a better feel for how the whole Tomb Raider experience will come together with the inclusion of combat and deeper looks in the coming months.

From The Chatty

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    June 13, 2011 10:00 AM

    Garnett Lee posted a new article, E3 2011: Tomb Raider.

    The origin story of Lara Croft looks to be one of the most painful tales to ever relive as the E3 2011 presentation for Tomb Raider focused on putting gaming's favorite heroine in some brutally violent situations.

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      June 13, 2011 10:13 AM

      It looks good, but 2012 is too far away right now. There are other games coming out before Id think about getting this.

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      June 13, 2011 10:13 AM

      Best of E3 for me.

      2. Bioshock Infinite
      3. Prey 2

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      June 13, 2011 10:16 AM

      This is the first time I'm actually excited about a Tomb Raider game, which means whatever they are trying to do is working. I liked some of the other games I've played on the PC but I've never been excited for one before. I usually pick them up on discount or something. This one will be amazing.

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      June 13, 2011 10:25 AM

      All these great games due in 2012 right when the world will end. Not enough time to play them but we get to die happy.

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      June 13, 2011 10:32 AM

      at first I was like oh man what happened to her boobs then I was like oh there they are!

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      June 13, 2011 10:53 AM

      The quicktime events kind of work. Sorta. As long as the gameplay and puzzle-solving and big jumps are still in the game (and plentiful), I don't mind hitting a single button to watch some bloated graphical showboating.

      But, I understand that those sequences take a lot of time to develop - time probably better spent on more levels and exploration options or things pertaining to actual gameplay.

      Developers can't win, though. If it was all great gameplay, then the internets would explode with all the talk about how there isn't enough story. And verse vice.

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      June 13, 2011 10:56 AM

      This is still probably the awesomest CG image I've ever seen: http://img83.imageshack.us/img83/5669/screen007.jpg

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      June 13, 2011 2:47 PM

      Boooo! A survival game is not the same as an action game. You can't be cinematic and gritty. Although I usually like quick time events, this killed my interest.

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      June 13, 2011 2:50 PM

      I can't really remember the original Tomb Raider on the PS1 that well - But, there wasn't that many enemies, right? It was more to do with exploring and stuff. I remember a tiger, that's about it. It was fun, is my point.

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        June 13, 2011 2:55 PM

        Very few enemies, and a shit load of really hard jumping puzzles. I had to have someone read the damn guide while I was playing to beat the end of it and without that I don't think I would have ever finished it.

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          June 13, 2011 3:06 PM

          Easier on PC with infinite saves anywhere. Even more so in TR3, where on PS1 there were a limited amount of save crystals you had to collect. For PC the infinite saves were retained and the save crystals converted to free health boosts, lol.

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        June 13, 2011 3:03 PM

        You remember the tiger but not the T-Rex?!

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          June 13, 2011 9:36 PM

          Oh I remember him. But he doesn't remember me......

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      June 13, 2011 6:42 PM

      I just finished up Dead Space 2. Let me tell you, I'm really tired of "Quick Time Events". The illusion of interactivity in what is essentially a cinematic by furious button mashing. If there's a choice of "go left" or "go right" kind of deal, sure. Like Mass Effect 2's Paragon/Renegade interrupts. But the ugly mashing...ugh.

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        June 13, 2011 6:45 PM

        I hate QTEs as well. Hopefully, they will be kept to a minimum.

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        June 13, 2011 7:29 PM

        signed

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      June 13, 2011 10:05 PM

      I think it looks fantastic... happy to see they are adding some depth and emotional beats to the character.