Tomb Raider preview

Tomb Raider attempts to one-up Uncharted at its own game by introducing its own "everyday" heroine. Crystal Dynamics tries to blend cinematic peril seamlessly with gameplay--to mixed results.

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QUICKTAKE: Tomb Raider attempts to one-up Uncharted at its own game by introducing its own "everyday" heroine. Crystal Dynamics tries to blend cinematic peril seamlessly with gameplay--to mixed results.

THE DEMO: Lara is not having a good day. After surviving her boat crash, she finds herself in quite a dire circumstance. She must find food to eat. But first, she needs a weapon if she plans on adding some protein to her new jungle diet.

She finds a corpse swinging in a tree above, rotting in some kind of trap. The body has a bow, however, so she has no choice but to climb up and reach for the bow. As she grasps the weapon, she loses her balance, sending her plummeting to the ground with a dead body on top of her. At least she has a bow, right?

Although Lara screams in horror, she manages to simply get up and start running to her next objective: a pack of deer. And, apparently, this inexperienced traveler is a master at archery, because it takes her no time to bag and tag some fresh meat. It's odd how easily that came to her, given she had fallen from quite a high distance and should theoretically be traumatized by her recent gruesome encounter.

DETAILS: Is it ironic to say that Tomb Raider seems to be heavily inspired by Uncharted--considering many had jokingly called Naughty Dog's first game in the franchise "Dude Raider"? Sony's franchise transformed the Tomb Raider formula by introducing a more "everyman" hero, and integrating cinematic sequences into gameplay. Crystal Dynamics is definitely trying to humanize Lara Croft for this reboot, but it comes off as inconsistent.

In one scene, Lara gets caught in a bear trap. After being freed, she briefly limps, only to immediately return to her normal running animation. Given the numerous pained groans and grunts they've recorded for Lara, it's odd that she doesn't actually seem to be in any real danger. Even after falling off a cliff, she's seemingly invincible--an odd direction to go for a game that's being billed as a "survival horror" game of sorts. (It's the same problem I had with Uncharted 3--where a thirsty Drake manages to run and gun his way through the desert without difficulty.)

These kinds of inconsistencies are common, perhaps expected, in games. However, one qualm I have with Tomb Raider's cinematic approach is how often it steals control away from the player. For example, in one scene, one of your companions runs away. Instead of allowing the player to chase after him within the game engine, it automatically moves into a cutscene where, of course, Lara and her companions make a terrible decision. There's not even the illusion of choice, something that's rather crucial for making a video game feel interactive--and not just a movie with playable bits thrown in between.

In the demo's climax, Lara has been captured. Hands tied behind her back, she must run away from the enemy camp. While dramatic, it's another example of how little emergent gameplay Tomb Raider has. There's only one path through this heavily scripted situation. At the end of the path, Lara gets jumped by an armed man. The two struggle over the gun in quite a graphic QTE sequence. As the barrel of the gun moves from Lara's head to the villain's, a prompt to fire the gun appears on screen. Kill or be killed. While it's not much of a choice, at least it was one. Tomb Raider's going to need more moments like that to make it more substantial than what it is now.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    June 6, 2012 10:40 AM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Tomb Raider preview.

    Tomb Raider attempts to one-up Uncharted at its own game by introducing its own "everyday" heroine. Crystal Dynamics tries to blend cinematic peril seamlessly with gameplay--to mixed results.

    • reply
      June 6, 2012 11:44 AM

      Does anyone actually like QTEs?!? It's baffling to me how many games still have them. Press A to not get killed. Press X to kill this thing. They're called fucking controls. Tell me what they are at the start of the game and then never mention them again. If you have to actually flash the button on the screen to tell the player what to do then you just failed at game design.*

      I'd love Tomb Raider to be great, but the I'm worried it'll be very linear (just like successor/predecessor Uncharted).

      * Heavy Rain excluded - that was doing something interesting.

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        June 6, 2012 12:17 PM

        They were cool at one point because it was the only way to still have some sort of control while movie-esque action was going on. The thing is it's a relic from days when there simply wasn't the processing power to do that sort of thing outside of a scripted sequence. At this point they're unnecessary.

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          June 7, 2012 3:47 AM

          Not so much its not just about processing power, its about input and manpower. Controllers still suck at complicated precise input, and its usually impossible to map the characters on screen actions to anything menaingful on the buttons. Also its a lot of work... making an interactive cutscene is still some work, but making gameplay is expensive and doing a bunch of work for just one or two scenes is simply not cost effective. QTEs are a cheap ugly alternative, and I hate them. But they aren't going anywhere anytime soon, unless linear big budget narratives suddenly fall out of popularity.

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      June 6, 2012 12:11 PM

      I'll up your one, and then mix the results. What do you think about that, Professor Layton? Solving all the mysteries of E3...

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      June 6, 2012 6:44 PM

      WTF is this fucking bullshit?

    • reply
      June 7, 2012 1:23 AM

      To Andrew Yoon: You criticize the narrative, its plausability, logic and realism in cutscenes, and cutscenes make out about 10% of overall gaming time. Do you have anything to say about the quality of the game engine? The animations? The audio fidelity? The fighting dynamics and environment interaction?

      What do you have to say about the game itself, aside from its theatrics?

      You also question Lara's improbable constitution? In-game limping would be very tedious if it happened every time a limb got damage, and you had to eat a fruit or use first aid to unlimp yourself.

      As for her callous and professional deer-hunting: She's Lara frigging Croft! Handling dead bodies, animal carcasses and survival guilt makes her stronger, it doesn't break her. And she's just come from a sinking ship, she's probably still in shock and operating on cold instinct. That's all the rationalization I need to go on and enjoy the game.

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