Tomb Raider Rewritten

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Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge Tomb Raider fan and have been from the start (aside from that brief interlude known as Angel of Darkness). Obviously, I was stoked to check out the latest interpretation of the franchise. Just in viewing the video footage on Square Enix’s enormous screen on the E3 show floor was plenty tantalizing, but the real goodies were behind closed doors.

The gameplay walkthrough begins with a 21 year old Lara Croft, fairly sure of herself, but not yet the strong and fearless woman gamers have come to know and love. Lara is with her mentor, Conrad Roth, on a grand ocean liner called The Endurance when the ship crashes and Lara is swept overboard and plunged into the ocean depths. When she awakens, she finds herself trussed up and hanging upside down in what appears to be a cave and she begins to panic. Here’s where Lara applies her first survival skill. With no weapons to speak of, she begins to use her body’s momentum to swing from side to side in a dangerous game with the fiery torch on the side wall. She catches herself on fire, burning away her bonds and screaming in pain as she crashes to the cave’s floor, impaling herself in the side with a piece of rusty rebar in the process. Now Lara is injured and her vision (and the player’s view of things) is temporarily blurred as if she is almost blinded with pain. Lara musters her resolve and pulls the rebar from her side, but she is now walking with a limp and clutching her side as she attempts to escape from her dank prison.

She grabs a torch perched on the side of the wall, as she will do many times in gameplay – Lara now uses her environment to survive. If she spots something that can help her, she will utilize it. She soon enters a part of the cave that houses a demonic looking altar complete with a human sacrifice – a girl she recognizes from the ship. Lara realizes just how dire her situation is and she determines to escape the clutches of this madman’s domain.

As she travels through the humid cave, complete with dripping water all around, her torch will extinguish from time to time. Again, Lara will utilize her surroundings, relighting her torch from another on the wall. When she comes upon a collection of detritus from the shipwreck that is blocking her way, she will attempt to burn the debris to clear her path. The new Tomb Raider is all about Lara’s survival by whatever means necessary and not so much about shooting everything in her path. When Lara finds herself in a situation where she must use her survival skills to escape, the screen will go black and white and key items that will help Lara will be highlighted in color. Her survival instinct mode is temporary, so the player will have to quickly scan the area to see what will benefit them in their current situation.

Especially in this cave area, the developers wanted a very claustrophobic feel with lots of tight spaces. They wanted to player to feel Lara’s panic and desperate fight for escape. When Lara finds herself trapped by the ship wreckage that has gathered at the mouth of the cave, she first tries to burn it away, but her flames are extinguished by a waterfall in the cave. She then surveys her surroundings and uses her wits to circumvent the waterfall and creates an explosion and waterslide to escape. As she slides out of the area, she must dodge falling debris and rocks. As she nears the exit, her captor suddenly appears, grabbing her leg. She must fight him in a quick time event and if she fails, he brings a blade down upon her, ending her struggle and her life. Lara’s quest won’t be easy and it won’t be for the faint of heart. She will die if you are not quick enough or make the wrong decisions.

However, because this is a game, we were able to see Lara die and then restart at nearly the same point in time, and this time she is able to slip from his clutches. She emerges the cave to find herself looking down into a bay filled with the wreckage of many ships and she realizes that few, if any, escape this island. Several days pass and she is thrilled to find that her mentor, Conrad Roth, has also survived the shipwreck, but he is badly injured. Worse yet, they hear the howl of wolves who are drawn by the smell of his blood. Before Roth loses consciousness, he tells Lara that the wolves have picked up the transmitter and taken it back to their cave and their only hope of rescue is in retrieving it. Lara pulls Roth to safety, then heads out to find the wolf pack and their lair.

Once she is out of the cave and exploring the island, she has incredible freedom of movement. Lara can go anywhere and do so in whatever fashion makes sense. She can jump onto a ledge, then jump to another ledge but correct herself in mid-air and jump to another area. She can scramble up a wall, run, climb – whatever works for the moment and it looks fantastic and realistic during gameplay. She doesn’t look like a superhero who can jump left and then suddenly jump right. She looks like a frightened but very physically fit girl who is unsure of her situation and is just trying to do whatever she can to survive.

Things like the weather will also impact Lara’s fight. Rain will make rocks slippery and unstable and they could even crumble beneath her as she climbs. Bridges will break and there will be danger at every turn. Since Lara’s main goal is to survive, she will encounter enemies, like the wolves, and she will kill them, but it’s not for sport, merely survival. As she, herself, gets injured, those wounds will appear on her body, so you will have a physical representation of just how hurt Lara is. Once she retrieves the transmitter, she has to climb a radio tower to use it and this is where the demo ended.

We were told that Lara will obtain weapons like the Climbing Axe which will unlock areas we couldn’t reach before. She’ll be able to go to the Base Camp to obtain new gear in the Salvage area and she’ll be able to obtain upgrades in the Survival Skills area. Lastly, she’ll be able to travel quickly from hub to hub in the Fast Travel area.

All in all, this newly envisioned Tomb Raider looks absolutely fantastic, but you’ll have to wait until Fall 2012 to check it out on PS3, 360 and PC. Having seen this demo, the wait will be a difficult one for me.