E3 2012 Preview: Tomb Raider

June 13, 2012

This year’s E3 seemed to be less about the reveals and more about showing off polished products.  As a result, it’s hard to miss a game as high-profile as the latest in the Tomb Raider series, which we managed to get our eyes on in a behind closed doors presentation.

To say something of what was on this display this year, it looks as though the whole game is all about Lara Croft’s terrible experiences. This time around, we got to see a scenario that started off on the beach amidst several ship and airwrecks. Among the survivors is the young Lara, aged 21 in this installment. She’s shaken by her ordeal and upon trying to cross a tree bridge, almost falls in a dramatic moment. She does manage to keep her cool when she faces her next and very Uncharted-inspired obstacle, a plane wreck sticking out of the waterfall. As she makes her way along via various handholds, the plane crumbles around her, eventually forcing Lara to jump for a ledge. Unfortunately, she misses and falls down a mud slide into a rocky outcrop, just as it’s started to rain. Shivering, wet and muddy, a cutscene plays where Lara attempts to contact her friends on a radio, without any luck. She sets up camp and manages to set a fire with her last match to keep herself warm.

Later on, she found a corpse strung up with a bow on it, which Lara had to reach out for, carefully in time with the carcass swinging in order to get a hold of it. With a new weapon in hand, she was ready to play around with the game’s Survival Mode, which when activated drains colour from the screen and highlights objects that Lara can use to survive. In this case she was able to shoot a deer, which Lara then cut open for food. This wasn’t easy for Lara, as the animal was still alive as she approached, highlighting how difficult the fight for survival will be on this island.

Returning to base camp, a new menu appeared, allowing Lara to upgrade her skills. In this case, she was able to unlock an ability that allows her to retrieve arrows from fallen enemies. She doesn’t stay at base camp for long though, as Lara manages to get through to one of her friends on the radio, who tells her to keep moving. Setting off through the jungle, Lara starts hearing music and tracks it to an old house. The music gets louder as she climbs down into the basement, which leads into a sewer, and Lara gets dirtier as she trudges along. She exits into a room decked out with candles, strange paintings of ships, skulls, meat, Chinese writing on some signs and – surprise! – a new weapon, a pry tool.

She leaves the area and finds her female friend Sam at a camp with a creepy guy on a crutch named Matthias, who claims to be a survivor and a teacher. Suspicious, Lara draws her bow on Matthias, who takes Sam hostage and manages to flee with her. Does it get worse? Oh yes. Wolves start attacking Lara, who finds herself caught in a bear trap, rendering her unable to move. In a neat gameplay moment, Lara was only able to shoot at the wolves, with time slowing down as each one leapt for her. Thankfully, survivors find her and get her out of the trap before heading off to look for Sam, except for yet another creepy guy named Whitman. Along with Whitman, Lara sets off into the jungle and they eventually find a Japanese-looking house, covered in more strange graffiti. At this point, Lara had to find more parts to upgrade her axe with in order to use it to turn a wheel to open the door into the next area.

This next area isn’t what you’d expect from an island. We’re guessing Lara didn’t expect to find shrines and cherry blossom trees either, but it makes a bit more sense when Whitman theorises that it may have been part of a lost kingdom called Yamaza. Before she could unearth any more mysteries however, Lara was confronted and captured by Russian soldiers. Lara managed to get away but found a Japanese village burning. In one of the more intense moments of the demo, the Russian leader catches up to Lara, who bites him to get away. A struggle ensues but she gets her hands on his firearm and blows his brains out. Understandably, this is incredibly traumatising for her (and a great way to end the demo).

From what we’ve seen over the years of the new Tomb Raider, it looks like it’s ticking a lot of boxes. The game is slated for release early next year, so let’s hope that in the meantime, developer Crystal Dynamics can keep pushing the boundaries.