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Tomb Raider E3 Preview

Clutching her injured side, Lara Croft stumbles down a mountain path, gasping for air as she escapes the mysterious lair she found herself tied up in. Thunder sounds, and lightning flashes overhead as rain begins to fall.

With a found radio clipped to her belt, Lara happens across what looks to be an abandoned fire pit. She rests, cupping her hands and taking a sip of water as she tries to gather herself.

She unclips the radio from her belt, pressing the talk button and holding it up. “If there’s anyone listening,” she says, out of breath, “please respond.”

And so begins the demo for Tomb Raider shown at E3 this year.

Character development. That is the number one biggest change we find in the upcoming Reboot from developer Crystal Dynamics.

Even developer Karl Stewart emphasizes this when he explains that the game is “about the journey, and how she gets to become that Lara Croft.”

After finding a radio, Lara is injected with some hope. She’s been marooned on this island after a shipwreck. Could it be that some of the others survived as well?

Despite the gameplay demo shown at the Microsoft Press Conference at E3 2012, Lara doesn’t start off as a bow-toting badass. In fact, it’s just the opposite; she’s scared, she’s trying to gather her wits about her, and she’s desperately trying to reclaim a situation that’s gotten away from her.

So, how does she find access to her killer instinct? It’s genius, really: she finds the motivation.

And with the possibility of other survivors, Lara now finds herself with a healthy dose of it. She needs to find the others, figure out where she is and what’s going on, and most of all, she needs to survive at all costs.

Using this motivation, developers are able to bring players along for the journey and plunge them headfirst into the challenge with Lara. Based heavily on survival, players will need to be resourceful and quick-thinking in order to help Lara survive in this nightmarish Far Cry-meets-Uncharted island.

After surviving the night, Lara sets off to explore around her a bit. After moving through a lush and beautifully detailed forest environment, she stumbles across a sickening sight; a rotting corpse strung up on a snare, hanging from a tree.

Slung across the midsection of the corpse is a tool that Stewart describes as “an important part…of her gear gaining and structure throughout the game”: a bow.

While walking around the environment and exploring a bit, we’re introduced to some of the platforming mechanics of the game, a convention that has been iconic in the Tomb Raider series.

She reaches the top of a tree branch, directly facing the corpse. “I can do this,” she whispers encouragingly to herself as she clutches a branch to steady herself.

She reaches out, catching hold of the bow and falling with the corpse to the ground. Drawing back at first, she slowly takes the bow, pulling the string back and sizing it up.

The bow will be an important part in the overall gameplay and immersive quality of Tomb Raider. At first, developers explain, Lara will feel a bit clumsy with the bow as she learns how to use it. This allows the player to learn alongside her, starting out as a novice and gaining experience after using it.

Experience points play a large role in Tomb Raider as well. Points will be awarded to players after completing important tasks such as combat, hunting, and exploration. Experience points will allow one to level up and buy additional skill upgrades to help Lara on her journey.

After a seamless cutscene-to-gameplay transition, Lara hunts down a deer. She fires several arrows into it before it drops.

“Sorry,” she says softly to the dying animal, displaying remorse for killing something despite her need to survive. It’s a stark departure from the cold, endangered-species-killing-machine she’s been in titles past. This Lara doesn’t have a taste for blood, but she’s willing to do what it takes to survive.

From there, Lara needs to return to the base camp with the meat. Tomb Raider has adopted  a very open-world style feel, and it’s easy to get lost in it as you explore. Thankfully, the developer has given us three different ways to find your way back; survival instinct, a vision mode to help pinpoint locations; a map; and what Stewart calls “intuitive design,” meaning that the game follows real-world applications by using water as a guided path. Water flows downhill, so if you can locate a stream, you’ll be able to find your way back up to the base camp again. The goal here is to help players feel “just as smart and resourceful as Lara.”

Immersion is another major part of Tomb Raider. Environments are carefully constructed to feel just as alive as Lara herself, with weather changes, animals, and dynamic sound design giving off a great deal of atmosphere. Also noticeably different is the lack of a HUD, which Stewart explains was used sparingly to prevent distraction from the environment, leaving the player with a true sense of immersion.

“We want to immerse the player as deep as possible,” he says.

Lara returns to base camp, cooking the deer when she’s finally able to reach a contact with her radio. It’s one of her friends, and the voice gives her a bit of hope and motivation to help drive her into the forest to find the others.

After setting off to find the others, Lara comes across a small hut. The door is open, swinging in the breeze as eerie music streams out.

“Hello?” She calls as she enters in. No answer comes. Instead, she finds a ladder descending deep into a black hole in the ground. She grabs a torch off the wall to examine it.
“This could be a way through.”

The door slams shut behind her. She curses, then turns back to the hole.

Only one way out now.

She grabs the rungs and begins moving down, finding her way into a cavern half-filled with water and strange markings on the walls. It’s at this point that we start to see the beginnings of Lara’s adventurous tendencies, and the player starts to get a glimpse of the world around them.

She comes across many obstacles along her way, and we see the potential for physics-based puzzles. They’re a fair change in the way puzzles have traditionally been handled in Tomb Raider; instead of being blatant environmental puzzles, the player will need to resort to being a bit more resourceful, using improved physics to interact with the world around them.

She finds a pile of dry, flammable objects guarding the way through. Touching the torch to it, it ignites, falling weightlessly into a pile of embers and clearing a path for Lara.

Stewart explains that burnable objects become a big part of the game, giving her a way through in many obstructed pathways.

As the demo comes to a close, it makes one thing very, very clear; this is not the Lara Croft you’ve always known. And that’s a good thing. Character development, player resourcefulness, overhauled physics and visuals, amazing sense of atmosphere, and the story Tomb Raider was made to tell is shaping this game up to definitely be what Stewart calls “the game of our career.”

Tomb Raider officially releases on all major platforms with a timed exclusive for DLC on the Xbox 360 on March 5, 2013. Look for more information surrounding the game in the coming months.

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