E3 2012: Tomb Raider Eyes-On Preview

This is not the Lara Croft we once knew.

From the moment the media-only demo I saw at E3 2012 began, I knew things had changed.  The bombastic, take-no-prisoners Lara from before, the one that didn’t need to tread water if you know what I mean, is gone. This Lara is unsure of herself, lacking confidence. Throughout the demo, she constantly tells herself “I can do this…I can do this.” She is afraid of what may happen to her, what is happening to her crewmates, and what the island may have in store for her.

Simply put, this Lara is human.

The demo began right where the E3 2011 demo ended, with Lara running down a cliff in search of a friendly face. She attempts to cross a log bridging a gap in the cliff, marking the first time she tries to reassure herself. Things are tense enough for Lara, but the game does the same to the player by moving the camera directly above Lara as she tries to cross. You will see the chasm she is crossing. You will feel the same uneasiness that Lara is feeling. After all, it’s a long way down.

The scene shifts to a mini campsite, complete with locked shanty house, where a corpse hangs upside down from a tree. Lara isn’t exactly happy with the corpse, but she notices that the body has a bow strapped to it. “I can use that,” she says to herself as she climbs the tree to obtain it. Another bout of self-reassurance and Lara is reaching for the bow, only this time she slips and falls, taking the entire body with her. The bow is hers, just not the way she planned it.

After making (and finding) arrows for herself, Lara goes on the hunt for some food. Spotting a deer, she tracks it into the wilderness, following it and firing arrows when opportunity knocks. When she finally scores a hit, she walks up to the deer and simply says “I’m sorry.” Old Lara wouldn’t have apologized, nor would she have sobbed as she cut meat off of the deer. New Lara doesn’t like taking life if she doesn’t have to. Once the meat is picked up, Lara uses her Survival Instincts (think Batman’s Detective mode from the Arkham games) to find the campsite again. At the campsite, the demo introduces the “Base Camp” aspect of Tomb Raider: resting at camp brings up the customizable skill trees and weapon upgrade options, allowing Lara to be crafted to any player’s whim. This demo threw a few non-descript skills on Lara just to show us how it works, then she was off again.

The shanty at the campsite is now open, and Lara enters to find a ladder to a cavern. As she descends, one of the most impressive parts of the E3 2011 demo comes back: claustrophobic spaces. These caverns are TIGHT; Lara can barely fit through the low ceilings and waist-high waters. That environment is one of the coolest things about this new Tomb Raider: creating tension through limited mobility and sardine can-like spaces.

Once she emerges, she FINALLY finds a familiar face, but this friend is not alone. The strange man claims to also be lost in the jungle, wishing to partner with Lara and her friend to find his way around. Of course, this becomes too good to be true, and the man takes Lara’s friend away at gunpoint. Lara gives chase, only to get caught in a bear trap. Pulling the bear trap off of Lara’s foot is excruciating, listening to her screams of pain while getting the trap off. Eventually the trap comes off, and a pack of Lara’s crewmates find her in the wilderness. They speak of hostile “others” on the island (hmm…sounds familiar) who must be avoided. One man speaks of how to deal with these hostiles, and Lara says “I don’t want us to become murderers.” This would turn out to be crucial just a few minutes later.

Lara gets kidnapped by the hostiles and brought to a larger group of prisoners. Some of the other prisoners try to run, chaos ensues, and Lara is able to hide in a nearby shack. The leader of the hostiles finds her, pulls her out of the shack, and…well, he gets a bit handsy, for lack of a better term. Lara is obviously uncomfortable and tries to fight him off, leading to a struggle that ends with the two fighting for control of a gun. Lara pushes the gun toward her assailant…

…and the gun goes off, shooting him straight through his head. Lara kicks off the corpse and immediately becomes hysterical. She has killed her first human being. She has become the murderer she didn’t want to become. We are watching the maturation of Lara Croft right before our eyes, culminating in her getting up, gathering herself, and setting off with a fire in her eyes unlike anything we had seen previously. The Lara we know and love is back.

Watching Lara grow from a scared, unsure girl into a mature, strong woman right before our eyes is but one of the many reason Tomb Raider is shaping up to be the best yet. March 5th, 2013 cannot come soon enough.

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