Tomb Raider E3 Behind Closed Doors Demo Impressions
Square-Enix took us behind closed doors to show off a special half hour long demo of the Tomb Raider, and let me tell you what… that game is intense.
We all know the new Tomb Raider reboot has slipped from its original fall release date well into 2013, but that hasn’t stopped Square-Enix from showcasing some of what this game has to offer… behind closed doors. For as massively popular as this game is, Square is remaining quite secretive about the whole thing, to the point where they took us into a tiny room tucked away in the back of the convention center, turned off all the lights, and blew our minds.
Instead of physically putting this game through its paces, we were forced to watch one of the game’s developers trudge through an early portion of the game, showing off what may be some of the most unique Tomb Raider features ever seen.
The demo picked up after the last portion of the game we saw where Lara struggled to free herself from captivity and escape a dank torture dungeon in the middle of the jungle. Gameplay picked up with Lara taking center stage on a completely HUD-free screen and stepping out onto the side of a cliff overlooking the ocean.
As the developer who was playing explained, the whole concept of the new Tomb Raider is to showcase a smarter, more resourceful, Lara. Although that may seem a bit too far off from the origins of the series, this reboot is meant to be a much more mature take on the series, whereas the original series was founded on the idea of a strong, powerful heroine the likes of James Bond.
That whole idea is readily apparent as Lara no longer appears as a confident, forward individual who fears absolutely nothing and gets whatever she wants. The dynamic audio content coming from Lara conveys a woman who is obviously distraught over her situation and knows that her every decision will mean the difference between life and death.
For the first few minutes I fought the urge to compare this game to Uncharted, especially after watching Lara convince herself to leap forth from a cliff onto the crumbling chassis of an old rusted out airplane dangling from the cliff. Unlike Drake, who would charge forth with reckless abandon, Lara actually paused to mentally prep herself for the task ahead before making the leap. Once firmly latched onto the plane, which immediately started to crumble, Lara’s free climbing animations and abilities were strikingly similar those of Nathan Drake, but that is literally where the comparison ends.
The game doesn’t play anything like you would expect a traditional Tomb Raider to play. You aren’t going to encounter waves upon waves of enemies waiting to absorb your bullets. Rather, Lara spends a great deal of time attempting to figure out how she is going to get herself out of this situation while at the same time trying to figure what exactly happened to her.
The game has been designed to incorporate a natural world that lives breaths on its own. Although this is nothing new to gaming, for a series such as Tomb Raider, this is a big step. Rather than simply following a map or a compass waypoint back to wherever it is you came from, you can use logic and natural landmarks to make your way back. The one example we saw of this came when Lara needed to make her way back to camp atop the waterfall. Instead of relying on the concept of linear gameplay, the player can use the world to navigate. Since her camp was atop of waterfall and she descended from that area to the forest floor below, logic would state that she could follow the river back to base of the waterfall and then make her way back to the top. Although this may not be the most exciting feature, it allows the player to remain engaged in the actual game longer without the need to disengage and look at a map for direction.
Seeing as how she has been left to die in the jungle, her resourcefulness is fully put to the test as she must scavenge for anything even remotely useful. Her first order of business is to find some sort of weapon and food. This is where Lara Stumbles upon her signature weapon for this game, the bow.
Bow and arrow mechanics in games have typically been spotty at best, and Tomb Raider didn’t instantly look to be changing that trend. It could have been that the person playing wasn’t the best at controlling the weapon, but overall it seemed twitchy and hard to control, even with the snap-to aiming system.
Aside from killing the occasional enemy, Lara must use the bow to gather food and supplies in order to survive. Every kill or piece of scavenge collected yields XP which can then be used at your base camp to purchase new skills and instinct abilities such as arrow retrieval. Very little of the leveling mechanic was shown, but weapon upgrades are necessary in order to advance through certain parts of the game. The part we saw consisted of Lara upgrading a rudimentary axe she found into a sturdier weapon that could be used as a prying tool to advance through a closed off section of a tunnel. I would assume that further upgrades will be available for the bow and future weapons, but we only saw the bow and axe in this demo.
The one line from the gameplay trailer that seems to have stuck with everyone came just before Lara fired an arrow into a helpless deer and uttered, “Sorry.” I’m pleased to report that no, she doesn’t say that every time you kill a animal. But that one line is pretty indicative of the new personality behind Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider.
Unlike past games where Lara had no qualms with gunning down whoever stood in her way, the new Lara appears to have a conscience and actually knows the value of life. The tail end of the demo found Lara attempting to free herself from her captors yet again, but one man in particular is hell bent of giving Lara a hard time, especially after she bites his ear off. With her hands tied together, Lara desperately struggles to avoid looking down the barrel of a gun. She somehow manages to knock the gun loose and through a lengthy struggle is finally able to kill her attacker. Her subsequent reaction is quite telling of how the rest of the game is going to play out as she all but completely breaks down attempting to comprehend the gravity of what she just did.
This reboot may not be exactly what people are expecting and may not even be what some people are hoping for, but on thing is for certain: it’s incredible. This dark, gritty, more mature take on a classic series is a prime example of what a proper reboot should be and other developers looking to revive former franchises should take note.