After more than a decade of seeing the series rise, fall and resurgence, Tomb Raider will make another comeback in the current console generation. Revealed last year when it wowed both the press and gaming public, Tomb Raider is set up as both a series reboot as well as an origin story for the heroine Lara Croft. The public won't get its hands on this title until 2013, but we checked out a demo at Comic-Con 2012.
While the demo was short, it was still very surprising. The demo starts off almost immediately where last year's E3 demo ended. Still badly injured and running on adrenaline, Lara has escaped her captors for now. Hoping to escape the island, she takes off in search for supplies and other survivors. The first part of the demo has you exploring the landscape in search of some impromptu shelter. There's the flora and fauna you've come to expect from the series, and even though we've seen a few Tomb Raider titles during this console generation, this one makes the vegetation look more lush than before. The presence of wildlife also adds some animation to the surroundings.
While this part of the demo acted like the game's tutorial, it did feature a few tense moments. The first was when Lara was balancing across a fallen tree to get to the other side of a chasm. Though we've seen this exact action done countless times before, there was still some tension thanks to Lara's vocal unease. The second moment comes from the wreckage of a fallen plane perched vertically against a cliff face. Climbing it was one thing, but it was something else entirely to try to reach the other side as it began to fall apart and plummet down. In a way, it'll remind players of similar scenes in games like Uncharted, where the music and camera angles ramp up the tension and give you a more interactive cut scene. It works well, and you get the feeling that the development team wants to make more scenes like this.
After a cut scene of Lara finding some supplies and creating a makeshift camp, you're presented with the second part of the demo, which shows off something new: hunting. Once you've successfully obtained a bow and arrow from a hanging corpse, you hunt for a deer so you can cook it for some much-needed sustenance. You get the feeling that the hunt is a disguised tutorial for using your new weapon, but the hunting session gives you a nice chunk of land to play around with, giving you the sense that the levels are more open in this title. The end of the hunt and the return to camp also give you a chance to level up Lara, as you spend points to power up things like tracking and accuracy with your weapons.
The overall look and sound have been touched on before, and there's no doubt that it still looks great, but what's more impressive is how it presents Lara as a more fragile character. The audible shivers in her voice convey that she's a heroine learning to cope with the elements and atrocities she's seen thus far. That same hesitation in her voice is present when she cuts a deer for meat and when she's on the radio blaming herself for a friend's death. There's already been talk about the fine line being walked between characterization and exploitation in taking Lara in this new direction, but the demo skewed more toward the former ideal rather than the latter. Whether that sentiment stays consistent for the rest of the game remains to be seen.
From the looks of it, Tomb Raider is shaping up to be a deeper experience than one would have imagined. There's the possibility of a more open world (in comparison to older titles) and more varied gameplay beyond the expected platforming and shooting. The weaker Lara might rub some people the wrong way, but it gives her character an extra dimension. We hope to see more of what the development team has to offer as we near the game's 2013 release.
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