Previews// Tomb Raider

Posted 5 Feb 2013 17:00 by
Square Enix is keen to show the world how Crystal Dynamics has re-written Lara Croft’s beginnings with the upcoming Tomb Raider game. I mean, really, really keen - for the last two years, all we’ve ever seen in gameplay trailers and behind-closed-doors events relate to the game’s opening act.

Playing the first three hours of the full game serves merely to piece together all of these past promotional materials into something a bit more coherent. By and large, there are no new surprises in terms of storyline.

You might already know the drill: a young Croft begins her journey with a rag-tag band of archaeologists, en route to Asia to look for some ancient ruins. Her vessel gets shipwrecked near an island in a freak natural disaster, and she is separated from her team - forced to survive a series of unfortunate events in a story that ultimately shapes our heroine into the bold, tiger-shooting Tomb Raider that we know and love.

I helped Lara scurry out of a tribal cave, hunt deer for food, escape capture from a cult militia that has taken control of the island and infiltrate a radio tower in order to send out a distress signal. Oh, and I also had to explore a wolf den to retrieve some much-needed medical supplies.

For the most part, all of this feels exactly as you would imagine a Tomb Raider should, with lush forests, dank underground tunnels and ancient temples forming the majority of the game’s backdrop. There are also plenty of (admittedly simple at this stage) platform-based puzzles that allow Lara to clamber atop of debris and buildings buried deep within large environments.

It’s equal parts classic Tomb Raider and Uncharted, with an added smattering of Quick Time Events to punctuate near-death encounters with wolves and desperate escapes from deadly caverns. It’s great at capturing tension in rare instances, but thankfully the QTEs aren’t used in abundance.

There’s a lot of shooting in Tomb Raider too. At first, it fits in quite well with the whole survival ethos and the essence of the franchise - Lara uses a bow and arrow to fend off dangerous animals, hunt docile creatures, and silently take out or distract human enemies. But once Croft picks up a pistol, the game quickly steps into ‘cover shooter’ territory.

From that point on, survival is essentially a case of periodically finding a good place to hide and shooting the heads off of nasty men with assault rifles. This was most evident in the final segment of the preview, where I had to guide Lara through a snowy radio tower and fight through waves of army men.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that the majority of my playtest wasn’t so base. Indeed, there remained some large semblance of classic Tomb Raider games in the segments leading up to the tower. Climbing across obstacles, investigating dilapidated villages, discovering ancient relics... and there’s plenty of reward for exploration too.

Investigating all the nooks and crannies in each expansive (if linear) area will throw up relics, storyline-padding diaries, equipment upgrades in the form of salvage and experience points that can be exchanged at campsites to improve Lara’s abilities. The game contains three skill trees, which boost survival, shooting and melee techniques.

But the icing on the cake here seems to be the promise of some real tomb raiding. As I was playing through the story, I noticed a notification informing me of a ‘secret tomb’ that could be accessed nearby. Time will tell if Lara will be able to don the classic suit (metaphorically) and explore some ancient locations post-survival, or whether such things will be relegated to side quests.

With plenty of discovery and exploration on offer though, there’s still potential for the full game to be positively-weighted - in favour of the sort of action that will thrill survival experts and long-time Lara fans.

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