Crystal Dynamics is revitalising the Tomb Raider franchise - for a second time. We all remember how disappointing Underworld was, but lest we forget that the Square Enix studio was also responsible for the critically acclaimed Legend.
I was treated to a full-length demonstration of Lara Croft's reboot, and man is it looking tasty. An extended version of the underground cavern segment showcased at Microsoft's E3 press conference was shown, along with a new level set on a mountaintop and abandoned village. Here's a few reasons why you should get excited about Lara's latest.
Animations and Graphical Effects:
Lara looks absolutely stunning in motion, and Crystal Dynamics seems to have taken a whole load of effort in making her react to almost everything in the world around her.
Even as she's standing still, you can zoom in on her face and watch her motion her head and check her surroundings. As a young 21-year-old woman on her first expedition, you can really feel the emotion coming out as she struggles to understand just what the hell has happened to her.
Both inside the cavern and on the mountaintop, Lara is faced with puzzles that require a lot of lateral thinking to progress. Crystal Dynamics said it was keen to present the heroine as resourceful, and a section of her underground capture shows this in spades.
One area in the underground escape requires you to use weight-balancing to send some fired-up logs past a wall of water to blow up a rock face, while in the mountainside you will need to clamber atop metal wreckage - and balance yourself accordingly - to cross several chasms.
Things are grim for Lara Croft. Crystal Dynamics wants to forge her into the hardened adventurer that she was famous for, and to do that her nimble 21-year-old self has to take a few knocks and bruises. We're probably being too light with that turn of phrase - a lot of heavy shit goes down in Miss Croft's unexpected shipwrecking.
The first thing we see in the Scavenger's Den in which she is captured is Lara awakening to find herself cocooned and strung upside down. Her only means of escape is to try and set herself on fire so she can break free - but this means plummeting down a chasm and landing straight on a spike, impaling her side. Nasty.
Later on, Lara explores the abandoned village on the mountaintop - her mentor, Conrad Roth, is wounded and needs her to retrieve a transmitter that a pack of wolves have taken off with. She discovers the device in a cave, and upon exiting has to fight off a vicious wolf attack with her bare hands.
Crystal Dynamics was keen to point out that various objectives can have multiple routes to completion. The key example of this was within the village, where a fork in the road offered two distinct pathways to reaching the wolf's den in the mountains.
As you complete various tasks, Lara gains more confidence and earns new tools to traverse the same areas in new ways. After collecting the transmitter and bringing it back to Roth, you get to use an axe which can be used to climb across rock faces. Handy really, as the next thing the injured Roth asks you to do is to make it to a nearby radio tower to send out an SOS.
If there's one thing that a lot of gamers have disdain for, it's Quick Time Events. And unfortunately, I can't really tart up the fact that Tomb Raider does include some cinematic button-bashing. However, these segments rarely occurred during regular exploration and actually worked to add tension to some of the more chaotic action sequences.
Largely, QTEs took place while Lara was trying to escape the underground Scavenger's Den. At one point, the heroine has to crawl through a tight gap, but is stunned when a random man appears behind her and grabs her leg. The camera shakes around and button prompts appear as Lara struggles to kick the creepy dude away.
Elsewhere in the cavern, an incident causes a massive quake and Lara's escape route begins to collapse around her. You need to race forward to avoid getting trapped in the usual manner, but she soon falls down a slope and ends up hanging onto a cliff by the tips of her fingers.
Clambering back up, she sees daylight - smashing the left and right triggers on the controller makes Lara scramble desperately back up the slope to finally put an end to her underground ordeal - but not before having to react quickly to falling boulders first.