Rebooting Lara Croft
We'd had hands-on opportunities with next year's Tomb Raider reboot before, but we recently got to play the first three hours of the game in one gritty, glorious session. Think this game will be just another Uncharted clone? Think again.
We've compiled a list of some of the most noteworthy things we did and saw in the game's opening hours to give you a taste of what you can expect come 2013 (and why it's one of our most anticipated games of next year).
Got shipwrecked on a creepy island
The opening scene of Tomb Raider isn't exactly new info, but it's worth repeating just how important it is in setting the gritty tone of the game. It's here we're introduced to a new Lara--a more believable, human Lara. She's not some foxy expert adventurer with dual pistols strapped to her leg; she's a burgeoning archaeologist on an expedition searching for an ancient lost city. Unfortunately, her ship gets torn in half during a brutal storm, and she and her crew find themselves stranded on an island full of hostile creatures and unpleasant humans.
Saw lots of horrible things right at the start
Shortly after arriving on the island, Lara got beaten over the head, knocked unconscious, and left suspended in a cocoon-like prison from the ceiling of a cave. She escaped, got impaled by a bit of rebar, and found the body of one of her crew members crucified on a strange, ritualistic altar. Then, she watched a murderous pursuer get crushed to death by falling rocks. This all occurred within a span of about five minutes, and we genuinely hesitated to continue out of fear of the horrible things that surely awaited us. Like, you know, Lara getting killed or something. Which totally happened a few minutes later when she got crushed by rocks herself.
Watched Lara get super wounded...
The new Lara Croft is no superhero. During our three-hour trek through the beginning of the game, we watched her get wounded in some pretty terrible ways. As we mentioned before, she initially gets impaled by a chunk of rebar after falling on it--thankfully, it went clean through her side, presumably missing her organs. She also got caught in a bear trap, punched in the head, grazed by a bullet, and chewed on by wolves and other predatory creatures. Poor Lara!
...and also saw her get brutally killed
Some of the game's more tense moments had us escaping caves, enemy encounters, or both, and these often ended with quick-time events. Failing one resulted in rather grim death sequences. We failed most on purpose (really!) to see what would happen. Lara got crushed to death by a cave-in, shot to death by arrows (one of which pierced her throat), and had her voice box gracefully removed by the ravenous fangs of a pack of wolves. So, yeah. Don't fail the QTEs.
Used Survival Instincts to examine the environment
Though Lara is a novice adventurer/survivor/archeologist, she's had some formal training by Roth, the captain of her now-destroyed ship. Pressing one of the left shoulder buttons activated her Survival Instincts--akin to Batman's Detective Mode or Agent 47's Instinct Mode--which highlighted objects in the environment that we could interact with. This feature also served to keep the screen mostly HUD-free, as things like objective markers only show up while Survival Instincts are active.
Solved lots of puzzles
Big surprise there, right? Lara has always been pretty adept at solving puzzles, and we did a lot of that during our brief time with the game. They started off simple, having us use torches to destroy flammable barricades, but the puzzles gradually implemented tricky platforming and some physics-based elements. One in particular tasked us with catching floating debris in a stream with a mesh cage before raising the cage to a nearby platform, lighting the debris on fire, and pushing it down a metal chute to destroy an obstruction farther up the waterway.
Found weapons and equipment on the island
When Lara gets stranded on the island, she has naught but the clothes on her back--and even those started to show some grimey wear and tear. Luckily, she found an old-school bow draped across a tree-hanging skeleton pretty early on. Nothing we encountered in the game really ever felt implausible, as every bit of gear Lara uses in her journey is something we came across ourselves.
Hunted animals and busted crates for resources
Using her newfound bow, Lara set off to hunt some deer--after all, a girl's gotta eat. It's here we first got a taste of the combat, which will be pretty familiar to anyone who's ever played a third-person shooter. There are a lot of animals to hunt, and skinning them provided salvage, a resource used to upgrade Lara's equipment. Nabbing their pelts was as easy as pressing a button while standing over an animal's corpse--and thankfully it took all of two seconds to complete, so we never felt like we were wasting our time doing so. We also encountered plenty of destroyable crates that yielded salvage when destroyed.
Used salvage to upgrade weapons
Equipment upgrades were extremely valuable, and we were eager to scour every inch of each map to find as much salvage as we could. Reinforcing our bow's string gave the weapon a permanent increase to damage and range--and later, when we found a gun, we were able to increase its clip size, damage, range, and other stats. How Lara knew how to use random bits of scrap to upgrade her weaponry, we may never know.
Encountered some mysterious gun-toting bad guys
About an hour into our demo, we encountered a group of rather mean dudes with guns. They captured Lara and her friends and started executing them, like mean dudes with guns often do. Lara, of course, managed to escape, and we eavesdropped on their conversations while we snuck around looking for a weapon. It wasnt clear who they were or why they were on an island, but they seemed to be mercenaries, or some kind of military. "We could've used some new recruits," one guard mentioned to another, after being told to execute any survivors. "What came in this time?" the other asked. "Another ship." Hmm....
Watched Lara become a killer out of necessity
When Lara escaped her captors, the creep that initially captured her found her and came at her once more. It's here she's forced to kill for the first time by putting a bullet in her assailaint's head. "I'm surprised by how easy it was," she told a friend after escaping. It's worth noting how frantic combat always felt. The camera pulled up close to Lara, highlighting the panicked expression on her face. Her inexperience with weaponry showed in the way she improperly held guns at first, gripping them far from her person as if they're going to explode at any second. Lara couldnt even engage in melee brawls until she found a climbing pickaxe--even then, it was used more for stunning targets than facing them head-on. Every single encounter rarely included more than four or five bad guys, and each feels like a life-or-death situation imbued with a constant sense of urgency. Lara's no Nathan Drake--and we mean that in the best way possible.
Murdered some dude with a stealth kill
In one corridor, we stumbled across an unsuspecting guard who was just kind of hanging out by himself. A small tutorial popped up instructing us to attempt a stealth kill--so we did. We snuck up behind the guy, reached out with our pickaxe, and choked him to death with the handle. Lara gasped as he struggled for air before his lifeless body hit the ground. It was actually pretty brutal, and reminded us of what it might be like if Nathan Drake showed any remorse for tossing strangers off of cliffs. Then we died when his buddies saw us and set fire to the place. Fire hurts. Bad.
Scored XP by taking down enemies and finding collectibles...
Experience points are earned by completing objectives, taking down baddies, and finding collectibles. We were a bit surprised at first, but XP gains were never intrusive, and they compelled us to search for all the collectibles we could find.
...and used that XP to purchase new skills for Lara
Once we had a good stock of experience points, we took a gander at Lara's three upgradable skill trees. The Survivor tree contained abilities that let Lara do things like climb faster, retrieve arrows from targets, or obtain additional salvage from hunting; the Hunter tree bolstered weapon expertise by increasing accuracy or allowing for more ammo to be held; finally, the Brawler tree increased Lara's melee skills, allowing her to blind and stun opponents more efficiently. All of these were meant to emulate her growth as she fought to survive, and none of the skills seemed too over-the-top to detract from the sense of reality that the whole experience is grounded in. But this also let us decide how we wanted to play--we decided to go the stealthier "shoot people from afar" route.
Found tons of hidden secrets
Tomb Raider's mysterious island constantly kept us intrigued. If the various ruins and wrecked ships (which spanned centuries of design) we encountered were any indication, this place has a ton of history. There were a wide variety of collectibles to find, from GPS units to lost letters, all of which provided small clues about the island's past while hinting at the fates of the marooned travelers that came before. We were eager to find as many collectibles as we could to gain more XP, and so Lara could examine them Resident Evil style and derive more clues about the history of the island.
Raided a tomb
What?! A tomb raider raiding tombs!? Indeed. But the tombs we found on the island werent some hamfisted inclusion whose sole purpose was to provide some kind of connection to the series' past outings. Instead, they provided the opportunity to uncover more of the island's many secrets and expose its rich history. Plus, we earned tons of extra salvage and experience points, and a cool "Tomb raided!" popped up on screen afterward, which was pretty awesome.
Infiltrated a wolf den to secure supplies
We eventually met up with Roth, Laras expedition captain, but he was badly injured. A pack of wolves attacked him and stole his supply pack, which contained the bandages and medicines he needed to survive. So we climbed a few buildings, scaled a decades-old plane, and leapt across a chasm or two to reach the den. Once inside, we snagged the pack, and--BAM--wolves attacked, propelling us into a frantic series of QTEs to survive. Which we did not. Lara died horribly.
Set up base camps for fast travel
Tomb Raider is not an open world game by any means, but it is a large one. We periodically set up base camps, which allowed us to spend experience points, upgrade weapons, and fast travel to regions in which base camps had previously been established. Traveling back and forth allowed us to snag any collectibles we missed as we gained new equipment to access previously unreachable areas. Exploration felt incredibly organic in Tomb Raider; we were eager to explore, as finding secrets unveiled more about the island we were stranded on.
Learned how to leap from rock face to rock face and latch on with a climbing pickaxe
At one point in the game we obtained a pickaxe, which we could use to climb otherwise unscalable surfaces. Our axe didnt just automatically connect when we leapt toward a wall, though--we had to be sure to hit a certain button at just the right time, otherwise we would plummet to our death. This climbing mechanic was intuitive, fluid and fun, guiding us towards our goal while still leaving ultimate success or failure firmly in our hands.
Started imagining a drinking game based on how many lingering cleavage shots litter the cut-scenes
Okay, so, yeah. This kind of happened a lot, which was a bit jarring considering how everything else about the game felt so mature.
A grittier adventure
Sure, Tomb Raider can be compared to Uncharted in the sense that there's platforming, shooting, and treasure finding in both. But the two are worlds apart in terms of tone and the overall player experience. Tomb Raider is dark, gritty, and always intense, presenting a refreshing take on the action adventure genre. What do you want to know about the game? Ask away in the comments below and we'll be sure to respond.
For more info on games coming out next year, check out the top 10 most anticipated games of 2013.