Tomb Raider

[E3 2011] Little Lara Lost

We have seen the fruits of Crystal D's Tomb Raider reboot, and they are glorious.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 17, 2011
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Reboots are a tricky thing, but somehow Crystal Dynamics has handled things impeccably, leaving enough of the original source material while deepening things like combat and storyline such that their take on the Tomb Raider saga has utterly shattered the work of original developers Core Design. Under Crystal D, Lara has become more than just a pair of... glasses, and has been fleshed out with an actual personality to go along with all that tomb raiding. She loves animals, she hates unnecessary violence, and is completely content with walking away from her family fortune if it means getting to the bottom of a mystery.

Though they've dabbled in it a bit with the last trilogy that wrapped up with Tomb Raider: Underworld, there still hasn't been a full-on origin story told in-game, which is something the dev house plans to fix when they reboot the entire mythos through the eyes of a younger, more fragile, more human Lara Croft. Simply titled Tomb Raider, the newest incarnation of Lara is also the earliest, sending the budding archeologist into a maelstrom that ends up ripping her ship in two and leaves her stranded on a mysterious island.

It's here, under the guidance of an ailing mentor, that Lara will become that Lara Croft. She'll start with nothing but her wits and survival instinct, and grow into a hardened, resolute explorer of antiquities and long-forgotten lore. In essence, the Tomb Raider franchise isn't just getting a jump start, it's being completely overhauled. Going forward, this will be the new Lara, complete with new voice actress and a host of fancy new tricks that will no doubt be built upon once the game hits stores sometime next year.

Before any of that can begin, though, Lara must first escape her first predicament. As the demo kicks off, from the perspective of the tomb-raider-to-be, she's being dragged slowly by an unknown captor. Fading in and out of consciousness, she's pulled up into the air, hung upside down in some kind of tightly-tied sack. This is how Tomb Raider begins. Not with a sprawling vista into some time-forgotten tomb, but in a small, dank little cave, barely lit by a nearby torch.

As it turns out, that torch is the only way Lara can escape. She pitches her body forward and back until finally making contact with the first, literally burning herself out of her cocoon. Small shouts escape the bundle o' Croft, then shrieks as the flames creep inside. By the time the bag splits, the survivor has only seconds to try to right herself before plummeting to the dark pit below her -- and as she lands, her torso is pierced violently by a... bone? Piece of wood? It's too dark to know for sure. As she pants, trying to collect herself, Lara steadies her breathing... and pulls. The spike is ripped from her and she slowly tries to find her bearings and make her escape.

Slipping between narrow cracks and low overhangs, Lara slowly begins finding her way toward daylight, but not before she's grabbed suddenly by one of her captors. Crystal D actually lets this QTE-style escape play out with a failure, showing the truly dire consequences of not meeting the on-screen prompts. Lara is grabbed and beaten, then dragged slowly off into the cave before the screen fades to black and the QTE is re-attempted, this time with Lara's boot doing its job long enough to crawl through a small crack in the wall that conveniently collapses behind her.

Throughout the demo, we're amazed by how well Crystal Dynamics is able to trigger our sense of claustrophobia. The camera is all too happy to stick close to Lara, squeezing with her between small fissures and staying slammed up against the craggy roof when she comes up for air while trying to navigate a series of blind pathways, always trying to keep her torch above water lest she lose the only means of seeing where she's going.

Farther into the cave, she finally spots light streaming in just beyond a cave. From here, Tomb Raider's puzzles begin to take on a slightly different tone. There are no levers to pull, no boxes to rearrange. Instead, a cascading waterfall will instantly snuff out her new torch she was able to find moments earlier. Worse still, while she can find a few explosive barrels that might detonate near the grating blocking her egress, the waterfall will quickly douse them before they can get close enough. Instead, she must push through the frothy, muck-filled steam, under the waterfall and into a more open area with objects that can be lit on fire.

This isn't a simple "do X, Z happens" kind of puzzle, however. Though there are ropes that can be burned (indicated by handy little torches nearby), but doing so lowers a weighted cage that in turn can raise a retaining wall that will let the boom-friendly oil tanks roll down a ramp that goes around the waterfall. After a bit of clambering and rope lighting, Lara does just that, lights a drum and her exit is revealed.

But not before her savage captor re-appears, chasing lara down a tunnel that's rapidly collapsing. These short little QTE eventually ends with Lara pulling herself into daylight and beholding a view that is absolutely breathtaking: a smattering of ships from Spanish galleons to more modern cruisers, all piled up against massive, craggy rocks constantly pounded by thunderous spray. All the while, as if to indicate that Lara has finally reached some semblance of safety, sunlight spills around her, thick and rich. Clearly, this island has been snaring ships for quite some time. The question now remains, how is Lara going to escape?
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