As the year 2012 winds down, I have begun looking forward to what gaming’s developers and publishers have in store for us in the year 2013. I find that I am having more fun anticipating the start of the next year more-so than looking forward to this year’s holiday season has in store; one of the reasons for this is Tomb Raider. The franchise has been around for over 10 years, and has gone through multiple developers, all of whom had a different take on the main character and her adventures. For me, 2013’s Tomb Raider looks to be the definitive interpretation of the character and her universe.
Lara Croft’s status as video game’s version of Indiana Jones has waned gradually over the past few years due to a few reasons, including and especially the emergence of Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series and the decline in quality and popularity of her own games. Tomb Raider serves as both a reboot for the franchise and the character of Lara Croft, as well as a potential resurgence of both the aforementioned protagonist and franchise back into the mainstream and forefront of action-adventure titles.
Four months ago at E3, I had the pleasure to witness a hands-off demonstration of the game (which you can read here); I was very much pleased with what Crystal Dynamics showed. This year at NYCC I was able to not only witness demo again, but get my hands on it as well. This is not intended to be a rehash of my original preview, but rather a second-look at the game, and secondary observations that I was able to make in this most recent go-around.
The demo starts off the same way, with Lara traversing a cliff on the island she is trapped on for the duration of the game. She is covered in dirt and blood, battered and bruised from fighting with the mercenaries that have been hunting her and her comrades. Lara’s objective is simply to get out of the area and look for a place to take refuge from an impending thunderstorm while scavenging whatever food and supplies she can along the way. Having gotten a much closer look at the game’s graphics, I decided that I am still of two minds on the subject, but I am still leaning towards actually liking them. The environments and design of Lara herself stand out the strongest among the rest of the game’s aesthetics. The detail and subtleness of the blood and dirt on both Lara’s skin and clothing were very well done. The animations in both the gameplay and cutscenes still feel a bit stilted and cold, however.
One of the biggest hurdles that Tomb Raider has to overcome is the comparisons to Uncharted. As much as I tried to avoid making these comparisons myself, some of the nuances in the gameplay were just too similar to Uncharted to ignore. To get from the cliff to shelter, Lara has to climb across the hulk of a wrecked plane, and jump across a few ledges in the process. Climbing up the fuselage and across the wing are not tasks that can easily be undertaken by Lara; pieces of the wreck fall apart and take Lara with her in the process. This was to be expected, and I attributed it to this version of Lara’s incompetence and inexperience with dealing these situations. This was not the only time it happened, almost every jump or climb that I had to executed subsequently ended with Lara falling or injuring her in the process. It was that little nuance however – the clumsiness – that set off some red flags; a clumsiness that most would relate to Nathan Drake. I will specify that it was not the clumsiness alone, but more-so the frequency of it.
After taking shelter in a cave to avoid the storm, the second half of the demo centered on Lara hunting for food and taking it back to camp. There was a bit more running around and jumping in this segment and of course Lara falls on her ass in the process. Both the archery and skill-point systems showed some promise, but there was not enough to comment on. I shot a deer in the head and upgraded one of Lara’s survivor skills. That is it.
Do not misjudge the tone of this preview, as I am still sticking to my now year-old assertions that Tomb Raider shows a lot of promise as possessing both a strong narrative and a break-out female lead in the form of the revamped Lara Croft. This demonstration was short, and for all we know the story may stand up on its own enough that the Nathan Drake comparisons I made will be inconsequential. I hope I am right in that regard.
Tomb Raider is being developed by Crystal Dynamics and will be published by Square Enix for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC on March 5th, 2013.