Tomb Raider is a franchise that has always been off my radar, though I admit, I always heard good things about it. I played the first game in the series back in the day and was not overly captivated by it. I was generally not interested in any of the later incarnations of the franchise. Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series got me interested in action-adventure games; they are everything that the modern Indiana Jones film should have been.
Crystal Dynamics’ creative director, Noah Hughes, personally took us through the hands-off demonstration. The lights dimmed and we were greeted by the game’s title screen; it was reminiscent of a lot of the promotional art and images that have already been released. Hughes noted that the demonstration took place a bit later in the game, with Lara and co. already marooned for some time on the island, searching for resources and ways to defend themselves from the wildlife and mercenaries hunting her.
The initial setting was a rocky mountainside, with colossal waves pounding against the bluffs. The first ten minutes of the demonstration were indeed reminiscent of Uncharted. All the scenes; a close up over Lara’s shoulder as she stared at a crashed plane hanging off a cliff, the pieces that fell off as she jumped from a fallen tree trunk to the nose of the plane, and her diverse skills in mountain climbing. Had they replaced Lara with Nathan Drake, nothing would have looked terribly look out of place.
However, it did not take long for the demonstration to come into its own. Themes of the game established in the trailers and gameplay footage, solidified the promise of a gritty atmosphere and setting, supplemented by action and cutscenes with a guerrilla flavor.
The gameplay mechanics still seemed to be going through some much needed tweaking, as combat itself was not necessarily being shown at the forefront of the demonstration. The only weapon shown in the footage was the now infamous bow and arrows which Hughes referred to as, “[Lara’s] signature piece of gear…very important to her survival,” in addition to her rock-climbing tool. There looked to be an experience points system at work, and it only seemed to be active when Lara completed certain story/quest objectives and committed successful kills.
Hughes did however, take some time to show everyone in the room a look at what the accrued experience points are used towards. The origin story coupled with the ability to augment Lara’s skills at different basecamps throughout the maps will serve to enhance character possession and player immersion.
The challenge of navigating a jungle in which everything tends to look the same was also addressed by the developers. Survival Instinct – Tomb Raider’s version of detective mode – can be used by Lara to locate useful landmarks and pathes vital to the story’s progression.
There was a lot of emphasis placed on Lara’s role as a survivor. Much of the gameplay showcased in the demonstration revolved around Lara running through the jungle hunting for food and fighting more wolves than she did mercenaries. The most impactful scene during the demo depicted a shivering, bruised, and battered Lara struggling desperately to make a fire, all while a storm was raging just a few feet outside of the cave in which she was hiding.
Lara’s characterization is completely different than those shown in the previous games. She is lost and confused; it even shows in her fight scenes. During one of the more talked about fight scenes, Lara has to fight off an attempted rape. Unlike a prominent action hero like Nathan Drake, she fought like any normal person would, sloppy and dirty; it bore no resemblance to a Hollywood choreographed fight scene.
I am looking forward to how they flesh out Lara and the supporting characters that were briefly shown, as well as the gameplay. If the demonstration shown at E3 was indicative of the final product, then March 5th, 2013 cannot come fast enough.