At a glance...

Previewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Release Date
Richard Pilot Xbox 360 Square Enix Crystal Dynamics 1 5th March 2013

Tomb Raider preview

"We wanted the player to feel like, I am going to go through the first hour of the game realising who she is and what she's going to have to do and understand her motivations and from that point in time onwards now I know what I am going to become."

These words, uttered by Karl Stewart of Crystal Dynamics the day before, echoed in my mind as I sat down in the business area to get a hands-on session with the first section from the new Tomb Raider. Continuing on from some of the trailers that have been shown before, we start with Lara looking out over a rocky cliff with the waves crashing against wrecks of ships below. She has already seen one friend die at the hands of some of the island's existing inhabitants and she's looking pretty beat up. Already you feel for Lara's situation, taking a few short steps sees her releasing a painful breath. Things don't look good.

The moment of Lara’s first kill is a tense one...

The moment of Lara's first kill is a tense one...

And thats sort of the point, after coming from my discussion last week, it was clear that you're really meant to feel for Lara in this new game; she's not eager to see action, she's just wants to get out of there. She needs to head inland to search for signs of life and the rest of her party. The journey isn't without its fair share of danger. We needed to climb over a log that's perched perilously over the cliff face as well as across the wreckage of an abandoned plane. Tomb Raider does a fantastic job of setting up the tension in these early moments. The log rocked precariously as we crossed it, and we almost got sliced in half by the wing of the plane as it fell into the waves below. It felt really cinematic and it was great seeing Lara react to these moments; she wasn't just an adventurer shrugging it off, she was stunned and needed a few moments to catch her breath.

Getting further into the island, survival outweighed finding Lara's friends, so after seeking shelter from the rain and building a fire, we needed to go find some food. We stumbled across a body that had been strung up, most likely by the nasty islanders we met earlier. This guy had been dead for a long time but conviently he had carried a bow that was ripe for the taking. Bow and arrows in hand we were left to explore the area and attempt to hunt down deer that were innocently roaming around. Whilst the island itself is not an open world, the areas that we found ourselves in were suitably sized that we felt like we could explore, with verticality playing a major role in keeping some of the areas secret. Successfully downing a deer took us to an emotionally charged cut-scene that Karl had warned us about. The scene made it very clear that this was a moment of necessity; mercy killing a deer took Lara on that step required to survive and allowed us to experience Lara's first kill.

This is not Lost: The Video Game, honest!

This is not Lost: The Video Game, honest!

We took the meat back to the camp fire and discovered an ability point waiting for us. This had been acquired through gaining experience points over the course of our adventure thus far, with key moments of Lara's journey resulting in her gaining the necessary skills to survive. Resting at fires let's you spend those points on abilities for Lara. A selection of hunter abilities were present, allowing us to help her survive in the wilderness better. Bow retrieval allows Lara to be able to recover arrows from animals she has killed, another ability meant that we could identify animals when in survival vision. Survival visions is essentially a representation of Lara’s ability to use her instincts in the wild; at the tap of a button, the world turns black and white, rippling out from Lara with important objects highlighted in a vivid orange glow. This includes spotting a crate hidden up on a ledge and the ability to see animals that are running around in the undergrowth.

Skilled up, Lara decides to try out a radio that she found earlier and this time she's in luck although the news isn't good; she'll need to find a way back to her crew herself. We find our way over to an abandoned shack and descend into the pit below, feeling eerily similar to The Hatch from "Lost". Lara fashions herself a torch and as it glows we marvel at how amazing the shadows and lights look in this slightly claustrophobic shaft, half full with water. It is down here we acquire another item, a makeshift pickaxe, that we can use to pry doors open. Much like what we've already seen, this is yet another, very physical act which encourages us to hammer on the gamepad to force the doors to snap open.

Why is there a camera crew behind you, Lara?

"e;Why is there a camera crew behind you, Lara?"e;

Escaping into the fresh air once more, we encounter someone we know. Actual, human contact! We must be safe now, right? Unfortunately, a cinematic scene later and we’re chasing after one of the island's less friendly inhabitants. Lara gets caught in a bear trap and needs to fend off a pack of wolves that have wandered too close for comfort. This is yet another exciting and tense scene where we need to keep an eye on the bushes to figure out when a wolf will strike at us next. Luckily we get rescued, but after some discussion, they decide to split the party (never a good idea), and Lara and her companion end up exploring a tomb that they discover nearby. As we walk around it the camera automatically pans to points of interest while the characters intimately discuss the history of the place (although the tension of the situation tempers the mood slightly). We discover too late that we’re being stalked by the main bad guys on the island; ultimately Lara gets caught and whilst the rest of the group hunts down our friend, the leader angrily shouts at us to stay where we are.

Getting caught is a very bad idea!

Getting caught is a very bad idea!

So worried were we for Lara's safety, we decided to follow his instructions and stayed exactly where we were. This saw Lara getting executed as soon as the first guard spotted us. It was shockingly brutal, yet very efficient at the same time, with two arrows slamming into Lara, taking her down. The next time, we knew what to expect, so quickly darted to cover making our way slowly up the hill, avoiding patrolling guards who were out looking for us, shining torches out into the night. Approaching the top, we hide once more, but this time we are spotted, and are yanked out into the clearing, coming face-to-face with the leader once more. He gets a little too close for comfort and Lara is able to stun him momentarily, giving us enough time grapple the gun away from him, and during the tussle she manages to shoot him in the face. It was a very physical fight and carried a lot of emotion, excitement and terror, all helped by the excellent direction of the camera. This was the last few moments of the demo, and Lara struggled to get to grips with what had just happened and what she had just done. Pulling herself together, she picked up the weapon and looked directly at the camera with just a hint showing through of the tomb raider that she will eventually become. We can't wait!

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