Tomb Raider – E3 Impressions

Last week, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics launched a pre-E3 trailer of their newest make-over of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, which didn’t have any problem capturing our attention. And after our front row sneak peak with the mega publisher, we wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that Lara has never EVER looked better.

As the lights dimmed and the live demo started, our first glimpse of the new Lara was quite shocking, especially since we saw her bound and hanging upside-down, hovering over a dark chasm. After shaking free from her bonds, Lara Croft makes a brutal fall to the bottom of a rocky damp pit. At this moment, many of us caught our breath as our vulnerable heroine crashed on the wet stones and then winced under the pain of the fall, or perhaps from the large wooden splinter that had pierced through her stomach. With the emotionally charged music and our hero battered and bleeding, it was quickly evident that this Tomb Raider had evolved away from its roots and that a whole new experience was headed our way.

As the developers had stated before, Lara will not be the tough cookie that we remember from the previous franchise. In the demo, we saw Lara covered in a mix of mud and blood, hunched over and cradling her side as she stumbled through the uneven rocky terrain, all the while releasing painful groans with each step.

In this new Tomb Raider, gamers can expect a much more mature experience, and one that’s grounded much closer to reality. The physics built into the game engine definitely help instill a stronger feel for that realism, as objects will react to each other with a sense of weight when nudged or tossed aside. Visually, we saw multiple environments that contained impressive amounts of detail – from dense and detailed foilage in wooded areas to moss covered rocks that shone with a slick wetness inside cave settings. In one area, the weather boasted an impressive storm effect that showed the drops of rain splattering off Lara’s skin, and occassionally throwing splash effects on the screen.

Fire also plays a huge involvement in helping solve the platforming puzzles that are laced throughout the levels. Objects that could typically be set ablaze in the real world would get a flame indicator that fades in as Lara gets closer to it. But just as easily as things can be lit, the flame can also be extinguished if it interacts with water, naturally.

Lara’s animations also move with such natural fluidity. Whether trekking across a rocky path or jumping to a ledge after a sprint, all the motions flow seamlessly together, without those distracting hiccups usually seen when one animation transitions to another. As stated before, it seems as Lara takes damage, her shuffled steps become much more burdensome to her and is reflected in her hampered movements.

Croft’s character dynamics will also grow as the story progresses. In Tomb Raider‘s demo, we were shown her new friend, Roth, who also fills the role as her mentor. Through his inspiration and teachings, Lara’s inner strength will develop as she will grow to withstand the treacherous environment and learn techiniques for her survival.

One of the most tense parts of the demo was towards the end as Lara began to frantically claw her way out a collapsing cave. The music pace suddenly picked up as the cinematic camera angles kicked in to increase the dramatic effect. Throughout the crumbling chaos, players will need to hone their wits as they will need to respond to quicktime events to help Lara evade the falling boulders marked for her untimely end. Finally, after a few nail-biting seconds, she successfully scrambles her way to freedom as the ground swallows up the opening of the tunnel. The orchestral number then slows to a calming, yet sad, piano solo as our hero stumbles out to a cliffside and then stares towards a graveyard of rusted and fractured sea vessels in the distance. Then slowly, as if for the first time, she draws in a deep sighing breath. And so did we.

After the scene faded, it was dizzying to take in all we watched while digesting the emotional complexities with this newer character. I’m sure many of us can agree that Uncharted holds a high standard for modern day platformers, and I’ll admit it’s difficult to not be bias against Tomb Raider when comparing the two games. However, after Square Enix’s stunning presentation of Tomb Raider (even in its unfinished state), Nathan Drake will finally be facing his fiercest competition from Crystal Dynamic’s version of Lara Croft. And personally, I believe this title will quickly become one of the most anticipated games for 2012 as more information becomes available about the brunette in the tourqouise tee. We are definitely excited.