Tomb Raider Preview (PS3)

I was more hyped for Crystal Dynamic’s Tomb Raider than any other game going into E3, so it goes without saying that my expectations for this title were impossibly high. That said, the minute Crystal’s senior producer Kyle Peschel started walking us through an extended section of the game, I knew without a doubt that this would be one of next year’s biggest hits. If you remember last year’s E3 demonstration where Lara just barely managed to escape from deep within a dark and danger-filled cavern, you’ll recall that the demo ended as our heroine stood bloodied and bruised overlooking a derelict beach. This year’s closed doors demonstration picks right up where we left off, as Lara begins her search for other survivors.

At this point she’s severely wounded, which was not only illustrated visually through the character model and spot on animations, but also through the sound design, as her heavy breathing reverberated throughout the room. After managing to successfully span a gap by carefully balancing her way across a log, she discovers a wrecked plane embedded within a waterfall. Using the hanging vehicle as a ladder, Lara makes her way up the cliff, looking for any sign of her friends’ whereabouts. Subtle details like reaching out and touching the cliffside as she walked by really helped to convey Lara’s realism within the game world. Not long after does she manage to stumble across a walkie-talkie which is added to her belt, serving as not only a nice visual touch, but also a reminder of the tools that our character now has at her disposal.

While we still had yet to come across anything particularly action-heavy, I was on the edge of my seat, as Lara’s sense of desperation was virtually palpable. As night begins to fall, her body starts shaking as an uncontrollable bout of shivering begins to take hold. Equipped with but a single match, Lara manages to successfully start a fire while an XP notification pops up on the screen. At first I was concerned, finding myself confused as to how and why Crystal would implement a leveling system within Tomb Raider, but a bit later my fears were relieved. Meanwhile, Lara, now fully rested and ready for action, sets out to continue with her search. After regretfully yanking a bow off of a hanging corpse, our famished raider-in-training sets out to search for food.

With bow in hand (the developer was careful to point out that this will prove to be her signature weapon) Lara shoots down a deer, and after muttering “sorry” in a genuinely apologetic voice, proceeds to finish the creature off. After her work is complete, the demonstrator returns Lara to camp, opening up a new menu screen that immediately answered my questions surrounding the game’s leveling system. Any time the player reaches a designated base camp, they will be able to upgrade Lara’s survival skills. For example, the aptly named arrow retrieval skill allows Lara to reclaim an arrow from a downed enemy. Following this bit of much-needed rest and relaxation, Lara manages to make contact via walkie with her mentor, Captain Conrad Roth who encourages her and reminds her that because she is a Croft, she has it in her to persevere.  This touching scene really expressed the vulnerable and still very innocent side of Lara, adding a new layer of depth to her character.

With a renewed sense of confidence, Lara then treks through muddy waters to a vacant building with clothes now covered in brown gunk. After finding a pry tool — which joins her walkie on her belt — she uses the newly found piece of equipment to bust open a locked door. Lara, now back outside, is reunited with her all-too-naive friend Sam, who is with a sketchy-looking man named Mathias. I loved the way the character designers were able to convey a sense of distrust and hesitation within the facial animations of Lara, as words weren’t even necessary to express what was running through her mind. Upon sensing her distrust, the man grabs Sam and escapes before Lara is able to protect her, as she finds her leg lodged in a bear trap. Letting out a piercing cry from the pain, the audience is once again subjected to watch as our feeble protagonist writhes in agony, completely helpless.

And then comes the wolves.

An eerie howling cuts through the night sky as Lara remains stuck on the ground, unable to make it to her feet. Drawing her bow, the newbie hunter proceeds to pick off the wild creatures from a seated position as the camera slows down to allow the player to effectively aim their shots. It was a particularly cinematic moment that perfectly conveyed a sense of serious danger. Fortunately, it wasn’t much longer until a group of her friends manages to find her, freeing her leg and patching her up. The group then decides to split up as Lara elects heads off with Dr. Whitman, a choice she’d soon regret. After parting ways, the duo comes across historic remains of what appears to belong to a group of murdered natives. In response to this scene, we get a look into Lara’s emotional state as she utters the words, “Let us hope we don’t become murderers too,” making it clear that death is still something she is very unaccustomed to. After scrounging around for salvage to upgrade her pry tool at a nearby base camp, Whitman leads Lara right into a trap where she is beaten and captured.

When her captors are preoccupied, Lara goes into stealth mode, sneaking from cover to cover with hands bound attempting to slip past her foes unnoticed. It doesn’t take long before she is spotted, finding herself pinned to a wall as one of the men slowly begins to run his hands along her body. This scene is particularly disturbing, especially now that the game has established Lara as such a vulnerable and sympathetic character. Fortunately, Croft refuses to withstand the abuse as a quick-time button prompt pops up on the screen, after which Lara knees her foe in the crotch. Suddenly a fight ensues, as the two begin wrestling on the ground for a gun. Lara manages to turn the weapon on him, blasting his face into oblivion. Following this heart-pounding moment, we witness a scene in which Lara stumbles around wreckage, as the weight of her actions is clearly reflected in the horror on her bloodied face. This marks the beginning of Lara’s transformation into the tomb raiding heroine she’ll one day become, and after witnessing that spectacle first hand, all I can say is, March can’t come soon enough.