gamescom 2012: Tomb Raider Preview – The First Kill
An icon – a woman that pretty much defined a console generation but sadly one that peaked too soon. She always remained that icon, but as far as the games went the Tomb Raider series became pretty hit and miss. I am of course talking about Lara Croft, who despite her fame and pop culture status wasn’t actually a very good video game character. Did you ever care about Lara Croft?
I didn’t… sure I loved the games; even the weaker entries had something special about them, but I just didn’t care about her. Lara was difficult to connect with as a gamer, you couldn’t project yourself onto her or relate to her. Saying this is with the perfect science of hindsight though; storytelling, technology and everything else that makes up a game has moved on considerably since then. Taking another swing at rebooting Tomb Raider, a new and completely different approach is needed.
By now I’m sure you’re aware that the new Tomb Raider is a completely new game – to a point it goes beyond a reimagining. Just forget everything you think you know about the franchise and we’ll start again. The hour or so I spent with the new title starts off just outside the cave section from the very start of the game that we’ve seen previously in trailers – it’s still very early on in the story and we are yet to acquire a weapon.
First things first, the visuals; all games look good now and we all know this, but Tomb Raider has an extra level of detail to it that makes it feel much more real. The way the sun breaks through the clouds and the sea crashing on the hulls of shipwrecked vessels at the bottom of the cliff face look and sound truly astonishing, something that is difficult to convey in a screen shot. I spend a few moments just panning the camera around, admiring the surroundings before deciding to head off. A soft push up on the thumbstick and Lara starts to move; she’s beaten up though and limps on, clutching at her side quite clearly in pain. Her blood-soaked top glistens in the sunlight as I turn the corner, whatever happened just before this section I’m playing through has left her in a bad way.
About five minutes in I start to climb up the rotting carcass of an aircraft, precariously suspended over a waterfall, it hits me – this really is a Tomb Raider game. It’s also something completely new, but the same essence that has been consistent throughout all the previous games is there. It’s a difficult thing to put down in words; its more of a feeling than anything, but I’m sure anybody who has played an older title will know what I’m on about after just a few minutes with this one.
I make it across the aircraft wreckage just as it drops into the rocks below and head off into the trees in search of shelter. It wasn’t until a short cutscene upon finding somewhere safe to camp that I felt that emotional connection Karl from Crystal Dynamics had spoken to me about earlier in the week. Lara’s practically in bits at this point; you can tell by the way she moves that she’s aching and in pain from her various wounds, she’s shivering in the cold of the night and still wet from wading around in the water – she has a look on her face. She feels alone, she’s thinking over what’s happened and what needs to be done, she looks like she’s about to break down into tears at any moment. It’s an awkward thing to explain and probably makes me sound a little melodramatic, but I can honestly say I’ve never had this feeling from a game before. It’s a strange experience but one you’re going to need to get used to because there’s going to be more like it.
Which brings me round to Lara’s first kill. She wakes up at the campsite at first light and I’m tasked with finding food to replenish her health, so it’s off deeper into the forest I head. Eventually she crosses paths with a deer, but I’ve no way of killing it and I suspect that it was there more as wildlife than food – after startling it off down stream I figure there’s no way for me to catch it anyway. Then of course I come across a corpse hanging upside down in a tree with the now iconic bow; after a rather risky climb up the tree I snag the bow and head off back into the woods to find Bambi’s mum.
Firing the bow works exactly as you would expect; LT aims, while holding down RT draws the bow further back before releasing to shoot. There’s something about the bow that instantly changes how you play the game – I’m a hunter now, carefully making my way through the trees and long grass I’d become completely immersed in trying to kill this deer to a point where I hold my breath as I take the shot. I missed it’s neck and put one in the side of its leg. Obviously I didn’t kill it and it takes off a speed, albeit with a limp, deeper into the trees. I sprint after it and notice it starts to slow down a little, so I quickly line up another shot and drop it to the floor. I’m buzzing with a little adrenaline at this point; the chase was pretty intense but I’m quickly brought back down to reality as a cutscene plays out where Lara hacks out a lump of meat from the fallen deer. You can see on her face that she feels bad for what she had to do as she shares a moment, where with no words at all, says sorry and thank you to her prey.
You can see on her face that she feels bad for what she had to do as she shares a moment, where with no words at all, says sorry and thank you to her prey.
The hour I spent with Tomb Raider was one I wasn’t ready for. I was expecting another Croft adventure with shiny-er graphics, but instead I was given an immersive, emotional roller-coaster and I don’t think I’ve ever become that attached to a character in a game, ever. This was just the first part of my hour too… the next section I feel could be a little spoilery and best left for you to discover when you finally get hands on time with the game. Crystal Dynamics have nailed what they set out to do with the new Tomb Raider – it’s the same yet different and everything a fan could wish for.