Things aren’t looking too shiny for Lara Croft at the start of this latest Tomb Raider reboot. Young, inexperienced, and stranded on an island inhabited only creepy pirates and fearsome beasties, the demo I managed to try out was surprisingly devoid of any ancient tombs or any actual raiding.
Instead, with only a scraggly bow cobbled together with some twigs, Croft would have to hunt, build a bonfire, and find shelter. Hardly glorious, but in the context of this reboot, it’s a perfect fit.
It’s a very, very different feel to any of the iconic character’s past adventures. The area I played in was a vast, open clearing – filled with outcrops to jump on and a couple of walls to scale, but nonetheless a far stretch from past Tomb Raider titles that often funnelled you in one direction. On one side of the area, I even found a rusting truck, containing a collectible letter – turns out this island was under Japanese control during World War 2 – and by scouring the land you’ll uncover more about its history. You can collect meat by taking down animals, and by returning to your bonfire can upgrade Lara’s characteristics – bizarrely, this feels far closer to a Far Cry or Crysis than a Tomb Raider.
The heart and soul of any Tomb Raider game remains Lara Croft, and she’s still around, new and improved – this is more than just younger version of the character, though. Developer Crystal Dynamics has given her a complete set of motion captured animations, a new voice actor in Camilla Luddington, and a whole new look.
Animations steal the show. I found sprinting and jumping around the demo area to be a real delight, as Croft realistically leans into her turns and rolls. Young or not, she remains as graceful and acrobatic as ever, and her entire persona seems to have undergone some really impressive polish.
The rest of the island is also incredibly well put together. The deer and rabbits you’ll stalk for food and hides tread softly across clearings and along lakes, leaping into underbrush if you miss your first arrow. All-in-all, the level of precision and beauty omnipresent in the first level turns even the very basic objectives you’re given into real pleasures.Back to hunting, and, whilst stalking animals isn’t particularly hard, the bow you’re given shoots with a particularly satisfying twang when letting an arrow loose. It’s just accurate enough to convince you to crawl through gritty surroundings to get up close and land a shot. Should you succeed, Croft will skin and gut the poor fluffy little rabbit after apologising to its lifeless body - although strangely, she doesn’t apologise to dears. They’ve obviously offended her. Somehow.
Between the talk of gutting innocent bunny rabbits and the trailer depicting poor Lara being impaled, stabbed, burnt and going through all sorts of other unpleasant experiences, it’s obvious that Crystal Dynamics is looking introduce a far less family-friendly approach than previous Tomb Raider offerings.
I actually started the demo slightly lost in the thicket, and kept trying to run through some stinging nettles, until I stopped, that is – not because I wasn’t sure I could get through, but because of the terrifyingly painful noises Lara was making. This game is looking to be particularly visceral, and it’ll be interesting to see how that affects Lara as she pushes through her latest adventure.
What secrets the rest of that island holds is going to make or break Tomb Raider’s 2013 reboot. While it’s a terrific opening, it’s not going to sustain an entire game – if this reboot is going to return to the glory days of the series, it’s going to need more than just survivalism on a desert island. Trailers shown so far seem to have the right idea, offering a glimpse of hidden ruins, collapsing ships, and burning villages being raided by pirates – exactly what Tomb Raider needs to stay relevant in the post-Uncharted world. If they get that right, then there will be a lot to love in this new game, for the old-faithful and new fans alike.
Tomb Raider is currently penned in for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC launch on March 5, 2013.