The Tomb Raider demo impressed many at Microsoft’s conference, but it also skipped over the majority of the gameplay to focus on the cinematic moments. While this did a great job showing off the tension of the game, it really didn’t show anything of the design or main gameplay elements. Luckily for you we spent some time behind closed doors to see the full walkthrough of the intro scene in Microsoft’s conference, as well as a portion of the game’s main mechanics.
I’ll gloss through the first part of our developer walkthrough to some extent, because it was in the press conference demonstration. Lara wakes up kidnapped in a strange cave, tied up and hanging. She swings into the fire to burn through the rope and drop her to the ground, where she’s promptly stabbed with a giant piece of rebar and has to rip herself free. Soon she grabs a torch and the player must direct her in her frantic escape. You’ve probably seen this part already, from the running through the caves to the QTE escapes when she’s grabbed by her captor. The party you didn’t see are the physics puzzles.
True to series form, Tomb Raider will challenge players with puzzles. The prologue ones weren’t incredibly complex, but they did show important use of tools and physics in the game. Near the end of the prologue Lara approaches a barrier of debris. The only way to get rid of the barrier is to burn it, but the only way to get fire to the barrier is by lighting driftwood, which also subsequently passes under a waterfall, putting out the fire you just lit. Getting the driftwood through un-drenched requires burning of a few ropes and shifting of containers. Here we also saw the new “Survival Instinct” ability for the first time, which highlights important objects in the environment, but does not tell you how to use those objects. It’s good to see puzzles are still an important part of Tomb Raider, but our demo didn’t stop there.
The developers skipped us ahead now. Lara is in an abandoned village, having survived for three days on the island, and receives a transmission from her friend and mentor Captain Roth. Lara finds Roth badly wounded from wolves and unable to walk. Roth’s pack with the emergency medical supplies he needs was dragged off by the wolves, as well as the emergency beacon to alert rescuers. Lara sets off to retrieve them, once again using survival instinct which this time highlighted the tracks of the wolves. There are multiple routes to reach the cave, but they chose a more acrobatic one, climbing across the rooftops of the abandoned village. The new platforming looks great and smooth, and they pointed out that you can direct your leap some in the air as well to help keep movement flowing and give the player more control. The pouring rain also affected Lara’s grip and traction, and we’re told that while this particular instance of rain is scripted, torrents can strike on the island randomly while you’re exploring.
Lara arrives at the cave and we once again enter a claustrophobic and high-tension area. Upon retrieving the beacon and medical supplies, Lara is attacked by a wolf, who rips at her, pinning her to the ground. As the player completes a QTE, Lara grabs a rock and repeatedly bashes the wolf with it, killing it violently in the desperate exchange before whispering “I’m sorry, it was you or me.” The developer pointed out to us that Lara does not kill for sport, only survival. The major injuries Lara accumulates throughout the narrative by the way are obvious on her body, and clearly will remain throughout the game. The rebar wound from the first day is still in her side.
When Lara returns to Roth she fixes him up, and after he awakens he explains that she’ll need to climb higher up the mountain to a radio tower to try to boost the signal of their distress beacon. He gives her a climbing axe, which she can now use to access new areas which she could not previously. The developers explained that Lara will continue to acquire new tools and skills throughout the game, and these will give her access to new areas. They also explained that the game has a series of base camps in each major area which you can quick-travel between, allowing easy access to the locations in the game for further exploration. The base camps are also where you upgrade Lara’s abilities, tools, and weapons using XP. This style of progression and backtracking is reminiscent of Metroid, and it’s a good thing.
That concluded our demo. Also worth noting is the voice acting and facial acting in the game is stellar. The developers pointed out that voice acting and motion capture were done at the same time to give realistic performances, and it really shows. While the graphics aren’t going to knock the crown from the Uncharted franchise, they’re very good, and the art direction is excellent. Combined with dynamic weather that affects gameplay, the presentation is looking to be genuinely impressive. Tomb Raider may be exactly what this franchise needs and more. It certainly goes above and beyond what most people expect of a reboot. You can get your hands on the game on PS3, 360, and PC when it releases sometime next year.