By Chris Matulich, October 18, 2012
Tomb Raider has seen a plethora of sequels, spin-offs, and even a reboot or two, but with 2013 coming around, why not celebrate the world not ending with yet another reboot of Lara Croft and her tomb raiding ways? It may be that Square Enix might have hit he mark on the umpteenth attempt at making Tomb Raider relevant again.
The demo begins with Lara waking up after what seems like a pretty serious plane crash. All hope is not lost, as Lara struggles to her feat amongst the wreckage, overlooking a bluff where the quality lighting and water effects are instantly recognizable with the recent risen sun beautifully reflecting off the rolling waves. Lara displays the same level of detail, as dirt and blood cling to her body, giving her a much more realistic and natural appearance (bringing her down to normal proportions also helps). The forest which Lara needs to explore for survival creates a serene feeling, capturing its intricacies, from detailed foliage and colorful flowers to prancing deer and other scurrying critters. Lara Croft, and Tomb Raider in general, haven't visually impressed this greatly since it was first introduced back in the late 90s.
Though Tomb Raider portrays some slick graphics, the gameplay, at the moment, is rather run of the mill. Lara treks through the forest with a typical third person control scheme, scaling fallen branches, maneuvering through decrepit buildings and shimmying along trees stretched across watery ravines. While Lara really initiated the genre and helped it grow, it's come a long way since, especially with Uncharted's quality leading the way. It feels much more like Uncharted starring Lara Croft rather than Tomb Raider, as many of the cinematic climbing sequences are mimicked rather liberally (scaling a suspended plane at the point of falling sound familiar?), with quick taps of the X button needed to grip on.
No combat sequences were included in the demo, but due to Lara's need for food and her lucky acquisition of a bow slung across the back of a rotting corpse hung from a tree, hunting is the main focus. The bow works with both triggers, the left to ready it and the right to pull the string and fire. It was pretty entertaining running around the forest tracking deer and collecting their meat and this has a lot of potential, yet it's not exactly intuitive when many other games have made better use of the bow mechanic.
In borrowing more from the fantasy side of the genre, Tomb Raider also features a leveling system, where each level grants a skill point that can be used when Lara uses a campsite. Skills range from recovering used arrows to tracking deer with more ease. Though it works as a decent reward system, it feels tacked on, and it's trying to be too much like other games in an already over-saturated genre instead of blazing its own path like it did when the original IP was released.
Though only in its pre-beta phase, Tomb Raider has both some really great visuals working for it, but the gameplay is rather mediocre at the moment. With some time still before the official release, and the potential that the bow possesses, there's plenty of optimism that Square Enix will be able to inject some ingenuity back into Lara.