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Eurogamer Expo: Tomb Raider Preview

Bloody and broken, a 21 year old woman falls to her knees. Her battered body attempts to retch and cry at the same time. She was almost raped. She has killed a man. She is alone, and vulnerable, and her surroundings are ablaze. As the theatrical soundtrack swells, and she calls out to God, this scared young woman awakens the sympathy in her audience, who know this is only the start of her journey through hell.

As the Tomb Raider developer session at the Eurogamer Expo closes, we’re aware that Lara Croft has come a long way since her buxom, short-wearing introduction on the Sega Saturn. As a matter of fact games have changed a great deal since Lara ruled the Action Adventure roost of the PlayStation. With the introduction of Ezio, John Marston and Nathan Drake we are now surrounded by wise-cracking men, with hearts of gold. However Lara’s reimaging by Crystal Dynamics looks on track to retake her crown from Nathan, not just as our favourite adventurer, but also the most human.

We were lucky enough to play through one of the opening sections of the new Tomb Raider, before seeing more of what lies ahead at the developer session. With the waves crashing upon the cliffs of an unknown eastern island, Lara knows she must make her way inland, in an attempt to find any fellow survivors of her recent shipwreck. The sound and sights as the demo opens are intricately crafted: we can almost feel the spray of the crashing waves and smell the sea air. As Lara begins walking parallels can be made between developer Crystal Dynamics’ animation and that of Naughty Dog’s: Lara’s movement is sluggish, as she drags her heels and collapses on a nearby branch, just like Nathan in the desert, or the snow, or the mountains, or… well he’s often limping around isn’t he. As Lara walks across a fallen tree, and climbs onto a crashed World War 2 plane the similarly to Drake is almost uncanny. The animations are alike, the climbing mechanisms, even the habit of characters talking themselves to prompt the player about what to do next. Granted, it looks fantastic, and cinematic, but there’s a sense of déjà vu.

After a short trek, Lara finds a fellow survivor’s backpack, along with matches and walkie-talkie. Soon rain begins to pour, and Lara takes shelter, setting up a fire. After brief cut scene, she’s off again, and it’s not long until she discovers a bow, along with an abundance of arrows. A decomposed corpse has been strung up, and hangs from a rope, along with the weapon. There are clearly dark and disturbing forces at work on this island, and whether this was a victim of some savage ritual, a brutal trial, or a castaway gone mad we are yet to discover. Here’s where things start to get a little more interesting. The world opens up, and we’re tasked with finding something to eat. Once we’ve acquired the bow we follow a stream and begin to explore the depths of this forest glade in search for food. Our first targets are a selection of crows perching atop an ancient bunker, which at this point is locked tight. Sending an arrow into a bird is brutal. It just doesn’t feel like picking off hawks as Red Dead Redemption’s John Marston or mowing down dear in Far Cry 2. It’s more personal.

Unfortunately the crow won’t suffice Lara’s appetite; perhaps it will make a pleasing starter and not simply a waste of a life. As we explore further we come across a small group of dear, unaware of Lara’s presence. We aim and fire. The deer’s speed off deeper into the forest, but our target only manages to limp away, desperately trying to keep up with the pack. Another arrow to the neck and it falls. Another cut scene follows as Lara apologises to the downed animal, before slitting its throat. Rather that the hardened heroes that we’ve been spoilt with this generation, Lara has never killed, and doesn’t want to. This isn’t enjoyable. She doesn’t ‘Ooh-rah!’ at the thought of combat. She just wants to get home.

As Lara returns to the campfire we are introduced to the start of the levelling system. By completing objectives Lara’s abilities improve, for instance she can gain the Survival Instinct, much like Assassin’s Creed’s Eagle Vision, to highlight collectables and points of interest, or the ability to retrieve more arrows from fallen enemies. As Lara settles down to a venison steak the walkie-talkie sounds and she makes contact with fellow survivor, Roth. Here our demo ended, but luckily for us the developer session continued.

We joined Lara as she makes her way to meet Roth. Rain falls, and eerie music sounds as Lara approaches the old bunker we saw earlier, but now its doors are open, and light pours into the night. It appear to be an Second World War bunker, but the skulls and rotting flesh that adorn the interior are perhaps more recent additions. Lara finds a burning torch to light her way, the shadows casts and flickering fire add to the already mysterious atmosphere. The torch also demonstrates the fire-physics mechanic, as Lara clears a path through debris by burning it. As Lara surfaces from her first tomb unscathed, she re-joins her friend Sam and an unwelcome stranger. It doesn’t take a detective to sense that this guy is up to no good, and our suspicions are proved correct when he makes off with Sam at knife point.

As Lara pursues, her leg is caught in a bear trap, and the timing couldn’t be worse as wolves howl nearby. What happens next is best described as a high quality whack-a-rat montage, as wolves leap from the bushes in slow motion while Lara picks them off with her bow. With the wolves dealt with, a group of the ship’s crew and passages find Lara. One survivor, Whitman takes Lara back to their camp, whilst the remainder pursue Sam and her kidnapper.

Back at the camp Whitman has discovered an ancient gate and needs Lara’s help opening it – never mind her crushed and bloody leg then. This proves an opportunity to have a look at the crafting system, as Lara needs to upgrade her tools in order to open the gate. By amassing crafting objects from the game’s open worlds you’ll be able to improve the strengths of weapons and tools at the campfire, which serve as workshops and places to level up, much like in Dark Souls.

With the gate open Lara falls into yet another bad situation, as she and Whitman are captured. It seems the two of them aren’t the only captives, as a group Lara recognises from the ship are also strung up. Chaos ensues as prisoners attempt an escape, the perfect opportunity for Lara to follow suit. Rather than the running and leaping we’ve seen so far, Lara weaves in and out of torch light and hides behind cover, in a stealth segment, before being discovered. With the chaos of the base in full flow, her capturer begins to grope the young woman. His intentions are clear as lust fills his eyes. A quick-time event takes us through the process of attempting to escape, a skirmish that ends in the rapist gagging on the floor, as blood seeps out of his bullet-torn face. As the session ends and Lara comes to terms with her first kill, there’s a ominous sense of foreboding that it won’t be her last.

We’ve seen Lara has survived hunger, tombs, wolves and now sexual assault within the space of 40 minutes. It sounds almost farcical, and may well have been, had it not been for the way the story is told. We’ve built a relationship with this character. It has been the mistakes and malice of others that have caused Lara pain and suffering. It’s this sense of injustice, along with the incredible voice acting, animation and quality script that makes us want to help Lara to survive, and perhaps reap vengeance for the wrongs done to her. These well may be recycled animations, and tried and tested gameplay features, but here is a potential for a mature and thought through storyline usually reserved for the mastering’s of David Cage.

With Tomb Raider’s release not scheduled until March, there’s a long time until we get to see how the full origin story will unfold. From what we’ve seen it’ll be worth the wait. Until then, why not check out the developer session below.

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