This is the second of a two part preview. Click here to read the first part of our Tomb Raider Preview.
The combat in the other demos seemed to be just as focused on violence and quick-thinking. The immediacy of every moment is highlighted – Lara stumbles upon a pirate, and with a hurried shot puts an arrow in his knee (No. You resist the urge. Resist it. You’re better than this). While the pirate keels over in pain, Lara races forward and executes an insta-kill on the stunned enemy by punching the arrow in her hand through his throat. In another moment, running from gunfire, she pulls out an ancient looking shotgun and, rather than start shooting crazily into a tunnel full of guards, blasts the prop holding up a stack of barrels nearby. The barrels fling down the corridor into their screaming prey and Lara leaps onto a ledge above the hallway and runs down it, blasting through the floor to take out the pirates who survived the barrel barrage. In another skirmish, Lara employs her climbing axe to bash in the skull of a pirate at melee range.
Don’t let the victim controversy you’ve been hearing about this game fool you – Lara has agency, a wolverine-like tenacity, and enough pent-up aggression to make Marcus Fenix look like Jigglypuff. Anyone who can play Find-The-Intestines with a piece of rebar and then go on a roaring rampage of rescue/revenge afterward is the kind of a heroine I can get behind. Way behind. Behind and cringing, maybe holding her flashlight and trying not to pass out.
In one instance, after a devastating ride down a raging river and a waterfall-o-doom, Lara is saved by smashing into a crashed cargo plane. It doesn’t last long, and her fall is arrested only briefly by the plane’s unbroken cockpit windshield. She has a bare second to grab a parachute before the glass gives way, and what follows is a daring base-jump through a maze of trees that is all entirely playable.
Crystal Dynamics is going for spectacle and so far they are hitting it out of the park. Though the cutscenes are gorgeous (crafted by Square-Enix’s own masters of CGI, Japan-based Visual Works), most of the outrageous derring-do is player-controlled. If you don’t whip out shotgun and start blasting debris out of the way during your rollicking raftless river ride, things will not turn out well for Lara.
The graphics are breathtaking, perfectly juxtaposing the crumbling remnants of humanity with the gorgeous vistas of tangled, untamed jungle and endless foreboding ocean. Light dapples through the swaying trees overhead, the sun explodes into a fiery nimbus behind the clouds and the humid air, and Lara herself is nothing to shake a stick at.
Though the tiny impractical shorts of yesteryear have been done away with, Lara still looks sexy. It’s more of a dirty, desperate, badass kind of sexy than the stupidly-enormous boobs and pouty lips of the old days but it’s also more honest and more real. Instead of being a fanboy cheesecake mascot, this new Lara Croft might actually earn the title of “Strong Female Protagonist” that she was prematurely given in the past.
Lara Croft has been iterated like crazy, with dozens of actresses, models, and voice-actors cramming themselves into either the physical or proverbial tiny pants of England’s Greatest Explorer, Category Video Games. This new Lara is played by Britain’s own Camilla Luddington, al twenty-nine year old actress born in Ascot, Berkshire and living in Los Angeles.
Not only does she provide Lara’s voice, but she also stands in as her physical motion capture actor and model. During the mo-cap, Camilla had a microphone and a camera pointed at her face, recording her dialogue and facial expressions along with her body. This is itself another cue taken from Uncharted. Naughty Dog is famous for doing mo-cap and dialogue together with the real actors. It greatly enhances the Uncharted franchise, and from the glimpses seen so far of Tomb Raider’s cut scenes this game will be no different. Some may hit Crystal Dynamics for following the success of the Uncharted franchise but mimicking the greats is a much better philosophy than sticking with the same old tired formula.
This new Lara’s ever-present grunts of pain and surprise have been compared to a super-human extended orgasm by critics but from what I’ve seen it isn’t so jarring. Nathan Drake is constantly talking, huffing-and-puffing, and screaming in pain as he’s battered by the gods of bad luck and it isn’t considered obscene.
You’ve seen the trailers but here’s Tomb Raider in a nutshell: Lara Croft, twenty one year old college graduate and aspiring explorer is aboard the good ship Endurance, which is under the command of resident old-guy/future mentor Conrad Roth. The Endurance ends up in the Dragon’s Triangle, a very real place also called the Devil’s Sea, a chunk of deadly ocean 100 kilometers south of Tokyo known for eating ships like delicious candy. Lara is shipwrecked on an uncharted (heh) strip of jungle island, forced to contend with nature, former survivors-turned-jungle savages, and the kind of pirates that don’t wear mascara and are NOT sexy.
Lara Croft must rescue the remaining survivors of the Endurance (many of which are close friends), escape the jerks on the island, and learn to survive on nothing but wits and determination and hopefully not urine drinking (I’m looking at you, Bear Grylls).
There seems to be a side-plot about the tribal society formed by the poor saps who’ve been shipwrecked on the island throughout the years, and there’s a good chance the pirates are up to something mysterious and sinister on the island. Expect a betrayal or two, possibly from said mentor.
Crystal Dynamics has a Tomb Raider lined up that might not only deliver on edge-of-the-world exploration but also a compelling storyline, something that even the finest Tomb Raiders of the past have never delivered.
If it wasn’t already obvious, I couldn’t be more excited. From the trailers, the demos, the gameplay footage, and the interviews, 2013′s Tomb Raider might just relaunch the property that defined not only a generation of video games but a generation of female protagonists in games. Lara Croft as an icon has lain dormant and wasted but Crystal Dynamics looks set to deliver a promising game experience.
Short of major technical issues, a complete fumbling of the second half of the game, or the revelation that Lara has to face extra-dimensional beings with crystal skeletons, Tomb Raider is going to be a memorable, gritty thrill-ride into the heart of darkness.
Next March, gamers stand ready to find out if Lara really is “that kind of Croft.”