My 3 hour date with Lara Croft – a preview of the new Tomb Raider game

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We were recently invited by Square Enix to play the first three hours of the new Tomb Raider game, and here are our spoiler-free thoughts on it.

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The new Tomb Raider game is set around Lara’s first big adventure and is a reboot of the popular franchise, so anything can happen.

The game starts off after the ship that Lara is on breaks apart and she and her crew find themselves on an island inhabited by some dangerous animals and some not very friendly people.

In fact, when we first see Lara she is tied up, hanging upside down and in a lot of danger.

Upon helping her to free herself she utters the words “This is going to hurt” and she isn’t wrong as she falls to the floor and impales herself on a spike.

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And it’s not long after this that poor battered, bruised and bleeding Lara is attacked and then its a non stop rollercoaster with Lara trying to figure out where she is, where her friends are who these people are who are trying to kill her. And oh yes, try to stay alive!

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Throughout the island there are base camps. These are areas that Lara can stop and take a breather and use any experience points she has gained so far to increase her skills. There are multiple upgrades available in the form of both survivor upgrades and hunter upgrades. Each can be useful at different times throughout the game and so it is up to you what you upgrade and when, but there are certain upgrades you will need to make pretty quickly if you want to survive on the island.

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Whilst Lara is at a base camp we are often treated to elements of the backstory via Lara replaying videos recorded in her friend Sam’s video camera (which she recovers pretty early on in the game). These videos give us insight into the expedition and to the various characters. You can choose to skip these if you wish but its more interesting to watch them.

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Lara also gets advice from remembering her lessons with her mentor Roth (who is on the island with her and we pretty soon meet up with and need to help). There is even a great line from Lara when she meets up with Roth and calls him “a Northern bastard”.

As well as trying to figure out what’s going on and to find her friends, along with a way off the island, there are also relics that can be found, and hidden tombs to be explored. I don’t want to go into any real details on these in fear of spoiling some surprises, but there is a lot for Lara to do!

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The first time I got to play this new Tomb Raider was back at Gamescom in August. I had the chance to play about an hour of the game (that hour being a part of the three hours I got to play this time around). The first public outing for parts of that hour of gameplay was at Eurogamer in September. One thing I noticed playing these three hours was there were a few subtle and some not so subtle changes already.

One example being in the early gameplay, there is a sequence when Lara finds her friend Sam and she isn’t alone. Lara quickly figures out that the guy isn’t to be trusted and he pulls a knife and takes off with Sam (see the image below).

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In this new version that doesn’t happen. Lara does find Sam and this guy, who claims to be a teacher, but this time Lara falls asleep, and when she wakes up they are both gone.

That’s not to say this will be in the final game, its possible that it will change again, but I like that Crystal Dynamics are changing even little elements of the game to make it better.

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One element of the game that really draws you in is the music. Jason Graves has done an amazing job of scoring the new soundtrack and it really gives the game a cinematic feel.

There are a number of QTEs (quick time elements) in the game where something happens to Lara and you have to very quickly tap a button, or do something else with the controller to stop her from being killed. Originally I was a little concerned that there might be too many QTEs in the game and that it would detract from the gameplay, but I am happy to say that during the 3 hours of play I didn’t once feel that. There were a couple of times that poor Lara died because I wasn’t quick enough – sometimes I didn’t feel I even had enough time to react, but this was a preview build so I’m not too worried about that either.

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As well as QTE, there are a number of puzzles in the game that need solving if Lara is to move on, and they start almost immediately. Some are fairly obvious and its just a case of figuring out how to do them, and some are just down right sneaky (well done Crystal Dynamics). Again, I was concerned that they would all be really obvious or tell you exactly what you needed to do so that you just went through the motions, but this wasn’t the case.

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There is an element in the game called Survival Instinct. Basically what this does is provide hints and guidance if you are a bit stuck. It is completely optional and you don’t have to use it, but there were a few times I would have been stuck without it.

What’s different in this new Tomb Raider game from all the previous Tomb Raider games is that Lara is hurt and scared and she comes across vulnerable, and that’s certainly not the gun totting fearless Lara we are used to. And actually that is a good thing, because she had to start her journey somewhere and it makes for a much more interesting story now.

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The first time she has to kill someone she is really affected by it, it’s not something she wanted to do, but its something she had to do in order to survive.

And I really think that Camilla Luddington, who is the voice of Lara has done a great job.

Before I knew it my three hours were up, it really did fly by and I really wanted to carry on, but alas I will have to wait to finish the game  – is it the 5th of March yet?

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Are you going to buy Tomb Raider? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

     

[button link="http://connecteddigitalworld.com/2012/12/30/an-interview-with-brian-horton-about-tomb-raider/"]Check out our interview with Brian Horton, the Senior Art Director on Tomb Raider[/button]

[button link="http://connecteddigitalworld.com/2012/12/30/new-tomb-raider-gameplay-footage-and-screenshots/"]Check out some new gameplay footage too[/button]