In spending the whole opening day at EB Expo 2012 on Friday, I got a chance to play some of my personal highly anticipated titles of the coming year. Tomb Raider was one of them. Having been a Tomb Raider fan since the original, I was curious to see how Lara controlled in this fresh new take, and I’m about to let you know. Of course the game does not release until March next year so in reading any observation I make here, it’s only fair to reserve judgement on the little things that may be fixable by it’s release date. The demo was on the Xbox 360.
The portion that was playable is the semi-open section that was shown at E3 this year, that is set directly after the opening with Lara escaping out of the caverns where she was hung upside down in a cocoon like wrapping. The title shows in front of you as you look out into the ocean, littered with wrecked ships. This was probably exacerbated because of it’s stunning graphical quality and detail, but for a split-second I did not realise that I was immediately in control of Lara; I thought the title would fade and the camera would change perspective and momentarily lock to hint that it was out of cut-scene mode, but the presentation and transition was fluid and seamless, which I prefer for the purpose of a more complete sense of immersion. Obviously this won’t always be the case since, as we’ve seen in previous footage, there are more cinematic scenes that fade out without giving control back to us immediately.
As I moved forward and down the cliff’s path, I was relieved to find that Lara is not as weighty, cumbersome or as awkward as I had feared – I’m looking at you Nathan Drake! With my primary concern already quashed from the get go, I grew even more optimistic. Soon enough Lara is jumping gaps and climbing as button prompts pop up on screen. An early criticism, which may just be nitpicking, is a mild jitter in the shimmying animations. The jitter is more obvious when Lara shimmies over corners, as if they are not connected and there is some resulting form of clipping. Moving on, ledge hopping sometimes results in Lara losing her grip, at which point you must make a timely press of the ‘X’ button to retain it. I was also introduced to the wall climb, which basically requires pressing ‘A’ once to jump at a higher wall and then again to boost up and reach the ledge. On the way to finding shelter as the wet weather begins to wear on Lara, I initiate the cut-scene where she finds her fellow castaway’s belongings, and notably their match box and walkie-talkie, before falling from a ledge and somewhat violently careening down a slope.
After Lara gets warm using the only match left in the aforementioned match box to make a fire and gets ready to look for sustenance, a notification displays on screen noting “New Camp Discovered”. There are constant notifications like this that also alert you to a new objective or an update to your current mission. I could access a map by pressing the ‘back’ button, which displayed the camp and my current objective’s location. A quicker way to find your bearings is to look at the compass line at the top of the screen. There is also ‘Survival Instinct’ mode, whereby everything turns black and white, highlighting objects or points of interest. I tried to turn it off by pressing the activation button – in this case the left bumper – but it does not deactivate it too, meaning I had to wait for it to automatically time out. It only lasts maybe 5 seconds in it’s current implementation anyway. Fighting onwards, as seen in the E3 video, I come across the hanging corpse with a bow on his back. I noticed an overtly placed red-painted board that I realised was used to lead me in the right direction, and my eye to the quiver lying next to it. I like to call this “color-guidance” after it was implemented so prominently in the 2008 release, Mirror’s Edge. Pressing ‘X’ collects the quiver, which represents ammo in the form of arrows for your bow. After retrieving the bow I am instructed to hunt and kill a deer. Finding one was easy enough, and killing it involved pulling the left trigger to pull back the bow, and the right trigger to shoot. The deer bolted after the first shot, and it took 4 shots to kill (tough bugger!).
After skinning the deer via cut-scene, I headed back to camp. Once there, I access the fire with ‘A’ and am shown a menu where I can choose to use my “Survival Experience Points” on upgrading my “Survival Skills”. These skills are unlocked in tiers, and include abilities such as arrow retrieval, advanced looting and increased ammo capacity. Once I exited this menu, a final cut scene plays to end the demo. Interestingly, there was text at the top and bottom of the screen that respectively read “Australia Event 4” and “Hunting Demo”. For the life of me, I can not remember three prior events based in Australia where Tomb Raider has been shown! But I digress…Tomb Raider felt good, controlled well and with that animation hiccup aside, it was a seamless experience. There may not have been much to this demo, considering we have seen video of it before, but actually getting my hands on it makes me more excited to play through the game and get involved in this origin story of sorts. From my experience Lara is nimble, the world is detailed, controls are tight and it looks and sounds fantastic. If the final game is well-paced, we may just be playing the best Tomb Raider ever come March.