E3 2011 first look: Tomb Raider

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Tomb Raider may be one of the most iconic and most famous gaming brands, but you wouldn’t have guessed it if you’ve played a Tomb Raider game in the last 10 years. The series may have helped make Angelina Jolie a household name, but Lara has needed some attention for a long time. Thanks to the Square Enix purchase of Eidos, Croft may finally be getting the attention she so desperately needs.

Tomb Raider is a sort of reimagining of the series. A prequel to the originales, this tale shows a young and inexperienced 21 year-old Lara Croft as she is suspiciously shipwrecked on an island off the coast of Japan. To escape alive, she has to “endure physical and emotional torture.” And she does.

The E3 demo at Square Enix’s booth is hands-off this go round, but a representative from Crystal Dynamics played through a couple levels of the game to give us a good idea of what the team is going for. The demo opens with Lara hanging upside down in a cave and wrapped in a spider-like cocoon. The first thing we noticed was how gorgeous and detailed this new game is–it is very much reminiscent of the Uncharted series, but with a darker vibe. To escape, you must swing yourself back and forth to light a fire and then burn your cocoon off. Once you land at the bottom of the cave, you must pick up torches and use fire, water, physics, and wind to your advantage. Crystal Dynamics seems to be approaching its puzzles with a moderately realistic frame of mind; if your torch gets wet, it goes out; if your fire touches something flammable, it burns. Escaping involves a lever, TNT, and your torch.

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Walking around and using the environment looks to be fun, but a good portion of the demo was less interactive. For better and worse, Tomb Raider‘s gameplay is as modern as Lara’s new look. Like most big blockbuster action games, a lot of the gameplay shown could best be described as interactive cutscenes, where you have to tap a button in the middle of a video sequence, or alternate pressing the L and R buttons to escape from a local man who pops out of nowhere to grab at your feet. Ever since Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War, big budget games seem to be revolving more around these sorts of shock and squirm encounters, where a new scenario is thrust upon you or cutscenes are given some life with a few button pushes. I’m not certain this is an awful trend, but Tomb Raider is certainly following it.

One thing Crystal Dynamics kept pointing out was how inexperienced Lara Croft is. They hope to let players experience her becoming a hardened tomb raider. In these demos, though, she was very much a 21-year-old girl, moaning and screaming when she got hurt (she moans a little too much, actually), kicking and killing a man that out of fear even though he was just trying to help her, and complaining about her mission to an injured man. To be fair, however, I’d complain too if someone asked me to infiltrate the den of a rabid pack of wolves.

Without the chance to get our hands on Tomb Raider, we can only speculate on the controls and overall experience. With that said, it is clear that this game has a level of detail and polish that I haven’t seen out of Tomb Raider before. It won’t be hitting PS3 and Xbox 360 until the third quarter of 2012, but from what we gather, Tomb Raider may be one to look out for next year.

We’ve included the full E3 trailer below.

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