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Lara is dead, long live Lara: Tomb Raider at E3

Wednesday, 6 June 2012 15:20 GMT By Stace Harman

Tomb Raider’s revival was one of Microsoft’s big press conference tickets and is likely to be one of the biggest games of the next 12 months. Stace Harman speaks to art director, Brian Horton in LA.

“We wanted to keep the same tenants of an action-adventure game but put them through a new filter and so the origin story bubbled up from that. By having a period of incubation, we’ve been able to revitalise not only the tone and mood of the game, but also the mechanics and the way the game plays in order to make it more relevant for today’s gamer.”

Following its appointment to the franchise, Crystal Dynamics released three Tomb Raider titles in successive years as it sought to return Lara to her glory days. It had a great deal of player-apathy to combat that, somewhat ironically, had itself been brought about by half a decade of annual releases, later followed by the coup de grâce that was Angel of Darkness.

But whilst Legend, Anniversary and Underworld were all solid experiences in the classic Tomb Raider mould, they felt like the output of a developer paying homage to a bygone era; a developer that was biding its time before breaking free of its shackles to craft its own vision of both game and leading star.

“We’d done all that we could do with that version of Tomb Raider and we needed to think about Lara in a fresh way,” confirms Crystal Dynamics art director, Brian Horton. “We wanted to keep the same tenants of an action-adventure game but put them through a new filter and so the origin story bubbled up from that.

“By having a period of incubation, we’ve been able to revitalise not only the tone and mood of the game, but also the mechanics and the way the game plays in order to make it more relevant for today’s gamer.”

It’s true that Lara is not the woman she was all those years ago, at least not in the gameplay we’re shown from the beginning of the game. Where once she somersaulted over adversaries, targeting them with her twin pistols, she now hides from them, runs away, or at best, tries for a swift and silent kill with her bow and arrows. Her cocksureness and debonair air have been replaced by panic and desperation, her movements in the opening 20 minutes are often inelegant and faltering.

On account of this relegation to mere human, Lara’s prospects of survival appear bleak as she goes about trying to start a fire, drinking rain water and forage for food. But as she completes these tasks she begins to earn survival XP, a first for the Tomb Raider series and appropriately indicative of Lara having to learn skills that her older, more experienced self takes for granted.

E3 gameplay.

This XP is spent on manually upgrading survival skills, which takes place at bonfires and brings to mind a game with its own take on survival, Dark Souls. As with From Software’s sadistic masterpiece, camp fires fulfil the role of a hub at which to administer character development and upgrade or repair equipment, but they also act as a beacon of hope and a marker of solace.

As Horton upgrades Lara’s skill-set with the ability to identify and obtain edible plants, it brings into focus a feature that will prove divisive and about which I have an uneasy feeling: Survival Instinct. This is pretty much exactly what you might expect: it’s the ability for Lara to view her environment through the eyes of a survivor which means being able to highlight useful items or give an indication of the direction in which she should be heading. Slightly concerned by this, I ask Horton whether the inclusion of Survival Instinct marks the end of having to work out for yourself where to go or what to do next.

“Survival Instinct is opt-in and is really just a hint system,” he explains, reminding me of the tiered, menu-based hint system of Underworld. “It just points you in the right direction, rather than telling you what to do next.

“The player is free to navigate the environment in multiple ways and there are an awful lot of nooks and crannies you can explore. The explorers out there are going to love it; on their own, just Lara and the player exploring what the story, island and Lara herself.”

From initial viewing, it doesn’t appear to be a crutch that spoils the feeling of exploration, but there’s little narrative justification for its inclusion and it will be left up to the player’s willpower to resist the temptation to activate it and take a sneaky peek. Which leads us, neatly but regrettably, on to two words I’d hoped to avoid.

“Cleavage shots”

Unfortunately, these two words are amongst the first that I write on my notepad whilst watching Horton guide Lara through the early stages of the game. They’re prompted by a cut-scene in which the future Lady of Croft manor is speaking in quiet, desperate tones, pleading with her missing mentor, Conrad Roth, to come find her because she’s just not sure that she can survive on her own. As Lara exposes her vulnerability, we’re “treated” to an over the shoulder camera shot which clearly, distractingly and unnecessarily exposes her cleavage and if Survival Instinct is a new feature that people might object to, gratuitous shots of Lara’s cleavage is an unwelcome throwback to the Tomb Raider of old.

“Survival Instinct is opt-in and is really just a hint system. It just points you in the right direction, rather than telling you what to do next.”

More welcome, is the revealing of Lara’s other assets; ones that serve to aid her survival: the bow and arrow, a weapon that’s fast becoming synonymous with new-look-Lara, serves as both a weapon and a tool as Lara first brings down a deer, before using an arrowhead to shear meat from its carcass. Similarly, the pry axe is shown being used to leverage a door, before its wooden handle must be upgraded to render it strong enough to be used as a crank to gain access to a new path into an unexplored environment.

The environment itself looks an appealing mix of dense foliage, broad jungle canopies and undulating terrain which manages to look idyllic in daylight and imposing in the darkness. The terra firma assumes its own dual-personality, at once Lara’s playground and her prison, reinforced by a weather system that Horton says is not simply for aesthetic value, but to add an additional dimension to Lara’s plight.

“It’s essential that the weather and environment conditions tie into Lara’s story, be it to reinforce an emotion or to act as a counterpoint to that emotion,” he explains. “We have a lot of peaks and valleys, so you’re going to see those rays of hope coming through, but then we’re going to break it back down again. The colour palette and the weather play a big part in reflecting and determining the emotional state of Lara and of the situations that the player finds them self in.”

Both Tomb Raider and Lara herself have come a long way since their inception, 16 years ago – although, in the area of Lara as a sex-object that progress has perhaps not been as extensive as one might have hoped. When she returns next March, we’ll discover whether her metamorphosis from outdated relic to relevant heroine has been successful and whether Crystal Dynamics has done her heritage proud.

Tomb Raider launches worldwide for for 360, PS3 and PC on March 5 2013.

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6 Comments

  1. anik_lc

    Finally Tomb Raider, thanks for the preview. Good read. The game is going to be awesome. :D

    Waiting for the Tomb Raider interview tonight. :)

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Da Man

    Incoming Uncharted comments. Then people making fun of Uncharted. Then Gekidami telling those they have no life and should leave beautiful, pure Sony alone.


    Anyway, I’m very skeptical. Looks impressive and all, and I’m sure it will be successful for mainstream crowd, but it’s better be a TR game, not a Crystal Dynamics attempt at TR like the previous ones.

    I also highly dislike their obsession with qtes.

    And the cinematics.

    I hope you get to control a somersaulting Lara in the later stages..

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Ireland Michael

    @2 If you’re going to take inspiration from anything, Uncharted is far from the worst thing to take inspiration from. Seems fitting anyway, considering how many said the same about the original Uncharted taking inspiration from Lara Croft.

    This seems a lot more violent and gruesome than Uncharted though, with far less sense of being a hero and the obvious focus on this character being out of their element. QTEs are okay only so long as they’re used sparingly to bridge short gaps between scenes. I hope they don’t end up overdoing it.

    It’s looking hopeful, but we’ll have to wait and see.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Da Man

    I disagree with that completely.

    The reason I despised CD direction after the 2006 reboot was the whole shooty cinematic action vibe.

    I don’t see anything inspired by that one though, RE4 brought many of the modern elements into video games (smooth transitions from gameplay to scenes, camera, usage of qtes), and Ass Creed looks like something they took little things from as well.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. roadkill

    Mr. Harman good preview! Most of it. But did you really bash the developer for giving you an additional option when playing the game? I’m talking about the Survival Instinct of course. It’s easy: you either turn it on or leave it off. Only a child would ask himself what to do. Second: cleavage shots. What? Again, did you just lash at the developer for trying to stay true to reality. You’re a bit clueless mate. You don’t know much about living in the wild do you? You should probably go out more often. Go to a camping trip or something. You’d learn a few things.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. ashdcuk

    From the article:

    As Lara exposes her vulnerability, we’re “treated” to an over the shoulder camera shot which clearly, distractingly and unnecessarily exposes her cleavage

    roadkill:

    Second: cleavage shots. What? Again, did you just lash at the developer for trying to stay true to reality. You’re a bit clueless mate. You don’t know much about living in the wild do you? You should probably go out more often. Go to a camping trip or something.

    If you’re going on trips where you find it necessary to stick a camera down girl’s tops, I wouldn’t call that ‘camping’. ‘Spring break’ maybe.

    #6 3 years ago

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    Blizzard will soon allow World of Warcraft players to exchange in-game gold for game time and vice versa. Blizzard has announced a new system that will launch soon for World of Warcraft. The system is called WoW Token. Using this system, players will be able to buy game time using in-game gold. Here’s how it […]

  • 3D Realms’ Bombshell returns with the first gameplay trailer

    Remember 3D Realms’ Bombshell? The isometric ARPG that was announced last year? Well, it’s back, and we get to see gameplay footage. The game stars Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, a bomb technician turned mercenary with a mechanical arm. She will embark on a quest to rescue the president and save Earth, all while shooting aliens. The […]

  • Unreal Engine 4 is now free for everyone to use

    Epic Games has made Unreal Engine 4 available for anyone to download and use, for free. Unreal Engine 4 is now free. Anyone can download it and start using it, the developer announced today in a blog post. The download features the the full set of tools used by Epic, and includes 100% of the […]

  • Call of Duty European Championship winner announced

    The winner of the European round of the Call of Duty Championship has been announced. This past weekend, 28 teams representing UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, the rest of Europe and Middle East attended the final of the European round of the Call of Duty Championship. UK team Epsilon eSports was crowned […]

  • GOG brings back Insomnia sale with discounts up to 90% off

    GOG.com is bringing back its Insomnia sale event with even more games. GOG’s Insomnia sale is back with double the amount of games. This year, there will be two sets of games available at once. The sets are seasoned classics and fresh new titles. Each set will feature games with discounts up to 90% off, […]

  • 2K is shutting down NBA 2K14 online servers, won’t affect career save files

    2K will be shutting down the servers for NBA 2K14 this month. The publisher revealed yesterday that online servers for NBA 2K14 will be turned offline on March 31. “You will no longer be able to play ranked games/online association,” reads the announcement. NBA 2K14 relied on online servers to store save files for MyCareer […]

  • One Dead or Alive tournament organiser is proposing ban of “over-sexualised” costumes

    A Dead or Alive tournament organiser has suggested a soft ban on some of the game’s “over-sexualised” costumes, and not everyone is happy. Tournament organiser “The HuBBs” took to the FreeStepDodge forums to suggest a list of rules that other offline tournaments can follow. The list goes over stages, characters, moves, which is certainly in […]

  • Destiny: all the news from Bungie’s open house Q&A

    Bungie hosted an open house Q&A session with the community last week and lots of exciting news have come out of it. Arekkz Gaming has gathered all the information that came out of Bungie’s open house Q&A in one handy video. The list is massive, going over Exotic weapon balance, upcoming events, PVE, Crucible rewards, […]

  • Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen to honour Nimoy with in-game memorials

    Developers behind space exploration games Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen will honour the memory of Leonard Nimoy through in-game memorials. The develops of both games have confirmed separately that in-game memorials will be established to honour the memory of the late Star Trek actor, Leonard Nimoy, famous for playing Spock. Elite: Dangerous executive producer Michael […]

  • Deal: get a PlayStation 4 + three exclusives for $399

    Amazon’s latest PlayStation 4 deal is not one to miss. With purchase of a PlayStation 4 console from Amazon in the US, the online retailer will throw in digital codes for Infamous Second Son, Killzone Shadow Fall and The Last of Us: Remastered, all for the same MSRP of $399. The Last of Us Remastered […]

  • Destiny: this is how one player predicted House of Wolves details and Xur’s inventory

    The method one Redditor possibly used to leak some details from Destiny’s House of Wolves was the same one he used to predict the inventory of Xur: Agent of the Nine. Last week, Reddit user Megamanexe4 leaked a few pieces of House of Wolves expansion content. The leaks included strikes, new Crucible mode, and a […]

  • Mortal Kombat X is coming to iOS… as a card-battler

    Mortal Kombat X will be releasing on mobile devices in some form, just not the one you except. Mortal Kombat X is coming to Android and iOS devices as an extension of the main game. It will launch in April alongside the console versions. The mobile game will be part card collecting and part fighting […]

  • Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain announcement coming this Wednesday

    Kojima Productions will unveil something about Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain this Wednesday. Metal Gear Solid fans should standby for a Phantom Pain-related announcement on Wednesday, March 4. According to developer Kojima Productions’ Twitter, there’s going to be an announcement at 2pm GMT on Wednesday. The developer posted the following image. The image […]

  • Reader survey: time to let us get to know you better!

    We’d really appreciate it if you could fill in this survey about the websites you read and the games you buy. It massively helps! You can fill out the survey right here and obviously all the information you supply is confidential. It helps us build a better picture of the people who read our site […]

  • Battlefield Hardline Premium: here’s everything you get for $50

    Battlefield Hardline’s Premium membership will give players access to 4 new features, early access to expansion packs and more. EA detailed the offer today – it costs $50 in total (£40 in the UK) and gives players a whole bundle of new gear and content. Check it all out in handy list form below: Masks […]

  • Hayter’s gonna hate: the voice of Solid Snake wouldn’t answer my Metal Gear question

    Voice actor and Hollywood writer David Hayter discusses the differences between movies and games. And politely declines my leading question. “It might be fun to do a crazy, over-the-top film version of Saint’s Row.” Yeah, that headline is a bit cheap but you’re reading the work of a man who once asked the maker of […]

  • Xbox One bundle gets £100 price cut in UK

    Microsoft has knocked up to £100 off Xbox One bundles in the UK. The Xbox One with Kinect Assassin’s Creed bundle is now £100 cheaper and comes with a free £20 voucher to be spent on the official Microsoft online store. Over on the Xbox online store there’s a £70 price cut on the white […]

  • Pokemon Shuffle downloaded 1m times, free stuff given out to celebrate

    Free-to-play 3DS title Pokemon Shuffle has been downloaded over 1 million times. As a reward for playing the match-3 puzzle game Nintendo has gifted players a Complexity -1 item for free. The item reduces the difficulty of a level, according to Eurogamer. By all accounts Pokemon Shuffle is a cynical game with poorly implemented microtransactions. […]

  • Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power sure is pretty

    FrozenByte Games has revealed Trine 3, due for release in 2015 And what better way to reveal a new side-scrolling adventure than with a very pretty trailer full of gameplay? The latest in a series that has already sold 7 million copies is earmarked for PC and “other” formats. Trine 2 released on PS3, PS3, […]

  • Dying Light takes UK number one

    A month since it was released on digital platforms, Dying Light’s physical release has topped the UK charts. Techland and Warner’s zombie survival game has proven to be one of the big hits of the year so far. It was released on digital formats a month ago but has only just been released on good-old […]

  • GTA 5: that’s some seriously accurate grenade throwing

    Think you can take down a jet plane with a grenade throw? This guy can. In fact, he can do it twice. This is in a variation on the player-created deathmatch “Stunters Versus Snipers” which seem to be all the rage in GTA Online at the moment. One team has a sniper rifle (and grenades) […]

  • Metal Gear Solid 5: Mother Base turns pink in the morning sun

    The Phantom Pain looks nice even when Kojima just takes a quick pic with his phone. Look at that beauty. We get nice reflection in pink at the first gray of dawn. pic.twitter.com/aERTBoZT9z — HIDEO_KOJIMA (@HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN) March 2, 2015 The game doesn’t have a release date yet, which makes us a bit nervous for it […]

  • Dying Light: Underpant Gnomes and 9 other secrets you missed

    Dying Light still has legs – maybe because it’s crammed full of secret things to discover. Ten of those have been highlighted by TerraMantis’ latest YouTube video, including reference to the Underpant Gnomes, guitar lessons, farting zombies and well, we don’t want to spoil it for you. Even if you think you’ve seen everything in […]

  • Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Raid Mode dance gestures are deadly

    Why blind ‘em with science when you could kill ‘em with dance moves? revelations raid When I say Resident Evil: Revelations 2‘s Raid Mode dance gestures are deadly, I’m not being figurative. If you finish the first chapter of Revelations 2 you can unlock Gina for use in Raid Mode. All characters can use gestures […]

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition mod enables male Blackwall romance, terrific joke

    “Male Inquisitors can now scale the wall,” says a clever Redditor. A new Dragon Age: Inquisition mod removes Blackwall’s romantic restrictions, allowing male Inquisitors to chat up the fuzzy-faced warrior. Blackwall doesn’t have any race preferences, so you’re good to go there. Dragon Age: Inquisition romance mods are pretty common by now, and to be […]

  • Destiny: it is possible to solo the Weekly Heroic

    Destiny players willing to faff about with their system clock can solo the Weekly Nightfall if they prefer. The Weekly Heroic is one of Destiny‘s toughest challenges. Responding to player feedback Bungie implemented matchmaking for the Weekly Heroic, but there are players who genuinely prefer to go it alone. There’s now no legitimate way to […]

  • Clayfighter remaster on the way, says Interplay

    A Clayfighter remake is inbound, apparently. Interplay has announced a Clayfighter remaster, combining the content of all past games into one package. Features include: Characters such as Bad Mr. Frosty, Blue Suede Goo, Earthworm Jim, Hoppy, Boogerman, Tiny – and more with over 20 characters total Over 20 familiar environments from the series to duke […]

  • The quickest way to climb in Dying Light

    Dying Light players! Are you sick of picking your way carefully up the sides of tall towers? Have I got a trick for you. The parkour system in Dying Light is okay, but climbing anywhere especially high can be a bit tedious. Enter Jesse Lester, who took a look at the tools available and worked […]

  • Bungie “always” looking at Exotic changes for Destiny updates

    Destiny developer Bungie won’t stop tinkering with Exotic weapons. In Destiny, Exotic weapons are supposed to be the best of the best – and to feel unique. Guns like Ice Breaker and Gjallahorn definitely hit the mark there (although less so when everyone has one), but unfortunately, there are a few that just don’t strike […]

  • Is Uncharted 4′s first trailer a tribute to Crash Bandicoot?

    Uncharted 4′s first proper trailer bears some remarkable similarities to the opening moments of a much earlier Naughty Dog game. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End has more in common with Crash Bandicoot than you might think. It’s Naughty Dog’s first game on a new console, yes – but if you compare Uncharted 4′s E3 2014 […]

  • Sonic console games will continue, says Iizuka

    Sonic Team leader Takashi Iizuka has said there are no plans to stop making Sonic games. Sonic hasn’t retired from the ranks just yet. “Please rest assured, I personally have no plans to stop making Sonic games for home consoles,” Iizuka told 4Gamer [Japanese]. The comment arose after the site asked if Sonic would become […]