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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 Her cocksureness and debonair air have been replaced by panic and desperation, her movements in the opening 20 minutes are often inelegant and faltering.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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  • Wasteland 2, Shovel Knight and more in big ole bunch of indies coming to Xbox One

    Xbox One owners are about to receive a pile of great new indie games. At GDC 2015, Microsoft revealed a list of new indie games headed to Xbox One. Some of these titles have already released on other platforms, so it looks like Microsoft has really relaxed the parity clause of ID@Xbox – or perhaps […]

  • Here’s an indie VR game made with Unreal Engine 4

    GDC 2015 is blowing up with indie games, VR and Unreal Engine 4, so here’s a video combining all three. Loading Human is a virtual reality adventure from indie developer Untold Games. It’s in the works for Mac and PC, and Sony has given an early green light for Project Morpheus, too, so expect it […]

  • GTA Online: Daily Objectives and Adversary Mode coming next week

    Heists aren’t the only thing coming to GTA Online next week: players can also expect Adversary Modes, new Daily Objectives and other Freemode activities. GTA Online’s Adversary Modes are new PvP modes which feature a range of competitive challenges and will unlock as players progress through Heists. Here’s a rundown straight from Rockstar: Come Out […]

  • Syndicate is the latest free game download on Origin

    The latest free title to be added to EA’s Origin service is 1993′s Syndicate. For a limited time, you can download the game for free and keep it, much like previous titles such as Theme Hospital. The isometric, real-time, tactical-action game was developed by Bullfrog Productions and released in June 1993. It is a favorite […]

  • Ancient Labyrinth DLC for Lords of the Fallen now available

    The Ancient Labyrinth DLC for Lords of the Fallen is now available for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It will run you $7.99 and builds upon the existing lore, characters, and storyline. Have a look at some new screenshots in the gallery below.

  • Shadowrun Online gets a name change and release date

    Shadowrun Online developer Cliffhanger Productions has announced the game’s name has been changed to Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown and a release date for April has been set. The new title was formed via the developer and its Kickstarter backers, with the goal being to let those unfamiliar with the game know by the title alone […]

  • Amazon hosting Rockstar and 2K Games sale

    Amazon is hosting a Rockstar Games and 2K Games sale with discounts Max Payne titles, Bully and more. Here’s just some of the offerings listed: Manhunt 2 PC Download $3.00 Max Payne 3 PC Download $4.00 Bully: Scholarship Edition PC Download $3.00 LA Noire Xbox 360 $2.95 L.A. Noire: The Complete Edition PC Download $6.00 […]

  • Destiny weekly reset video shows off Inferno Crucible gameplay

    We have a gameplay video featuring Inferno Crucible gameplay featured in the Destiny weekly reset for you. In it, Arekkz Gaming gives you a look at Inferno Crucible and goes over the various intricacies. You can read up on the weekly reset through the links.

  • Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Episode 2 available from today

    Episode 2 for Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is now available. If you’ve purchased the Complete Season, you’ll be able to download Episode 2 on PS3, PS4 and Xbox One. Steam players should see the episode go live around 9-10pm PST, and Xbox 360 owners should be able to download very early tomorrow morning, per Capcom […]

  • Here’s a sneak peek video for Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide

    Fatshark Games has released a sneak peek video for its upcoming Games Workshop title, Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide. Vermintide is a FPS, co-op action title coming to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and its set during the End Times of the Warhammer universe in the city of Ubersreik. Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare video shows Ascendance DLC early access weapon

    As you know, Xbox Season Pass holders now have early access to the Ascendance DLC Pack bonus weapons for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Now you can watch a trailer for the weapon. The OHM directed energy hybrid weapon can switch between an LMG and Shotgun “on the fly,” and it also includes the OHM-Werewolf […]

  • March PS Plus games include OlliOlli 2, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, more

    March PlayStation Plus titles have popped up on the PS Plus page. Noticed by NeoGAF user skynidas, the titles include: OlliOlli2 (PS4/VITA) Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PS4) Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty (PS4) Counterspy (PS4/PS3) Papo & Yo (PS3) Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishment (PS3) A notice has also been posted on the EU PS […]

  • Sci-fi horror game Caffeine will release on Xbox One, PS4 alongside PC – new trailer

    Caffeine creator Dylan Browne has announced the Unreal Engine 4 game will be released on Xbox One. The game will be published through Microsoft’s Indie Program. As previously announced, it is also coming to PC and and now PlayStation 4. Caffeine is a sci-fi horror game which stars a young boy who has been abandoned […]

  • Xbox 360 Preview program invites going out this month

    Much like the Xbox One Preview program, starting early this month, invites for the Xbox 360 Preview program will start rolling out. Select invitees will be able to join program directly from their Xbox 360. A special Xbox Live message will be sent, directing users to head over to their Settings page. Further instructions are […]

  • Tron: Legacy director in negotiations for Gran Turismo film

    Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski is said to be in early negotiations to direct the Gran Turismo film. This is according to the Hollywood Reporter, which states Michael De Luca is still slated as one of the producers alongside Matt Milam, Dana Brunetti, Josh Bratman, DeVon Franklin and Elizabeth Cantillon. Plot details are still unknown […]

  • Fifth add-on pack for Alien: Isolation is available for download

    The Trigger, which is is the fifth add-on pack for Alien: Isolation, is available to download from today. In it, players will “compete against the clock” across three new maps in Survivor Mode. Set before the events of the main game, players step into the shoes of Sevastopol Station’s Ricardo who will do what he […]

  • HBO Go app now available on PlayStation 4

    Sony has announced the HBO Go app will be made available for download later today for PlayStation 4. The app works just like the PS version. Now you can watch True Detective, Game of Thrones, Veep and more through your console. Information on installation is available through the PS Blog.

  • Skyrim mods no longer restricted to 100MB in size

    Bethesda has announced a beta for Creation Kit update 1.9.33, lifts the 100MB size restriction for Skyrim mod makers. The beta is for both Skyrim’s PC launcher and the Creation Kit which will allow for unlimited file sizes. Here are the notes: Creation Kit 1.9.33 Update Creation Kit now supports unlimited file sizes for mods […]

  • Mad Max release date set for September, PS3 and Xbox 360 versions canned

    Mad Max from Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios has been given a September release date, along with the new of a last-gen cancellation. The axing of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions were announced via Game Informer. Mad Max is the magazine’s featured game for the April issue. Avalanche, according GI, nixed development on […]

  • MGS 5: The Phantom Pain out in September, Kojima “closing the loop” on saga

    Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain will be released in September, according to an IGN Italy video, which also features Hideo Kojima discussing “With Metal Gear Solid 5, I’m finally “closing the loop” on the Metal Gear saga. The video has since been removed, but an image cap of the date is posted above. […]

  • Forza Horizon 2 Rockstar Energy Car Pack now available

    The Rockstar Energy Car Pack for Forza Horizon 2 for Xbox One is available now, alongside the free car for March. The free car is the Acura Integra Type-R, and the Rockstar pack included the following vehicles: 2014 Volkswagen Beetle GRC 2015 Subaru WRX STI 1996 BMW 850CSi 2015 Jaguar XFR-S 1970 Volkswagen #1107 Desert […]

  • 3DS firmware update kills web browser exploit

    Nintendo has issued a 3DS firmware update which fixes a web browser exploit that was being used to run pirated Game Boy Color ROMs since January as well as inject code within downloadable games. Another piece of code, per Eurogamer, changed the setting on the handheld to make it region-free. The exploit was only available […]

  • Unreal Tournament video shows updated textures on Outpost 23

    The latest footage from Epic’s new Unreal Tournament has surfaced, and it shows off the game’s first high-textured map which is called Outpost 23. As you can see from Zaccubus’ video, its the same are which Epic showed in the flythrough video from last year, only with updated textures and some new areas outside. The […]

  • Final add-on for Sunset Overdrive arrives in April

    The final add-on for Sunset Overdrive, Dawn of the Rise of the Fallen Machines, will be released in April. On April 1 to be exact. No, that’s not an April Fool’s joke from Insomniac Games either. Below, you can watch a fist-look at the new story, area, and traversal mechanic.

  • Heroes of the Storm playable at EGX Rezzed

    Heroes of the Storm will be playable at EGX Rezzed. This will be the first UK public hands-on with the online team brawler. Blizzard will also host giveaways and friendly tournaments at its stand. Tickets for all three days of Rezzed are still available, and you can purchase a pass through the official website. EGX […]

  • PES 2015 Data Pack 4 coming next week with Winter Transfers, new faces

    Data Pack 4 for Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 has been dated, and it updates the game with Winter Transfers, new player faces, and additional stadiums. The latest free update contains real-time player transfers made within the January window, and player ratings have also been updated. Additionally, a number of improved likenesses to key players will […]

  • Here’s the changelog for Dragon Age: Inquisition Patch 5

    Notes for upcoming Patch 5 for Dragon Age: Inquisition have been posted, noting improvements to gameplay and stability, and the new features outlined back in early February. Along with the new party storage system added to the Undercroft at Skyhold, players also have the ability to adjust the size of subtitles. Below you will find […]

  • Game of Thrones, Mortal Kombat X, Batman mobile games on the way

    Warner Bros. has announced free-to-play mobile titles spanning its DC Comics, Mortal Kombat and Game of Thrones properties. The following five new games under development are: Mortal Kombat X from NetherRealm Studios: The game blends fighting and card collection with cinematic gameplay and Fatalities. Play as both classic and fighters, and if you own the […]

  • Win! Beta access to new MMORPG Skyforge and DLC worth $70

    We have ten Wrath of the Gods Founders Packs to giveaway for new RPG Skyforge, worth over $70. All you need to do to win a Wrath of the Gods pack is enter your details in the form below and we’ll pick 10 winners at random on Thursday, March 5, after 3pm GMT. Skyforge is […]

  • PC gaming expected to be worth $35 billion by 2018

    PC gaming is alive and well. In fact, it’s expected to be worth $35 billion by 2018. According to game-business group Open Gaming Alliance, the PC gaming industry is expected to grow beyond its current $26 billion worth and to a massive $35 billion by the year 2018. The information is based on data collected […]