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Tomb Raider’s opening hours: preview, new video

Tuesday, 4 December 2012 14:01 GMT By Stace Harman

Stace Harman takes a spoiler-free look at the first three hours of Tomb Raider and speaks to Crystal Dynamics about the reinvention of one of gaming’s best-loved action heroes. New gameplay footage included.

Crystal Dynamics’ efforts to reinvigorate the franchise are on course to be triumphantly successful. If the remainder of the game lives up to its opening 20% then the finished article will be an absolute joy.

When attempting a franchise reboot, there is a gulf to be negotiated between careful planning and successful execution. After all, it is a difficult thing to create an experience that feels at once new and familiar. In order to deliver content that not only appeases the scepticism of long-term fans but also exceeds their expectations requires a custodian with a fundamental understanding of the intellectual property at hand. A reboot must also create an experience compelling enough for those without prior knowledge of the franchise and has to win back those that long ago turned their back on it.

While modern films featuring the likes of Batman, Bond and Spider-Man have decades of source material that can be thematically referenced or playfully alluded to, Tomb Raider has just 15 years under its belt: not all of them are good. The challenge for Crystal Dynamics, then, is not only to make Lara Croft relevant once more, but to do so in a way that takes account of the current zeitgeist for narrative delivery, level design and game play tropes, while keeping everything feeling fresh and exciting.

With these concerns at the forefront of my mind it is with a certain amount of professional curiosity and personal trepidation that I accept the invitation from Square Enix to spend a morning playing through the opening hours of Tomb Raider. It is therefore with no small measure of genuine relief that I can report Crystal Dynamics’ efforts to reinvigorate the franchise are on course to be triumphantly successful. If the remainder of the game lives up to its opening 20% then the finished article will be an absolute joy.

20/20 vision

It should not be taken for granted that the delivery of Lara’s maiden voyage is all plain sailing or that missteps might not still be made. The inclusion of one feature in particular has concerned me since it was outlined and subsequently demonstrated: that feature is Survival Instinct.

Survival Instinct is a variation of the popular system seen in the likes of the Arkham and Assassin’s Creed series and in another of Square Enix’s recent titles, Hitman: Absolution. However, unlike these games, there is no conceivable narrative justification for why a 21-year-old Ms Croft, who up to now has spent more time studying than surviving, would have such senses.

Fortunately, the first three hours of Tomb Raider suggest Survival Instinct is an entirely optional mechanic. From time spent in Lara’s adventure and then speaking with creative director Noah Hughes, it’s evident that a lot of work has gone to ensure that Tomb Raider’s world is one of clearly defined goals and logically constructed elements. Thus, navigation can be achieved by way of natural landmarks and collectibles can be discovered through good, old fashioned exploration.

Thanks to an approximation of real world physics, piecing together how puzzle components interact with one another is often a matter of predicting tangible cause and effect. This more natural approach replaces Lara’s prescient knowledge that pulling a lever in a far off location will have a knock-on effect elsewhere. Survival Instinct, then, will simply facilitate a more direct approach for those who might wish to quicken the pace of the action, rather than being used as a crutch to help overcome obtuse game design.

Tomb Raider

2013’s entry is the tenth Tomb Raider game and Crystal Dynamics’ fourth since assuming the mantle in 2006. Tomb Raider launches March 5 2013.

Tomb Raider is penned by Rhianna Pratchett. Rhianna’s other video game writing credits include scripts for Heavenly Sword, Mirror’s Edge and Overlord.

The contents of the Tomb Raider US collector’s edition were revealed last month.

Crystal Dynamics predicts Tomb Raider to be around 12-15 hours long, and says a sequel is possible should the 2013 reboot be successful. Based on the three hours I spent with the game, I’d say a sequel is a shoe-in.

“[Survival Instinct] really touches on the core vision of allowing different play styles,” explains Hughes. “The goal is that if people want for something to happening every twenty minutes or want to quickly get from one new thing to another, I want this game to be able to provide that for them. At the same time I really want people to be able to explore; we could have told our story in a much more linear way, but for me then it wouldn’t be a Tomb Raider game.”

While there are still plenty of instances of delivering this story by way of tried and tested cut-scenes, they are deftly penned and convincingly delivered. However, it’s the incidental narrative touches that really add depth to Lara’s adventure. Seeking respite at one of the base camps, either to upgrade Lara’s authentically crude toolset and arsenal or to unlock new skills, will often trigger a voiceover. Here, Lara contemplates her predicament, ponders recent events and muses on what might have become of her fellow survivors.

Similarly, discovering one of the puzzle-laden secondary tombs reveals a wealth of incidental details that lend more ominous overtones to the story and fleshes out the origins of the island’s aggressive and offbeat inhabitants. Even recovered treasures hold the potential for bonus story tidbits or more tangible game play rewards, which finally offers a reason to depict 3D models of artefacts that can be rotated and zoomed in on.

Fight club

Crystal Dynamics is delivering on exploration, narrative and an adaptable game play experience that can be tailored to suit a variety of play styles. What, then, can it do to address one of Lara’s greatest weaknesses? Combat has often felt out of place in Tomb Raider titles of old; a tiresome, uninspiring mix of running back and forth, combined with somersaulting this way and that as round after infinite round is pumped into human adversaries and animal assailants. Thankfully, Lara benefits from the advancement of combat in a 3D space, which the adventure genre has undergone in her absence.

“The combat system itself is overhauled because we wanted something more modern but we also wanted something that was Lara-like,” Hughes reveals. “So, we have things like fluid cover that you’re not stuck to and we try to give advantages to higher ground so that you’re motivated to move during combat.”

Lara instinctively crouches as she approaches cover, which allows her to stalk lone adversaries and manually line up silent shots with her bow and arrow. The fluid cover also means that, when all hell breaks lose, she can move from one piece of destructible cover to the next or break cover altogether and close in for some crunchy and upgradeable melee attacks. Happily, it appears that combat in the Tomb Raider of 2013 will feature more strategy and much less champion-Zebedee-jumping, as Hughes summarises, “[Lara’s] acrobatic, yes, but she’s not a world class gymnast.” Moreover, she no longer resembles a character from The Magic Roundabout.

While three hours spent with Tomb Raider feels long enough to be assured of Crystal Dynamics’ ability to deliver on its promises, it’s not nearly long enough to sate my appetite for Lara’s latest adventure. The mechanical elements of Tomb Raider appear to be sound, and a special mention must go to both the visual arts team and the audio composers and engineers. Tomb Raider’s rugged beauty is complemented by a potent aural atmosphere, keenly highlighted as the roar of a wind-lashed jungle gives way to the eerie quiet of a subterranean cave system.

In truth, I could go on, but 1,200 spoiler-free words should surely be enough to relay a simple, underlying truth: Lara is back, her presence is relevant and she’s set to reclaim her place as video gaming’s leading lady.

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

Disclosure: Stace spent three hours at Square Enix’s office in London to create this preview. He drank one cup of tea in the process.

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15 Comments

  1. Moonwalker1982

    Oh my…even more footage? No way am i going to watch this. It may not contain spoilers, but i have a whole different definition of spoilers anyway.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Stace Harman

    FYI all: it’s the words that are spoiler-free, the video does of course contain game footage.

    Delicious, awesome, game footage!

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Moonwalker1982

    Yeah but i’ve seen enough, you know? The official trailers and gameplay demonstrations during E3 this and last year. I played it myself at Gamescom and loved it, it’s enough. I don’t want to see any more things :D

    Some people say it’s copying Uncharted and it’s too cinematic, taking the controller away from players too much…but they said that about Max Payne 3 too and i loved it, so whatever.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Stace Harman

    @4 That’s fair enough, I can entirely understand you not wanting to spoil it too much for yourself.

    Interesting reading some other previews; it seems others had a more action-orientated experience than I did, which reinforces the point that it can support varying play styles.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Len

    The real question remains unanswered though:

    Did you have biscuits with your tea and if so what kind? ;)

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Moonwalker1982

    I do have a few questions though for you stace :)

    1- How did the gun combat feel? Similar to Uncharted or better?
    2- And as for physics when you gun/bow baddies down?
    3- And when you climb…is it like Uncharted or a bit more realistic?

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Stace Harman

    @5 Haha! No, I did not. Though while we’re on the subject, if I *had* eaten a biscuit it would have been a Fox’s Chunkie Milk Chocolate Cookie*, great for dunking and very tasty (*other biscuits are available).

    @6 Combat was more fluid than Uncharted’s. There was more opportunity for silent stealth kills (with the bow or melee). Plus, the non-sticky cover invites more movement than Uncharted, whose arena-type environments tend to feel more set-piece-like to me. Physics are weighty, both gunplay and melee has some ‘oomph’. I’ve never really liked the climbing of Uncharted (or Enslaved), it always feels like you can close your eyes and still find safe passage. TR’s is generally more free-form, though there are some climbing sections with just one route, akin to both those titles mentioned.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Moonwalker1982

    @7

    Sounds really good!!

    One thing i find alittle disappointing however is that you won’t be hunting for survival.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. PEYJ

    Always loved Tomb Raider. It is the reason why I became a gamer. However, despite all the “it’s NOT like Uncharted” I hear from so many sides, it certainly looks A LOT like UC. I love both though, so keep them coming.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Da Man

    Ledges again, and lots of them. Ledges and semi automatic jumps.

    Unfortunately, Uncharted wasn’t the game which started this. It all began with Sands of Time. Thanks Ubisoft for defining modern platforming.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. SameeR_Fisher

    @Stace Harman: thanks alot for your spoiler free work, I respect that.

    A couple of questions if you don’t mind:

    - How was the cover ?!, you said in one of your comments it gave you more freedom, so I assume that cover being automatic is not a problem right ?!

    - Without spoilers, how was the Story, lines, and Voice Acting ?!, tbh I am skeptical cause I didn’t like Heavenly Sword Story, it was good not great, and some of the voice acting or probably the lines made it even worse, I hope TR story is top notch, but I heard Lara sounds like American-British-Australian all in one or something :D, so ?!

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Stace Harman

    @11 There were no problems that I encountered, whether that’ll change as the difficulty ramps up later in the game and things get more hectic will have to be left for another day. However, the lack of snap-to cover feels more natural and allows for more fluid movement during combat.

    Story elements are shaping up very well. One or two lines were a little cheesy, but there’s moments of surprising humour and Luddington (Lara) delivers her lines convincingly. I thought I’d really miss Keeley Hawes, but Luddington suits the younger Lara depicted here. There’s an interesting cast of characters, too.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. SameeR_Fisher

    @Stace Harman: thanks alot for answering, can’t wait till next year. :)

    #13 2 years ago
  14. Moonwalker1982

    What about the one aspect i am a bit skeptical about…which is this Instinct feature. It shows interesting elements and where you need to go. Is it too casual or does it actually work? AND…can it be disabled?

    #14 2 years ago
  15. Mike W

    hmmm….I’m not to impress with this video. I will have to play the game myself.

    #15 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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  • Minecraft vulnerability allows users to crash servers remotely [UPDATE]

    A security flaw discovered in Minecraft’s code that could give perpetrators the ability to crash servers remotely has been fixed via a patch by Mojang. Update: Mojang has released an update to Minecraft patch 1.8, listed as version 1.8.4, and it is available now. It fixes reported security issues, in addition to some other minor […]

  • Official Bloodborne merchandise now available, including a limited edition statue

    The PlayStation gear store has added a new section dedicated to Bloodborne merchandise. The first set of items is as good as you’d expect. If you’re a fan of Bloodborne and want to make sure everyone around you knows it, you’ll be happy to know that Sony has added a few pieces of Bloodborne-branded gear […]

  • Destiny Xur update: should you buy The Last Word?

    Xur is selling one of Destiny’s top hand cannons today: The Last Word. Is it worth grinding the coins for? The answer is a resounding YES. The Last Word is one of Destiny’s best Exotics, and one of the best Hand Cannons in the game. Our Destiny expert Alex notes that it’s one of the […]

  • Destiny: Xur location and inventory for April 17, 18 – The Last Word edition

    What did our good buddy Xur bring for us this week? Xur: Agent of the Nine, Destiny’s weekend vendor is back with more Exotic offers. Xur is your guy if you’re after Exotic weapons or armour, provided you have the Strange Coins for them. Head over to the lounge in the Tower Hangar, you’ll find […]

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt discounted for Gold members, pre-load now live

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt files are now live on the Xbox Store. Xbox One owners with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt pre-orders can start downloading the full game to be ready for launch. The file size was confirmed earlier to be just over 25GB. Those who have yet to pre-order can do so at […]

  • GTA 5 files accessed by modders, reveal horses, zombies, more

    Modders have managed to pry GTA 5′s file lock open and expose many of its interesting innards. GTA community modders have gained access to several of GTA 5′s archives on PC. These files were previously believed to be inaccessible. Popular modding tool OpenIV, which was used in editing files in GTA 4 (hence the name), […]

  • Bethesda’s E3 invite features Dishonored, Doom, Wolfenstein… but no Fallout

    Bethesda is going first at E3 this year with a showcase of games on Sunday night. What clues can we see in the press invite? Skyrim publisher Bethesda has sent out confirmation of its E3 showcase, taking place Sunday June 14. The invite includes a number of Bethesda game characters including Wolfenstein’s BJ Blazcowicz, a […]

  • Here’s Crytek’s VR demo, because dinosaurs

    Dinosaurs! This is precisely what virtual reality is for. VR demos are all over the place and CryEngine developer Crytek has produced one of its own, showing off how the engine is flexible enough t- Look, let me level with you: I don’t care. I only care about dinosaurs. Hush now and watch the dinosaurs. […]

  • StreetPass update adds birthday collecting, VIP Miis and more

    StreetPass collecters should take advantage of an optional update. It’s International StreetPass Week, so now’s the time to break out the 3DS and go hunting. Don’t leave your home network without first checking out a new optional update, though. Kotaku reports the update prompt is available from the leftmost icon in your StreetPass Mii Plaza. […]

  • Massive Uplay sale offers cheap games in time for the weekend

    PC gamers can grab a sweet saving or two in Uplay’s Spring Sale. Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Far Cry 4, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Alien: Isolation are all on sale as part of Uplay’s Spring Sale, among many other titles. The sale offers discounts of up to 85% off digital […]

  • Fix for GTA 5 PC Windows install bug releasing today

    Rockstar is set to release a patch today that will fix a bug preventing players from installing the game. The bug is tied to Windows usernames that use certain characters not supported by Rockstar. There’s already a workaround available on the Rockstar Support site, but those waiting for an official update will be able to […]

  • Prey 2 dev’s new mobile horror Lost Within out now on iOS and Fire

    Remember Lost Within, that mobile survival horror erstwhile Prey 2 developer Human Head Studios was making with Amazon Game Studios? It’s now available on iOS and for Amazon’s Fire devices, through the appropriate App Stores. There’s a little bit of extra info on it on the AGS blog, if you’re keen; unfortunately the blog doesn’t […]

  • Let’s take a look at Blood Bowl 2′s Chaos faction

    Blood Bowl 2: The Chaos Theory is only the latest in a much loved series of games based on a game based on two other games. Blood Bowl is a popular Games Workshop tabletop game which blends the fantasy universe of Warhammer with a fantasy sport drawing inspiration from American football and related games. It’s […]

  • “Second-person” shooter Screencheat coming to PS4 and Xbox One

    Goldeneye players should be familiar with the concept of screencheating, which is what this new indie is all about. Screencheat has been on our radars for a while but has now been confirmed for PS4, sparking a new wave of interest with a trailer and PS Blog post. However, it was one of a number […]

  • World of Warcraft Timewalking will make old dungeons fun again

    World of Warcraft will soon introduce a feature called Timewalking, designed to make you feel young again. When WoW players participate in a Timewalking event, they’ll be transported to a randomly selected classic dungeon. Upon entering, their level and gear will be scaled way, way down to the Dungeon’s Heroic level – so they won’t […]

  • Bloodborne and Dark Souls messaging – in real life

    Soapstone is a cool little app that mimics the messaging system found in Bloodborne, Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls. Bloodborne and Dark Souls fans will surely agree that the asynchronous multiplayer side of things, with players leaving anonymous tips, encouragement and jokes for each other, is one of the cooler aspects of the From Software […]

  • Mass Effect fans, get a load of this My Talking Elcor plushie

    I have been waiting to write about this all day because oh my god. Mass Effect attracted a devoted fanbase and Bioware has found tons of clever ways to satisfy that fanbase’s desire for clothes, collectibles, books, comics and toys related to the future world of Commander Shepard and company. The company has been so […]

  • Homeworld Remastered Collection headed to retail

    Homeworld fans can purchase a neat little package of gloriously remastered nostalgia soon. The Homeworld Remastered Collection has been available online since the end of February, but is now on its way to retail thanks to a deal between new rights holder Gearbox and Ubisoft. The PC exclusive will launch in physical form from May […]

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt download size lower than predicted

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has a hefty install footprint, but it’s not as bad as we expected. The Witcher 3 was expected to be a 50GB download after a note to this effect was added to the PlayStation Store. It looks like that might have been a placeholder figure, as DualShockers noted today that […]

  • Bloodborne, beaten with a Guitar Hero controller

    Come on now, you didn’t expect anything less from the Souls community, did you? Bloodborne has been vanquished with a Guitar Hero controller, just a few weeks after its release. Kotaku reports Bearzly took nine hours to finish the game, which is probably less than many players using a Dual Shock. You can watch a […]

  • Vendors? New social space? Your House of Wolves questions will be answered

    Destiny players learned more about House of Wolves in this week’s Bungie update than you might realise at first glance. Resident Destiny expert Arekkz cast his eagle eye over this week’s Bungie Weekly Update, which announced next week’s Reef tour livestream. I personally am most excited to learn about gear upgrade paths, but Arekkz points […]

  • GTA 5 playable with Virtuix Omni VR treadmill

    You’ve seen GTA 5 with Oculus Rift, Now see GTA 5 with the Virtuix Omni. GTA 5 PC has unlocked a number of exciting possibilities. Modders and hackers are still working on making the game’s files accessible to third-party creation tools, but several cool things have been produced even with this barrier still in place. […]

  • Mortal Kombat X: play as Rain and other locked characters on PC

    Mortal Kombat X players comfortable with tinkering with the game’s files can unlock unplayable characters. Mortal Kombat X includes a number of familiar fighters available only as opponents, not playable characters. if you’re super keen to try out Rain, Baraka and co, you can – with a bit of fiddling. Redditor XVermillion figured out that […]

  • Madden 16 release date set for August, of course

    Madden NFL 16 has a deeply unsurprising release date. Madden’s release date always falls at the end of US summer, and Madden 16 is no exception. EA Sports has announced that the NFL sim will release on PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on August 26. We have absolutely no further information at […]

  • Star Wars Battlefront won’t have Battlelog support

    Star Wars Battlefront is not just Battlefield in a Hallowe’en costume, so don’t expect the same suite of features. Star Wars Battlefront is the subject of intense anticipation and curiosity, so it’s not surprising a bunch of rumours have turned up. One of these rumours suggests that Battlefront will have its own version of Battlelog, […]

  • Battlefield Hardline beats Bloodborne to top March NPD chart

    PS4 had a good month but it was EA’s multi-platform Battlefield Hardline that was the best-selling game. March 2015 NPD at a glance Total spend down 6% YoY. Hardware and software both down. Console hardware blamed for significant hardware dip. Accessories up. Battlefield Hardline tops software chart. PS4 outsells other consoles. Wii U, 3DS and […]

  • Destiny: House of Wolves gear upgrade paths will be revealed next week

    Destiny developer Bungie will reveal new equipment upgrade paths during a livestream next week. Destiny: House of Wolves will release on May 19, the developer announced last week, promising a full schedule of reveals over the next few weeks. It also gave a broad outline of some of the things it will be discussing in […]

  • Don’t forget: the Elder Scrolls Online Welcome Back Weekend kicks off tomorrow

    Just a quick heads up to remind you that The Elder Scrolls Online Welcome Back Weekend kicks off tomorrow, April 17 at 10am EDT. The free weekend is an incentive to bring back beta players which tried the game, but decided not to pursue a purchase. You can play the MMO until 10am EDT on […]

  • Tale of Tales announces May release for Kickstarter success Sunset

    Those attending Kill Screen’s Two5six Festival next month will be able to play Tale of Tales upcoming title Sunset before it’s released. Along with the news provided to us by BeefJack, Tale of Tales have also released new set of lovely screenshots which we have posted below. Sunset will be released on Linux, Mac and […]

  • Take 50% off select racing titles through the Codemasters online store

    Codemasters has launched an online store and is celebrating by giving you 50% off the titles listed. Here’s what’s on sale: F1 2013 Classic Edition F1 2014 – F1 RACE STARS BUNDLE F1 2013 GRID 2 GRID 2 Reloaded GRID Autosport DIRT 3 Complete Edition DIRT Showdown Toybox Turbos F1 RACE STARS Hit up the […]

  • Spy_Watch coming to Apple Watch from Surgeon Simulator devs

    Surgeon Simulator developers Bossa Studios have announced its working on an Apple Watch game called Spy_Watch. Spy_Watch, according to the developer, has players heading up a spy agency which isn’t faring too well. Players will need to train a spy and then send him out on various missions to “reclaim the agency’s former glory.” Real-time […]

  • Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power hits Steam Early Access next week

    Frozenbyte has announced Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power will launch on Steam Early Access next week. The early access title will run you $19.99/€19.99/£14.99 and you can purchase it come April 21. If the short video above isn’t enough to tempt you, a video showing nine minutes of gameplay was released last week.

  • Journey, Flower, flOw trilogy to be released this summer on PS4 in 1080p at 60fps

    A remastered version of the Journey Collector’s Edition is coming to PlayStation 4 from ThatGameCompany. According to Gamespot, the trilogy will contain PS3 titles flOw, Flower and Journey on one disc, and it will run in 1080p at 60fps. A standalone version of Journey will arrive close to the trilogy’s release on PS4 through the […]

  • Here’s a few screenshots of PS4-exclusive Alienation from Housemarque

    Screenshots for Alienation, Housemarque’s four-player co-op PlayStation 4 exclusive, have been released and you can have a look at them in the gallery we’ve posted. Announced at gamescom 2014, the game features three main character classes, weapon customization, and various team set-ups. The game has players shooting at things with twin-stick gameplay with a top […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront website notes November 17 release, teaser video and first image hit

    The first Star Wars: Battlefront image has been posted, and apparently it appeared on the official website at some point this morning. The game will also be released on November 17, according to the official website’s source code. The release date is noted in the code located in the image below. Props to Gematsu for […]

  • Mortal Kombat X is the fastest selling entry in the series to date

    Mortal Kombat X has sold faster than any other game in the series to date, making it the “biggest launch” in Mortal Kombat history, according to creator Ed Boon. Speaking in a series of tweets, Boon said both the mobile and console versions have “literally millions of players getting online” resulting in the servers being […]

  • Shadow of the Beast reboot resurfaces with some new screenshots

    The Shadow of the Beast reboot, which was announced in 2013, has show its face once more with early screenshots. Screenshots of the Amiga classic remake show off the Karamoon’s desert and the main character, Aarbron. According Matt Birch, CEO and founder of Heavy Spectrum, the team is currently hard at work on the “core […]

  • Halo: Spartan Strike arrives on Windows 8, iOS and Steam today

    Halo: Spartan Strike is now available on Windows 8, Steam, iOS devices and Windows 8 phones. The mobile top-down shooter will run you $5.99. Halo: Spartan Strike tells a new story in the Halo universe set during the events of Halo 2 on New Mombasa in 2552. Those playing on Windows 8 devices can compete […]