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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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    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 […]

  • Final Fantasy 15 video shows highlights from the Episdoe Duscae demo

    Square Enix has released a Final Fantasy 15 video which shows highlights from the Episode Duscae demo included with launch editions of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. FFT0 has shipped over one million copies worldwide, and a player feedback survey is available for the Duscae demo until May 19. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is available on PlayStation […]

  • Bloodborne has sold over 155,000 digital units since release – SuperData

    PlayStation 4 exclusive Bloodborne has sold over 155,000 digital units since it was released on March 24, according to SuperData’s latest report. The figure produced by SuperData is worldwide and comes on the heels of the one million units sold announcement earlier this week. “After the release of the beautiful but terribly short game The […]

  • Nintendo US eShop update: Mega May returns, Super Smash Bros. update, Mii Fighter costumes

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with a Super Smash Bros. update and the StreetPass Mii Plaza games Battleground Z and Ultimate Angler. The update is rather detailed, and a bit larger than normal, and you may wish to pay special attention to the activities listed. Here’s the full update: StreetPass […]

  • Here’s your first look at Sony boss Shuhei Yoshida in Super Time Force Ultra

    Sony Worldwide boss Shuhei Yoshida is a playable character in Super Time Force Ultra, and today, Capy Games has provided a couple images of the man himself in the game. Yoshida was announced as a playable character in the game during Sony’s PlayStation Experience event back in December 2014. The PS4 and Vita version will […]

  • The wait is almost over – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has gone gold

    CD Projekt RED has announced the news we’ve all been waiting to hear: The Witcher 3 has gone gold. This means Geralt’s latest, and possibly last, adventure has been sent to the factory to be pressed into lovely gaming discs. “We worked so damn hard over the past three years to bring you this game,” […]

  • Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a “couple weeks out from beta,” new trailer

    Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is just a “couple of weeks out from beta,” according to development studio The Chinese Room, and a release date will be announced “shortly.” To give you an idea of how development has been coming along since it was announced at gamescom 2013, the team has released a new trailer […]

  • GTA 5 on PC looks incredible, but I can’t recommend it to console players

    As much as Matt Martin loves GTA 5, he can’t recommend upgrading from console to PC just for a slick editing suite and even prettier graphics. “This is the third time in as many years that I’ve bought GTA 5.” I have a Grand Theft Auto 5 obsession, as I’m sure you know if you’ve […]

  • The Forest engine updated to Unity 5, major graphical and gameplay improvements made

    The Forest’s latest patch added substantial improvements to the game. The Forest version 0.16 is now live on Steam with plenty of new additions. The game has been ported over to Unity engine version 5. The plant and skin shaders have been replaced or rewritten. Many other visual tweaks have been made, such as model […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront banner leaks from Star Wars Convention

    EA has been setting up the Battlefront booth at Star Wars Celebration, and one leaked picture shows what could be the game’s main art. Someone on Reddit posted a picture of the game banner at EA’s booth. Here it is: Lots of things happening here. There’s a Star Destroyer in the distance, TIE Fighters and […]

  • Get GTA 5 working with Oculus Rift using this tool

    There’s a way you can play GTA 5 in VR if you own an Oculus Rift Dev Kit and have a bit of cash to spare. VorpX, the go-to program for adding VR support to games has received an update recently to support GTA 5. This is far from perfect, as it only translates the […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team: week of April 15 team revealed

    This week’s Team of the Week is now available for anyone to challenge in FIFA Ultimate Team. The team members get selected each week based on their performance during the weekend matches. You can fire up FIFA Ultimate Team on any platform and challenge this squad. You’ll also find some Team of the Week items […]

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will let you stealth all encounters, including bosses

    Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will bring back one of the original game’s major features. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is considered by many to be a great game and worthy of bearing the franchise name. One of its grating issues though was its boss fights. You only had one way to fight them: be confrontational. The […]

  • Project Cars PC specs and supported wheels announced

    The release date of Project Cars is inching ever closer and more details have been revealed to answer all your burning questions. Project Cars developer Slightly Mad Studios has revealed the full list of supported steering wheels on all platforms, as well as the minimum and recommended PC specs. Minimum specs CPU – 2.66 GHz […]

  • GTA 5 gets custom FOV mod on PC

    Those not satisfied with GTA 5′s built-in field of view slider can use a new mod to push the number even further. The PC versions of GTA 5 – just like its PS4 and Xbox One counterparts – lets you switch between third and first-person view in shooting and driving. The game has an FOV […]

  • Win! GTA 5 on PC!

    Want to win a Steam key for Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC? Just enter here. GTA 5 released on PC this week and is going down a storm. We like it a lot, which is why we’re giving away a Steam code for Rockstar’s latest. All you need to do is enter your email […]

  • GTA 5 topples Skyrim’s record for highest concurrent players on Steam

    Not factoring in Valve games, GTA 5 is the new king of concurrent player numbers on Steam. GTA 5 is very popular on PC, even more popular than games like Skyrim in its heyday. The number of concurrent players for GTA 5 has peaked today at 301,246. This makes it the only non-Valve game to […]

  • Mortal Kombat X: what does a modern fighting game look like?

    Mortal Kombat continues to evolve as NetherRealm adds RPG systems and daily challenges to a solid fighting game, says Sherif Saed. “Mortal Kombat X takes many cues from games like Destiny, Call of Duty, and GTA Online with hourly, daily and weekly events.” For as many of its familiar facets, Mortal Kombat X has enough […]

  • J-Stars Victory VS+ coming west in June – new trailer

    J-Stars Victory VS+ will make the jump (see what I did there) to the west after all. J-Stars Victory VS+ is the western title for the fighting game which stars characters from a variety of Shonen Jump-published manga. Bandai Namco has announced the fighter will release in Europe on June 26 and in the Americas […]

  • Codemasters F1 license good through 2016

    Codemasters has at least one more F1 game in it. F1 2015 isn’t out yet, so Codemasters is naturally not talking about what it might get up to in the future. We do know what it can get up to, though; Codemasters’ Steven Embling told Videogamer has the option to continue the series. “We have […]

  • Project Cars has pretty deep graphics options on consoles

    Project Cars offers players a wide variety of ways to customise their graphic settings on PS4 and Xbox One. Project Cars is a graphics showcase and all early indications suggest it’s going to be one of the best-looking games out there. Slightly Mad’s commitment to graphics seems to go deeper than making things pretty, though: […]

  • Super Smash Bros. patch nerfs Diddy Kong – report

    Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U is great but Diddy Kong is a beast and must be stopped. The latest Super Smash Bros. 3Ds and Wii U patch seems to have nerfed Diddy Kong, a character so over-powered that serious tournament players generate controversy by choosing to use him. Nintendo doesn’t publish patch notes, […]

  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer shuttered

    Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer 2K Australia has been closed down. Kotaku broke the news, and also had word from an anonymous source, who said that all staff have been let go. 2K responded to our request for comment with the following statement: We can confirm we have taken steps to begin the studio closure process […]

  • Samorost 3 trailer shows Amanita still in fine form

    Samorost 3 looks as delicately beautiful as its siblings. Samarost 3 developer Amanita Design has a reputation for gorgeous, slightly surreal world building. This new trailer for its latest adventure looks just as if not more lovely than the previous Samarost games and Botanicula. Samarost 3 is coming to Mac and PC later this year, […]

  • Amnesia dev’s new project SOMA now in beta

    SOMA is nearly here and I am torn between excitement and horrified dread. SOMA is the latest horror project from Frictional, the team behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent. We’re pretty excited to see what Frictional comes up with next, and we won’t have too long to wait, apparently; the developer has announced that SOMA is […]

  • Steam Guard mobile authenticator now in beta testing

    Steam is now testing its latest security measure. Steam helps you protect your account by offering two-factor authentication, a solution so beautifully elegant and effective that it’s astounding every gaming network doesn’t do the same (looking at you, Sony). Valve’s version is called Steam Guard, and it works via email. This isn’t always super convenient, […]

  • Godzilla battles Mothra in new trailer

    Godzilla lets you stomp around cities and battle classic kaiju. I’m in. Godzilla is coming to PlayStation 3 and PS4 in early July, but we haven’t seen a great deal of it since its December reveal. The new trailer below gives you an idea of just what Natsume has done with one of the biggest […]

  • Tales of Zestiria to launch this year – new trailer

    Tales of Zestiria continues Bandai Namco’s delightful new habit of bringing the popular JRPG series to the west before the shine wears off. Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, the publisher has announced. That’s not a bad turnaround, given it first hit Japan in January, and localisation of text-heavy titles is expensive […]

  • Project Cars release date locked down, new trailer released

    Project Cars finally has a release date. Project Cars will release on May 8, Bandai Namco UK has announced. We haven’t yet had an update from Namco Bandai’s other regional offices, but its probably safe to bet the racer will release around the same time in the Americas, Europe and ANZ region. We can now […]

  • Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains trailer shows combat, online multiplayer

    Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains has plenty to offer fans of the anime. Previously known as Attack on Titan: The Last Wings of Mankind, the Spike Chunsoft action game is coming west thanks to Atlus. Gematsu reports it’s due in both Europe and North America in May, via the 3DS eShop. The trailer below […]

  • Bloodborne stamina recovery rate affected by equip weight

    Bloodborne players have unearthed an important gameplay detail not mentioned in the game’s menus or manual. In Bloodborne, players need to manage their stamina carefully for best results. A far more aggressively-tuned affair than past Souls games, Bloodborne does away with equip weight limits, and items have no listed weight details. As far as players […]

  • Street Fighter’s Ryu, Fire Emblem’s Roy spotted in Super Smash Bros. patch – rumour

    Street Fighter’s Ryu is rumoured for future Super Smash bros DLC following datamining of the latest patch. Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U were updated recently, and hacker shinyquagsire23 claims to have found some interesting files while poking around in the 3DS patch data. As detailed on Reddit, the audio files included a new […]

  • Suikoden 3 PEGI rating suggests PS2 Classic re-release

    Suikoden. Suikoden 2. And now: Suikoden 3. Suikoden 3 has been rated by PEGI for PlayStation 3, presumably ahead of an upcoming re-release. Gematsu turned up the rating, and although we have no further information at this time, it’s not much a leap to assume the RPG will turn up as a PS2 Classic on […]