The first time I ever laid eyes on Tomb
was in 1996. I had bought the game for a friend for
his birthday, not knowing anything about it. When I gave it to him we
jumped onto his PC to give it a spin. I was speechless. I was in awe of
the 3 dimensional world and captivated by the excitement contained
within; the thrills of dungeon crawling and treasure hunting, the foxy
accent of that Lara Croft character, and the startled excitement of
running away from dinosaurs. I watched my friend play for three hours
straight before I finally wiped the drool off my chin.
I remember that day well. But with so many more Tomb Raider
cartoons, movies, comics and action figures that followed suit over the
next decade and a half eventually I had had enough of Lara and felt the
franchise had really moved away from the simple magic of the first game.
So, when we lined up in the Press Boxes at E3 this year to check out
the new Tomb Raider
my expectations weren't all that high. Being an MMO-junkie I admittedly
hadn't been following the new Tomb
game so I knew next to nothing about it going in.
The new Lara Croft is vulnerable and
inexperienced and that's what makes her believable.
We sat down in the theater as Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix made
their introductions. The introductions were brief and about three
minutes into the presentation our MC sat down with a controller and
said "we'll just let the game speak for itself."
"Lazy presentation!" crossed my mind as I chuckled to myself. What I
didn't expect was that Tomb
really could speak for itself. The following 27
minutes of watching nothing but gameplay were among the best 27 minutes
of all of E3.
The demo began with our familiar heroine, Lara, who had been just
recently escaped kidnapping and found herself alone on a mountain path
on an island. The game is sort of a prequel in the way that we see Lara
for the first time as a younger, inexperienced girl. As our host began
weaving down the path, climbing obstacles and balancing on a fallen log
over a perilous drop the game began to look more and more to be in the
style of Uncharted
And I liked Uncharted
The first few moments of Tomb
had already gained my attention and I began to
watch with more interest as Lara continued on.
Rain began to fall and Lara ducked under an overhang in the mountain to
take shelter. A cutscene took place at that point which elevated my
moderate interest to full-fledged captivation. Lara was shivering in
the rain and was in communication with a team over the radio. This was
her only connection to anyone else and the emotion of being scared and
alone in the rain was conveyed in lifelike clarity on the screen. I
felt bad for her, but moreso I actually felt some of her panic as her
voice trembled slightly and her eyes lightly squinted, fighting back
tears. This was a new Lara. She wasn't some omnipotent hero who
wouldn't bat an eye at a full guerilla outfit blasting guns. She was
fragile, scared, and very real. But as she pushed on into the
wilderness after a short night's rest it was easy to feel the
determination in her as well.
Frankly, I don't remember the last time I felt that kind of connection
with a character in a video game. It's cool to be a bad-ass but during
this demo I realized the potency of good character development that is
rarely, if ever seen outside of epic story-driven RPGs. Tomb Raider
gameplay is an action game but Crystal Dynamics has reached a brilliant
level of character portrayal. Once attached to a character in any story
every event, every arc, every action and environment is brought to
Furthermore, Tomb Raider
contains other RPG elements to keep you hooked into the dubious world
in which Lara struggles. At camp (camps are laid out in several areas
and unlock as you discover them) you'll receive goals or quests. Many
of these unfold into an almost open world. For instance, after Lara's
cold and wet night she was very hungry and needed to find food. She
ventured further down the path and into a dense forest where she found
a bow strung up in a tree along with some poor chap who had died days
or weeks before. Lara uneasily climbed the tree and precariously
ventured across its limbs to knock down the corpse and bow. Now
equipped with a projectile weapon she was able to hunt deer for food.
In other games this would be simple sport. Shoot deer. Eat meat. But
not in Tomb Raider
After figuring out how to successfully stalk prey Lara was finally able
to kill a deer. But instead of a quick "collect meat" press of a button
followed by a gratuitous nom-nom-nom, a cutscene took place. This was
the first time Lara had to kill anything in her life and it bothered
her in a very real way. The cutscene showed her battling a duality
between the morality of taking a life and the will to survive. This was
an unexpected epic moment and again our emotional strings were pulled
as we could actually feel Lara's inner conflict.
Finding a bow and killing a deer for food becomes a pivotal emotional experience in Tomb Raider.
Upon returning to camp to cook and eat the meat the game offers further
character development that is more often seen in an RPG than action
adventure games. By performing certain feats (like learning to use a
bow or cooking deer meat) the player can advance their character by
increasing their survival skills, much like talent or ability trees
presented in RPGs.
The rest of the demo played out with an equal amount of surprises and
re-introductions of themes and systems that make Tomb Raider
unequalled masterpiece of engaging story, character relation, and
emotional connection. If you thought Lara's difficulty with killing a
deer was dramatic wait until you see how she reacts when she has to
take her first human life.
The demo ended and I was frozen in my chair, unsure of how to make a
macho re-entry into the real world. I quickly thought back to the
beginning of the demo and how I had thought playing the game with no
developer narrative was an easy way out of having to do a real
presentation. How wrong I was. This game really does speak for itself.
No narration necessary, or even wanted!
I shook my head to wake myself a bit, and wiped the drool off my chin.
was Tomb Raider
And that is one hell of a thing.
Walking out of the theater I noticed over a dozen awards for the game
from various outlets. After seeing the demo it was easy to understand
is scheduled for release in Spring of 2013.