When we last left Lara, she’d just lodged a bullet in the brain of her first victim in a desperate struggle. What’s next for Ms. Croft? The words below should give you an idea.
With her body count set at one and a newly-obtained pistol in hand, Lara decides it’s best to continue high-tailing it away from all the locals trying to capture her and her pals who have found themselves shipwrecked in the Devil’s Triangle. Still, it doesn’t take long before she comes face-to-face with more folks with murder on their minds and Lara is forced to tread ever more dangerously into killer territory to survive.
The first time you pull on the trigger to properly look down the sights of her gun, the crosshairs lurch about the screen like Lara’s aiming while stood on a surfboard. It’s a jarring and flustering moment when we’re so used to protagonists with pin-point accuracy, but unlike JC Denton’s tiresome aiming skills, it smartly fades after she gets her eye in.
Initially, you’ll want to try to avoid announcing your presence with gunfire anyway, given Lara’s limited arsenal and just how outnumbered she is. Sneaking through with silent takedowns, distractions or well-placed arrows to the back of the head are the smarter moves. Here, Tomb Raider maintains the level of tension it has carried across the introduction, where clever planning, patience and a desperate move or two allow you to reach a point where you can breathe easy once more – if only briefly.
Once out of any immediate danger from the island residents, what’s lurking in the darkened environment becomes the next source of fear and apprehension. In these open spaces – where it always seems to be pouring with rain – things are reminiscent of old Tomb Raider and you’re given the chance to explore, find hidden trinkets, or even venture through a tomb. (The one in the demo housed little more than a fairly simple physics puzzle, but as a pause from all the sneaking and shooting the tombs are perfect retreats.)
Here is where the game can be at its best; where you have to be cautious of the environment, the wildlife and any wandering islanders hiding in the shadows, but are also given the room to leap between structures, scale mountainsides, or discover the history of the island and its belligerent community. When Crystal Dynamics were first discussing the direction for the reboot, this is what I had in mind: exploration, foraging, hunting – actual survival skills.
When she bumps into one of her wounded companions, a short search for a nearby discarded first aid kit ramps up the pressure once more with a cautious trip into a darkened and isolated cave. Unsurprisingly, the world bites back at Lara’s curiosity, once more requiring her to make a frantic escape from the vicious wildlife. It isn’t long before the human threat is reintroduced, though, with a quest to a nearby radio tower that should be capable of sending out a distress signal.
Always outnumbered, never outgunned
From there, the chaos of combat and the resultant body count escalates fast. During her solo assault on the tower, there’s always a sense of improvisation to Lara’s moves as she scrambles between cover and scrabbles about on the ground for dirt or rocks to throw at her attackers. Shootouts are gripping as you constantly have to be on the move, taking pot shots when the chance arrives or brawling with close range attackers. She’s capable, but her skills are raw and instinctual – far from the action hero dramatics of explorer du jour, Nathan Drake. That comes later, though, when Crystal Dynamics see fit to put an automatic weapon with a generous supply of ammo in Lara’s blistered and grubby mitts.
With a machine gun resting in her palms, Lara seems nigh-on invulnerable as not even a dozen crazed locals with all the Molotovs in the Dragon’s Triangle can stop her. They set up ambushes, but you’ll mow straight through them, and the situation becomes so dire for the island’s inhabitants that they’re forced to ship in the “Grunt with a Huge Riot Shield” – that’s when you really know you’ve gone from minor annoyance to a full-blown aggravation.
But by this point I’d suspended my disbelief so far that it was down on the bottom of the ocean floor with the wreck of the ship Lara came in on. Sure, develop Lara as a survivalist, I get that’s the story being told here, but why that character growth seems to be correlated to her improved proficiency at mass murder leaves me a little doubtful as to where Tomb Raider is planning to go next. There’s no suggestion she’s going to go the same way as Far Cry 3’s Jason Brody, at least – a naive dolt who begins with even less survival skills and ultimately decides to wallow within his own bloodlust till it absorbs his whole mind.
Instead, Tomb Raider seems to be a story of one person hardened by a harrowing experience, yet all the rat-tat-tat of gunfire keeps screaming over it. Perhaps it will lean on the extremes a little too far at times, but there are also moments where Crystal Dynamic’s latest vision of Lara has captured fear, torment and a small dash of hope to chilling effect.
Tomb Raider, by Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics, is scheduled for release March 5th for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.