Eurogamer Expo preview: Lara’s first hour stranded on the Dragon’s Triangle is harrowing and distressing, but is there more to TOMB RAIDER than just hunting deer and being captured repeatedly?
Everyone’s seen Lara kill the deer by now. The defenceless animal given a swift arrow to the skull so Lara can chop up and chew on its innards for sustenance. The peaceful and rather calming hunt a reprieve from her harrowing welcome to the island – the first of many times Lara will escape capture in the introduction to Tomb Raider. And while it’s the moment most of us have seen, it’s quite possibly the dullest event in Lara’s first hour stranded on the Dragon’s Triangle.
Later, at night, a radio message from one of her fellow shipwreck survivors encourages her to go looking for them. She sets off in the direction of a derelict building plonked in the middle of a forested area. Inside, she peers down a cavernous hole in the ground, and the door slams shut behind her. With down the only way to go, she sets off into the unknown. During this descent, the Silent Hill alarm wouldn’t feel out of place, as the environment morphs from the abandoned overgrowth up top to creeping, blood-curdling messiness below.
Lara guides herself by a single torchlight flame through murky passages covered in grime, decorated with blood splatters, strange markings and skulls. She slinks under fallen debris and wades through water up to her chin, hoping that the next ladder will reunite her with her shipwrecked buddies. All the while huffing, puffing, wheezing, whining, sniffling, sighing, moaning, and groaning with every step. It’s a sinister environment, but oddly fascinating too – quite unlike anything seen in a Tomb Raider game before.
Back up top she does come in contact with one of her friends, but also a suspicious third party. Unsurprisingly, he’s a “bad guy” and he runs off with Lara’s pal as hostage. She tries to give chase, but ends up stepping into a bear trap, setting up quite possibly the demo’s scariest moment.
Who let the dogs out?
Faint growlings can be heard all around Lara, and with a bear trap clutching at her ankle all she can do is ready her bow and wait. Figures skitter amongst the bushes ahead and suddenly a mongrel leaps out with the intention of ripping out her neck. A quickly flung arrow down his gullet prevents that. Calm again, but only briefly. There’s more movement in the bush. It’s a surprisingly frightening set piece, as you nervously try to track and predict the dog’s movements in the bushes before lining up the perfect arrow to the eye in excruciating slow motion.
Once the hounds have been dealt with, Lara is freed from the trap by the timely arrival of the ship’s other passengers, before they split up in search for their captured buddy. Now, you’re given time to explore a wide open space drenched in darkness. In it, I was genuinely scared. The dogs return and are nimble and intimidating, able to pounce in the blink of an eye before you can even pull back on the bow string. I was so wary of a surprise attack that even a skittish deer – something that had been easy prey only minutes earlier – make me jump as it charged past, fleeing from the hounds too.
This more open area encourages your and Lara’s treasure-seeking curiosity, even though the threats make you want to stick to the relative safety of the path. You’ll have to explore, though, to collect any salvage she can get her grubby mitts on to improve her equipment and weapons and proceed further ahead. However, it’s all for nought in the end, as once again she’s captured by the locals.
Hide and seek
A distraction provides an opportunity to flee. With her hands tied, you sneak Lara past patrolling guards with the aid of some handy chest high walls and slink in and out of shadow between the scavenger’s flashlights. The punishment for getting caught is a rather brutal death for the British adventurer. The teeth-clenching sound of her clattering to the floor due to a mistimed jump has always been brutal, but here things are even more gruesome. Make it to the end, though, and she still gets caught – again.
A tense QTE struggle for a gun between her and one of the islands inhabitants leads to Lara firing off a round in his face, before buckling over and throwing up that deer meat she scoffed down earlier. With an almighty lurch she stands, determined. Kill count: one.
It’s not only killing her first human, but every action is a struggle: clambering up plane wrecks dangling over cliffs, pulling herself up from ledges after a precarious leap, and tiptoeing across fallen tree trunks are all achingly drawn out. She slogs through the hostile environment, far from the ridiculous acrobatic athleticism of cartwheels and back flips on display in previous games.
Here, with nothing but a strong bow arm and a willingness to survive, these opening moments play more like a survival horror game – and it works tremendously. Lara’s next steps are the troubling ones. Sure, as Brian Horton confirmed in his interview with us, there’s going to be a fair chunk of game between Lara’s traumatic beginnings and eventual shotgun-wielding badassery, but will the return of her blasé reaction to pumping everyone and everything full of lead diminish exactly what makes this origin story so enthralling?
Tomb Raider, by Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics, is scheduled for release on March 5th 2013 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.