Tomb Raider hands-on – A Survivor is Born
Crystal Dynamics’ new Tomb Raider reboot is unlike any other Tomb Raider game I have played before. I’m not sure if this is the Tomb Raider that people will be expecting but I am sure that this fresh, new approach to the franchise is one that is well overdue. If you are one of those gamers who isn’t a fan of change, best you start mentally preparing yourself now!
I’m sure you know from the trailer that this new Tomb Raider story takes us back to the beginning. Lara Croft is no longer the strong, almost super-human woman we have come to know. Lara is REAL, just like you and me, but she has this sense of perseverance that I have never seen before. You find yourself wanting to help her grow and persevere as a character… once you get over the vast amount of blood that is!
Luckily the new game play direction allows you to do this. Lara’s skills and gear need to be upgraded to make her a stronger character, these upgrades are all dependent on you as a player. No pressure there. Not only does Lara have to fight to survive, she also has to fight to defend herself against the crew from other shipwrecks. There are different groups living on the island with Lara, many of whom have different accents and are heavily armed, which makes you feel like this island has been growing an army of shipwrecked soldiers for quite some time.
Besides upgrading Lara’s character, you will also need to hunt and gather food to survive. This simple task is the thing that made me feel most connected to Lara. When she made her first kill, I stopped to take in the emotion of it all, it felt almost surreal. But beware, this survival mode is not made for the weak – prepare yourself for some BRUTAL attacks as you move through the game.
I may not have been expecting the brutal attacks but I was expecting the open game play, I had read about it prior to my trip. I was slightly worried about it. I hate nothing more than running endlessly for long distances and accomplishing very little. The good news – for me – is that the distances between tasks are not too far apart, so a little detour here and there won’t cut heavily into your time. If you are an adventurous gamer, there is definitely room for exploration inside the hubs but if you prefer a more linear style game, just follow the checklist to keep on track. Best of both worlds I guess.
As can be expected, the hubs always lead you back to your base camp. This is where all the upgrades are done and Lara’s journal comes into play. I didn’t get to see it but apparently this is also where the fast travel element comes into play. The video clips you view at these base camps will take your breath away, Lara is often found watching old video tapes that lead you to understand how she came to be shipwrecked in the first place. Make a note to really look at the emotion in her face when the camera zooms in on her.
For the first time playing as Lara Croft, the action side of the game was equally as time-consuming as the adventure element. Using an adventure style weapon like the bow might make you feel otherwise but the balance between puzzle, exploration and combat have definitely levelled out. This is something that really struck me as being different and not at all what I was used to. By equalising all the pillars of the game, I did feel that a sense of history was missing. And by “sense of history” I mean actually being able to raid tombs and solve ancient puzzles. Don’t get me wrong, the puzzles are still there, but they seem to have evolved into more modern adventure puzzles.
As for weapons, the bow is clearly the hero. I do worry that the aiming is a bit too easy though. I’m glad the lock-on-target element has been dropped but I still feel that the shooting could be more challenging. I’m not a strong shooter as it is, insert lady joke here, but I do hope the difficulty increases as you progress further into the game. I think it will. In the beginning of the game Lara has very few skills and hardly any gear but as you progress and she becomes a stronger character, I believe the challenges will start to pick up.
The big surprise for me was that Lara only had one pistol, I almost felt a bit disorientated as the second pistol has become such a standard in this game. I’m almost certain that you will be able to upgrade to dual pistols later on in the game. After all, finding out how Lara Croft became a dual pistol lady really does pull on those origin story heartstrings.
Overall, I am happy with the new direction. There are elements that I miss about the previous games but there are also elements that are completely new and fresh which is really exciting. Will everyone feel the same way? I think that is entirely opinion based but if you have an open mind and a love for Lara Croft I think you might embrace this change in a similar way to me.
The Square Enix team asked me to describe the preview of Tomb Raider : A Survivor is Born in three words. The honest answer that sprung to mind was “worth the wait”, and that is not a paid for opinion…I really cannot wait until the official release date.
Disclosure: The preview was conducted at an event in London. We were flown to the event and had accommodation provided by Square-Enix.