The Game: This is an origin-story reboot for the adventure-seeking archaeologist Lara Croft. Fresh out of college, our 21-year-old heroine boards a ship called the Endurance to “make her mark” in the world. But the ship is destroyed in a storm, stranding Lara and her colleagues on a tropical island near Japan. And like any good tropical island in a videogame, this one contains a pack of deadly mercenaries. Lara must quickly learn how to survive in this environment, even if that means resorting to killing other humans. (Available March 5, 2013, for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC)
What We Played: My single-player demo started about 45 minutes into the game. Lara has escaped the cave we saw from last year’s E3, and now finds herself in a mysterious forest. First, she must find food. I grabbed a bow and arrow from a corpse hanging from a tree, and did my best Katniss impression while shooting a deer. Later in the demo, my foot got caught in a bear trap as hungry wolves approached. Still armed with the bow, I watched the surrounding bushes for any signs of movement, and sure enough three wolves attacked me — one by one. Each was killed via a quick arrow to the head.
Toward the end of the demo, Lara is captured by some nefarious men and has her hands bound. This leads to the demo’s stealth segment, as you attempt to escape without being detected. At one point, I took momentary shelter inside a shack, only to be discovered by the gang’s leader. At gunpoint, the guy pulled Lara out of the shack. As he glanced over her body, the man’s intentions became clear. If you follow the quick-time commands accurately, Lara will subsequently bite off the man’s ear, scramble for his gun, and ultimately shoot him in a final moment of self-defense. It’s the first time Lara has ever killed someone, and you can see that she’s emotionally shaken. But she must keep moving.
The Good: Graphically, Tomb Raider‘s environments are dazzling. Early in the demo, you’re walking across a fallen tree beside a massive waterfall. Don’t be surprised if you stop for a moment to take it all in. The controls are fluid — the archery feels natural, and the button-prompts don’t distract too much from the experience. And, perhaps most importantly, Lara is a more multilayered heroine this time around. Instead of being an invulnerable action goddess, she’s very much a work-in-progress. You feel her anguish, especially when she has to slay that innocent deer and later shoot a man. Lara will no doubt become a more hardened killer as the game progresses, and that should be an absorbing evolution to watch.
The Not-So-Good: Since the last Tomb Raider entry, 2008’s Tomb Raider: Underworld, we’ve been spoiled by Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Based solely on the demo, the dialogue and voice-work in Tomb Raider didn’t quite measure up to the Uncharted series. (Square Enix hasn’t announced which actress is voicing Lara yet.) Then again, I only got to play around 30 minutes of the game, so this observation may change once we see the final product.
Excitement Level (on a scale from 1 to 10): I really dig this more serious and surely Mature-rated direction for the franchise. Tomb Raider gets an 8.