E3: Exploring the Rebooted Tomb Raider

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There is always a debate about what to change when you’re rebooting a video game. On one hand, super fans don’t want you to change a thing. If you change nothing, people wonder why you bothered. Well, there are some changes in store for Lara Croft. Tomb Raider is getting a reboot, and it’s an origin story. Oh, and Lara doesn’t look quite the same. We got a behind-closed-doors preview at E3 today. This one is going to cause some debate.

Before we get into what Lara looks like now, here is some info on this very early build of the game. They had the volume cranked on the game, so it was hard to hear the developer, but we could certainly see. First off, the game is an origin story. When you begin, Lara is just out of school and twenty-one years old. She’s on her first archeology trip overseas when her ship crashes. (We were not shown this part.) She wakes up in a mysterious cave.

Here is where the demo begins. Lara blinks into a darkened cave, clearly disoriented. When she completely comes to, she finds that she’s tied up and hanging upside down next to another body. There is fire around and she must swing herself through it to break free, burning herself in the process. We were told that Lara will have to make decisions that will threaten her life to save it.

After breaking free, Lara wanders around her claustrophobic environment. There is definitely a mood here, and it was explained that they were very concerned about making the characters connect to the players through mood, voice work and visuals. They had actors together on stage doing motion capture to make it a more realistic scene. There is no question about whether they accomplished giving the environment a sense of foreboding and danger. They also spent time on the relationship between fire and water. Lara has a torch that goes out when she passes under water or swims. She can relight it on other fires and it becomes important as she battles to open a passage out of her prison.

All around her are candles, human sacrifices, fires and dripping water. Here we got to see survival vision where things go black and white-ish and important objects are highlighted. She’s also attacked by an islander who’s features are in shadow. The developers let us see her die when she’s captured, giving us the sense that everything here is life or death. After replaying the scene, which involved a shake of the stick to free her leg, Lara manages to get out alive. Here we see a cut scene of a graveyard of ships. She’s most certainly not the first one to crash here.

We skipped a level and moved on to the third chapter, where Lara meets one of her shipmates who’s leg has been gnawed on by wolves. The setting this time is an abandoned mountain village. After a cut scene where she tries and fails to carry him and she’s told to retrieve the med kit and a radio from the wolf den, she’s off. She uses her survival vision again and jumps and runs her way to the wolf, who she kills in a fight. We were told that she does not kill indiscriminately in this game, but she will do anything she needs to for survival. Also, the jumps are not set for you. You can change course at the last moment.

When she returns to what is now called Base Camp, she can upgrade. Survival skills can be customized in many ways. She can choose fast travel to quickly get to places she’s already been and she can used salvaged parts to craft new gear.

The game looks great, but a few things stood out. First, how is a twenty-one-year-old so good at flinging herself over jumps like an aerialist? I’m not saying they won’t explain that. I’m just saying, it was troubling. She seems to have skills she shouldn’t have. I’m hoping they address that. Second, it does not seem to be Lara’s day. It’s non-stop attacks. Boulders, fire, enemies, water, more fire, falling through holes, sliding down tunnels…all the talk after the presentation was about how masochistic it seemed. (My friend mentioned that he thought a piano falling on her head wouldn’t be overkill after that.) Lara moaned and groaned throughout. I mean, non-stop. Um…there are enemies about and I’d say it’s a fair assumption that they have ears. For someone who is obviously skilled with a knife and can leap through the air like a monkey, keeping mum as much as possible seems like a no brainer.

Finally…here it comes…her appearance. It’s a bit different. More realistic, some say. In my opinion, her face looks like an older actress got a bit too much restalyne pumped in it, but that’s hardly a big deal. What’s going to be news here is her smaller chest. Yes, it looks like Lara is more of a B cup than a D. Now, for some this is going to be a non-issue. If the game is good, who cares? It’s not like video game characters of either sex are known for realism. Anyone take a gander at the size of the sword Siegfried wields in Soul Calibur and the size of the muscles on the men? For some, it’s a relief to see a more realistic portrayal of the human body. For others, it’s tampering with what is a signature part of her appearance. So, let the debate begin. We’d love to know what you think.