MediaStinger’s third and final day at E3 2011 kicked off with an exclusive look at a couple of 2012 games behind the closed doors of Square Enix. The first game, Tomb Raider from Crystal Dynamics, is a multiplatform reboot of the action-adventure franchise. According to creative director Noah Hughes, who lead the presentation, Tomb Raider is an origins reboot with with no story relations to the previous installments of the series, similar to the approach of the movie Batman Begins. Crystal Dynamics’ new game will focus on Lara Croft’s very first adventure at the ripe age of 21 after shipwrecking on an island. You can check out the recently released trailer here.
The actual demonstration that we attended not only featured the gameplay seen in Microsoft’s media event earlier this week, but also an additional mission in the jungle. Presented with lusciously visual and audio storytelling that often felt cinematic, especially during intimate camera close-ups, the demo began with Lara waking up mysteriously tied up and hanging upside-down in a cave lit by a bunch of ceremonial candles nearby. She swings herself closer to use the flames to free herself, but then drops onto a protruding stalagmite below, impaling herself in the side. After ripping it out and stumbling past corpses in the underground pit, Lara stumbles her way through claustrophobic passages. She finds a flaming torch but has to relight it when forced to go under a waterfall. At this point of the demo, Noah stated that Lara is learning the relationship between fire and water. An obvious relationship to point out, but important to explain because elements as such will play a huge role in solving puzzles and progressing through the game.
In a narrowing tunnel, a struggle with one of Lara’s captors ensues. In the demo you see below , Lara gets away, but Noah also treated us to not-so-successful result in which the captor gruesomely spikes Lara in the throat with a climbing axe, a la The Descent movies. After traversing crumbling structures (players have full control of the jumping now) and eluding another captor in a thrilling escape out of the underground area, Noah showcased a never-before-seen jungle mission later in the game, which included fending off a wolf on top of Lara by stabbing it with an arrow. These intense scenes of gameplay are a great example of how Crystal Dynamics designed camera and audio to play important roles in a player’s experience by creating an ambiance of constant tension.
Intuitive problem solving, a major component of the series, was stressed with a new survival instinct feature that highlights onscreen hints when toggled. Noah elaborated that it will point to hints and won’t solve puzzles, but it really does, at least in the gameplay we saw. It’s a nice feature that helps the player understand how to interact with the world and discourages standing around (think Batman: Arkham Asylum‘s detective mode). Lara must also learn to salvage objects and craft weapons. After the aforementioned wolf attack, Lara apologizes aloud to the dead wolf, and Noah explained that Lara doesn’t kill for sport in this game, but she will do whatever it takes to survive. The emphasis on survival propels the story forward as player-driven decisions are intertwined with Lara’s gradual overcoming of her self-doubt and shape her progression into a heroine. Her survival demands exploration of the island, and Crystal Dynamics seems to have done an excellent job weaving survival gameplay into the origins story.
Simultaneous voice and motion capture of actors has helped make the game and Lara look incredible. Her trademark chest has been slightly deflated, but there were enough downshirt cleavage shots to appease any pervs, especially if they close their eyes because she was moaning, groaning, grunting, screaming, and squealing throughout the entire demo. When that wolf was attacking another survivor, Lara unnecessarily yelled “I’m coming!” when she was only 20 feet away, just one example of her tendency to talk too much.
We didn’t see any shooting, but the gorgeous art style and gameplay puzzles reminded us of Uncharted, a game that was heavily influenced by the original Tomb Raider games that Square Enix is now looking to for inspiration. I would’ve liked to have seen some interactive first aid in a cutscene in which Lara tends to that wounded survivor, which could really separate Tomb Raider from similar games. But despite its borrowed elements, this new game is definitely something to be excited about.