E3 2011 Live coverage : Tomb Raider – Demo deconstruction

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The doors to E3 swung open around 12pm and a mass of media, exhibiters and the lucky few sponsored fans rushed through the doors and quickly filled both south and west halls. Geoff was doing his thing on the west side, while I got washed into the south. Surfing reference, go figure.

As soon as I was in I rushed over to my first, second and third appointments, which all conveniently happened to be at the closed-door Square Enix booth. I was later informed by a fellow LA’ing that this is what is known as “dropping a V.I.P.E” what the “e” stands for is still a mystery. So without further ado, let’s kick off the Square Enix action with my demo deconstruction of the new Tomb Raider.

When I first sat down in the main Square Enix 8×8 demo room, surrounded by heavy breathing, salivating Lara fanatics (not really, but I enjoy over exaggerating for dramatic effect) I realised that I knew little to nothing about Tomb Raider. But don’t get me wrong, as a big Tomb Raider fan I have been really looking forward to this title and purposely (besides the Game Informer cover) have resisted from searching spoilers, and leaked images on the web. So when the lights went down and the demo started, the result was catastrophically brilliant. I will now try and describe the demo, as I had to check my camera at the door.

The demo kicked off in a dark, almost Mayan cult-like cave. As the camera pans up to the ceiling of the cave, we see Lara suspending in mid-air, upside down, and wrapped in a cocoon made from blood soaked rags with just her head popping out the bottom. She wakes up just as the camera reaches her, and the game kicks off the action.

The first thing that hits the viewer is the level of detail this game presents. The cave is contrasted very well, with dark corners and glowing fires randomly spread throughout the level really gives a abandoned, almost savage like feel.

It is now up to you to get Lara down, and as the game encourages you to swing Lara closer to a burning log hanging from a nearby ledge, it is clear this is going to hurt. As she swings closer the cloth bursts into flames, engulfing Lara and setting her free. She falls to the bottom of the cave, lands firmly on the rocks below and impales herself on a metal barb sticking out of the ground. The game prompts you to rapidly press X to pull Lara free, and as you do so, she lets out the most realistic cry of pain I have ever heard in a video game.

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When she eventually picks herself up off the ground, it is clear she is in pain. With every footstep she lets out a cry, she is scared and gives the impression of someone who is very claustrophobic, gasping for air, trying to calm down. It is super realistic and I was very, very impressed.

You continue through the level until you get to a blocked off path of wood and cloth. Seeing as this is the tutorial level the game then prompts you to get fire and burn the obstacle in your path. All objects that can be burnt display an icon above them when you are carrying fire. You continue down the path, occasionally losing your footing before the path narrows and reaches a small crack between two rocks.

Just before you squeeze through the gap, the camera blasts around Lara and focuses behind her. She is dripping in blood and dirt as a hand comes through the gap and grabs her. You see a silhouetted man, dressed in what seemed to be very tribal like attire trying to attack Lara. Another action prompt appears on the screen and eventually you can kick him away just before the struggle forces a rock to fall from above and crush the man.

This is what happened in the second play through we were shown. In the first, the guy playing the demo let the man catch Lara which allowed the rock to fall forward, crushing her with a loud, bone crunching thud. The camera shakes, blood splatters everywhere and her crushed lifeless face stares back at the screen. It was a real wake up call, and I was left thinking that this could either be a very good move on the developer’s part or a very stupid one. To have a female character die in a variety of different ways throughout the game in this kind of barbaric way could be received very badly. Expect a high age restriction on this one folks.

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The demo continues and he eventually got Lara to a new, larger section of the cave. In this new section the game teaches the player how to use Lara’s new ability, Survival Instinct. When it is activated, the background fades into grey and all the objects that can be used glow bright orange.

I don’t want to let too much out of the bag so for now I am going to end it there. It ends with Lara stepping out of the cave and onto a ledge that overlooks a lush, thriving jungle. The camera pans back and sets Lara off to the right looking down over the world as the Tomb Raider logo fades in on the left. A brilliant introduction to a brilliant game.

The lights came back up and a hearty round of applause was delivered. Everyone loved the game and it was generally agreed that this game is going to lay the foundation for a whole new generation of Tomb Raider titles. But my time with Lara didn’t end there, I packed up my bag and headed to the even smaller, 6×6 VIP interview room to sit in with Noah Hoges, creative director of my game of E3 2011 so far, Tomb Raider.

For the low-low down on Tomb Raider check out my exclusive interview in the post that follows. From E3, this is Ian Felmore. Always wanted to say… I mean write that.

Last Updated: June 8, 2011

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