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E3: Exploring the new Tomb Raider


4:00 PM on 06.10.2012
E3: Exploring the new Tomb Raider photo



And then I saw her face. Her dirty, determined, take-no-sh*t face. Now I'm a believer.

Tomb Raider is back, though sadly delayed until March 5, 2013. I had a chance to sit down with Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics this E3 to see how far they've come with it since I last checked in with them in 2011, and I'm happy to say I'm still pleased with where this game is going.

Environment and atmosphere are a make-or-break factor in my enjoyment of a game. In that vein, Tomb Raider long ago won me over. The rich, detailed textures are truly gorgeous and I love the setting, which lends itself well to switching between jungle and cave exploration (the latter of which I admittedly got to see more of at E3 last year). If you're apprehensive about the emphasis on the jungle setting in the footage released thus far, take heart; the plot direction leads me to believe there'll likely be more cave exploration than initially meets the eye. 

And while Tomb Raider may rightfully deserve some comparison to Uncharted (such a strange role reversal from the Dude Raider days), I think Tomb Raider feels a bit more gritty and intense, which I like. The tension is crafted effectively with the use of wayward angles and camera jostles to draw you into a sense of disorientation, something that Uncharted seem to reserve for its bigger scenes like the opening of the sequel.

While a steady camera in a third-person view lends itself to an outsider-looking-in perspective, instead we get an impression of the impact on Lara as she struggles with the rugged landscape. The result to me is very humanizing. Her reaction to every trip, stagger, or fall communicates the very real difficulty of the terrain she faces, and in turn, her effort only becomes more impressive.

The trailer released this past week was actually a bit misleading, in my opinion, as it ended with Lara in a position of sexual vulnerability that left a lot of people feeling uncomfortable. Having now seen the entire sequence, I only feel that moment was redemptive and did much to explain how Lara transitioned from a vulnerable girl to a capable, take-charge woman.

That she had that moment as a result of a near sexual assault borders on almost irrelevant given the enormous trauma she goes through (the shipwreck, extreme weather conditions, injury, her sister's kidnapping, etc.) before she gets to that point.

As Lara rose from the ground having conquered her attacker, picking up a gun and setting her cold, determined glare on the camera, there was an audible gasp throughout the room. If looks could kill, E3 would have had a shocking amount of fatalities in the Square Enix booth this year. If you really think this "new" Lara is weak then I daresay you have as big a surprise coming to you as the dude she just kneed in the balls.

In fact some of the negative reaction to the E3 trailer showed me how much they've already managed to humanize her character. A lot of people seemed to care about her well being; they didn't like to see her in a position of weakness or victimization.

If Lara was truly the figure she's been made out to be, I think a lot of people would have enjoyed seeing her in such a vulnerable position. Their repulsion tells me something very positive. That some of the complaints were from long-time fans who cared about Lara long before the opening sequence of this reboot also helped in part to change my perspective on her.

To me, Lara is no longer a sex symbol in a videogame, but rather, a capable fictional character who just happens to be attractive. I like this new perspective. And while some of the cinematic shots did just seem like an excuse to stare at her breasts (which many would translate as an insincerity in the new angle they're pursuing), in the scope of the entire game, I feel I can forgive it. In fact, when I pointed it out to their creative director, he actually sounded open to working on it.

One thing I think they could do better is facial expressions, as Lara's face barely moves even when she's crying. I would also like the name of the black eyeliner that she and her sister seem to be using, because if it can truly last through all that jungle heat and moisture, then I should have picked up some before my trip to E3. Jokes aside, both observations seem like nitpicking.

I'm also curious to see how the combat and exploration aspects are balanced, as it doesn't feel like I've gotten an accurate picture between the two demo sessions I've seen thus far. It feels a bit condensed. I'm hoping it relies slightly less on firepower and a little more on alternative weapons like that sweet bow we saw in the trailer. Nonetheless, I can't wait for this March.








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