Tomb Raider (Xbox 360 [previewed], PlayStation 3)
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
To be released: 2012
The demo starts shortly after Lara has just escaped from a deranged native on the mysterious island her ship has crashed ashore on. The island is somewhere near the coast of Japan, within the Dragon's Triangle (like the Bermuda Triangle.) We see Lara on a cliff side, high above, overlooking the ocean and a number of shipwrecks lining the coast.
Lara is visibly hurt, with blood and dirt all over herself. She can be seen holding her belly as she moves into the island, still in pain from the rebar she had to pull out from herself. She spots a lifeboat below, and feels a small sense of relief hoping others may have survived the shipwreck.
Lara makes here way into the island where she comes across a gap, and the only way she can cross it is by climbing onto a World War II-era plane hanging against a nearby wall. Lara jumps onto the cockpit, climbs upwards, and then to the right of the wing, finally jumping onto the other side of the cliff. Contextual menus appear telling you how to climb objects and such. As she lands, the plane wing comes down with her, almost smashing Lara.
I would like to note that it's at this point in my note taking that I wrote "holy fuck this game is gorgeous." It truly is. Everything from the characters, jungle, fire effects, and more look amazing. There were some points where the visuals took a hit, making Lara look weird here and there. The issue was brought on probably due to the game not being final code more than anything else.
Lara soon finds her friend Sam's backpack, but sadly Sam is nowhere to be seen. Lara scavenges through the pack, taking a video camera, matches and a walkie talkie with her. Lara presses forward, jumping across another gap, only this time she slips, falling off the cliff side and sliding down, tumbling over herself until finally coming to a halt.
This whole time it's been raining, and Lara is just wearing a tanktop and pants. She's seen visibly shaking, freezing from the cold and rain. You can't help but feel for her. She finds a path with a cover overhead, and a fire-pit where she starts a fire. With the fire going, she falls asleep, and wakes in the morning with the sun piercing its rays through the cloud and jungle top.
Lara is hungry, probably famished from everything that's she just gone through in the last 24 hours. She can't do much about it, until she comes across a body hanging upside down from a tree. The body has long been dead, but there's a bow on the corpse she could use. Lara climbs up the tree, inches close to the hanging body, and leans towards the swinging corpse. Once close enough, Lara grabs the body and the pair fall to the ground. She now has the bow, and with plenty of arrows scattered around the world, has to go hunt some food.
Holding the left trigger will see Lara draw her bow and load up an arrow. You can immediately shoot the arrow off, but the longer you hold back, the harder your arrow will impact a target. She can't hold the arrow forever though, and will fire the arrow off on her own if the tension gets too much.
There are plenty of deer in this little area, and once you've killed one, a cutscene kicks in depicting Lara begrudgingly eviscerating the deer, with blood splattering on the screen. Not really counting the creeper from the caverns, this is the first time Lara has had to kill anything on her own in such a way. Lara starts this journey as an innocent 21-year-old college graduate, full of aspiration and dreams. Tomb Raider is her origin story, and will depict her transformation from a relatable girl to the strong iconic woman she's known as.
From here, the player has to return to the camp they made the night before, either by using landmarks in the environment or by pressing the Survival Instincts button, turning the world black and white and highlighting special key interests to help the player should they need it. In this case, a nav-point is brought up to show the player where to go.
Back at the camp, a cutscene kicks in where Roth, a mentor figure and friend of Lara's, comes over the talkie. Roth had sent out an SOS from the ship before it crashed, and is telling all survivors to regroup on Roth's position. Lara then proceeds back to the area she went hunting before, and this time discovers a shack which previously had its door shut tight.
Lara enters the shack, and proceeds to head down some stairs after grabbing a torch to light up the dark path. The underground cavern is slightly flooded, with water reaching chest high. She eventually makes it to some high ground, and the passage ahead is locked. There's a room slightly blocked by some wooden objects nearby, but placing your torch against the boxes will instantly burn them. The game is smart enough to automatically pull out the torch stick when near a fire source if you need to relight the torch, too; a small thing, but something I loved, as it saves players some time from annoying item management.
With the path cleared, Lara discovers an icepick and uses it to pry the door open. She then comes across another set of ladders, and climbs out of the cavern. Now in a new section of the island, Lara can hear voices off in the distance. Once close enough, she finds her friend Sam. Sam happens to be with a man who lives on the island, telling Lara that he helped Sam and is happy to see another face. Lara isn't buying the guy's story, and tries to get Sam to move away from him. The guy quickly drops the act, grabs hold of Sam, and heads off into the jungle. Lara tries to give chase, but gets caught in a bear trap. She tries to remove the trap, but doesn't have much time as some wolves come investigate what all the commotion was about.
Lara is stuck on the ground, with her leg trapped. The player has to defend themselves from three of the wolves, each striking one by one. Each time one attacks, the game slows down and the player has to take out the wolf with the bow and arrow. Mess up, and the wolf clamp its jaws down on Lara's face, killing her as blood splatters on the screen. Dying will quickly just set you back to the beginning of the sequence, so there's no real penalty. Still, I felt tension during this sequence not from fear of dying, but from fear of seeing Lara get hurt. The kills in Tomb Raider are absolutely brutal, one scene in particular I'll be describing shortly gave me chills.
With the wolves dead, several other survivors come across Lara. They help her out of the trap, and all but one take off to find Sam. The one who stayed to help Lara is Dr. Whitman, and goes to check if the area ahead is safe while Lara catches her breath. With the cutscene over, Lara, who can miraculously walk again, heads over to Whitman's position. Whitman has found a temple that can be opened by the two gears in front of the door. One of the levers for the gear is missing, so Lara needs to find materials, referred to as salvage, to strengthen her icepick.
The area is filled with crates and boxes with salvage, and it takes five crates worth of salvage to upgrade the icepick. Fighting enemies, harvesting animals, exploring, and more will all add to your survival experience points, which can be used to upgrade Lara's weapons and abilities.
With the icepick reinforced, Lara is able to turn the giant gear with Dr. Whitman, and the duo enters the temple. Whitman is ecstatic to be exploring the temple, with Lara more worried about the situation on the island than anything else. The pair don't have much time to explore, though, as some of the islanders get the drop on them. For some insane reason, Whitman doesn't put up a fight, calmly telling Lara to just listen to the islanders and go along with them. Lara ignores Whitman and tries to escape. Lara gets slapped, and the next scene shows Lara with her hands tied behind her back as her main captor goes to check in on his men.
There are guards patrolling the entire area, killing off other survivors of the ship and burning random structures. Lara has to press forward, all while hiding behind cover to avoid the patrolling guards. If Lara does get spotted, a guard will shoot an arrow into her chest, and another right into her face.
Eventually the guards discover Lara is missing, and the seemingly leader of the group finds Lara hiding in a shack. He points a gun at Lara, telling her to get out of the shack. The guy now is pressing up against Lara, stroking her face. His intentions are obvious. Lara fights back, kneeing the guy in the stomach as the quick time event button pops up. The man pulls Lara back up against the side of the shack, this time going in close, breathing against her neck. Bad move. Lara goes in for a bite, ripping off some flesh, causing the guy to fall back and drop his gun. Lara breaks free from her restraints as she lunges for the gun. She gets it, turns on her back and points at the man all in slow motion as he jumps towards Lara. The player has just enough time to get a shot off, and due to the timing, impacts the man's groin area.
The shot wasn't enough to stop the man, and the two are now struggling for the gun. Through a QTE sequence, the player has to point the gun at the mans face, and once there can pull the trigger. The bullet pierces his face, with Lara pushing the guy off of her. He's still alive, gasping and choking on his own blood before finally dying.
This whole sequence was a quick time event. Failing the first portion will see the man wrap his hands around Lara's neck, shaking and strangling her violently as the screen slowly goes to black. Fail the part with the gun struggle and the man will get a shot off on Lara's face, brutally killing her with her blood splattering on the screen. It's a harrowing sight, one I could hardly believe. Crystal Dynamics is pulling out all the punches.
The demo ends with Lara in tears, as she's covered in the guy's blood and burning buildings fill the background. She stands up, catches her breath, and looks towards the screen, gun in hand. Beaten, battered, but far from broken.
Crystal Dynamics has done an absolutely stellar job at creating a gritty, and dark new take on a much beloved series. I found myself disgusted, shocked, and surprised all during the Tomb Raider demo. My heart plunged at multiple points, feeling pain for Lara in her ordeal. Most of all, I was surprised at how emotionally invested I found myself right from the start. This is one game you truly can't afford to miss.