Tomb Raider (2013) Hands-on Preview
By Lim Kuan Keat - on 04 Dec 2012, 10:47pm

Tomb Raider As You've Never Seen Her Before

Previous Tomb Raider games had always established Lara Croft as a seasoned explorer whose skills and prowess among adventurers were already well known. However, in the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot, Lara Croft is not a veteran explorer but a rookie fresh out of university. When she and her friends become shipwrecked on a mysterious island off the coast of Japan, she must learn to fight for survival and become a hero.

Brian Horton, Art Director of Tomb Raider

Brian Horton, the Art Director of Tomb Raider, describes Tomb Raider as the embodiment of the survival instincts of Rambo and Ripley in the mysterious world of Lost, where the island that Lara Croft is shipwrecked on hides a deep secret. Crystal Dynamics wanted to create a young and believable vision for Lara Croft and the world that she lives in, retaining the spirit of an action-adventure title while presenting a more emotional experience with a theme of survival. The early sections of Tomb Raider sees you escaping from captivity, meeting up with the survivors of the shipwreck, and encountering the dangerous islanders led by Father Mathias. The demo ended when Lara makes it to the top of a radio tower to signal for help.

Past Tomb Raider games tended to highlight the exploratory nature of the series – Lara Croft visits an exotic location, solves a few simple puzzles to open a trapdoor or gate, and then obtain the treasure. Combat tended to take a back seat. However, the latest Tomb Raider aims to revitalize the franchise by presenting a strong emphasis on three gameplay aspects: Traversal, Puzzle Solving, and Combat.

Tomb Raider aims to integrate realistic physics into some of the game's puzzles. Early in the game, you will come across one such example where you need to keep a look out of your surroundings to escape captivity. Traversal has also always been a big part of the Tomb Raider series, though the reboot is taking it a step further by not making all of the areas accessible. Instead, Lara will come across various tools and be able to upgrade them, allowing her to access areas that were previously locked out to her. This brings to mind the style of Metroidvania games such as Shadow Complex. For example, an axe that Lara gets early in the game can be upgraded to open larger boxes for salvage. Later on, you get a climbing axe that lets you climb certain rockfaces.

Each main area acts like a hub that Lara can fast-travel to once she has found a base camp, so you can sometimes go back to some locations and try to look for not only collectible items but also journals left behind by the island's former occupants. These journals texts are read aloud by the previous writers, instead of just being text-based. It's a pretty nice touch.

The biggest change to the series is the combat system, where Lara can not only stealth kill enemies but also improve her combat prowess. As she hunt or collect salvage, Lara earns experience and skill points that she can put into Survivor, Hunter, or Brawler skills when she rests at a base camp. She can learn new skills such as light weapon attack or using dirt to stun enemies, as well as improve how much damage she does with her bow. Weapons picked up can be upgraded by using salvage collected, so you can add fire or explosives to bows. Likewise, Lara's survival skills can also be upgraded so that she can collect more salvage from corpse, fallen animals, and boxes, as well as hunt enemies and animals with deadlier precision.

Square Enix and Namco Bandai demoed the game on the Xbox 360, and the game looks pretty damn impressive. The weather and fire effects were quite well done, and some of the environments that you will come across are pretty breathtaking. I was informed that the villages on the island were inspired by the real life town of Nikko, a countryside town just a couple hours away from Tokyo. I've been to Nikko before, so it was quite a kick to see the architecture in the game that was inspired by the town.

I was concerned at first when I heard that the series will be rebooted and that the new game will be exploring Lara's origins. After playing the demo, I'm much more relieved to see that Crystal Dynamics is handling Lara's reimagined origins with a lot more care. In the beginning of the game, Lara is a frightened, scared survivor. But at the end of the demo as she climbs the radio tower, it's clear to see that she has come a long way and is starting to realize her true potential as a tomb raider.

Tomb Raider releases 5 March 2013.

Lim Kuan Keat

Lim Kuan Keat

As the Editor of GameAxis Unwired Malaysia, Lim Kuan Keat has the enviable job of playing and writing about the latest video game titles and trends in the market. He loves video games regardless of platform, and he hopes to see the hobby become more commonplace and accepted in Malaysia. He also digs movies, manga, anime, and occasionally a good book or two when he has the time, which he sadly lacks these days.