Crystal Dynamics’ behind closed doors gameplay demonstration of Lara Croft’s debut adventure (chronologically, at least) might well have been based on ‘early code’ but you couldn’t tell – the graphics were exemplary and the audio design is really pushing the boundaries of what we’d expect from a videogame. Sure, it’s clear the team have been keeping an eye on Naughty Dog of late but then Uncharted’s roots were never really that well covered up anyway – for gamers who love adventure, there’s clearly going to be a bit of choice this generation.
The gameplay demonstration started off at the same location as it did in Sony’s live press conference, with a young Lara awakening to find herself tied up in a sack, hanging upside down. With no HUD or obvious visual interface to speak of, the player’s only route forward is to start swinging the character, learning that the nearby flames are the sole escape device. The way the game conveys the sense of fear and danger is extraordinary, and even in these first few seconds, realising that you’ll need to set fire to Lara to proceed, the tension is high.[drop]The fall downwards, accompanied with a rough landing on a sharp spike, sets up the character’s limping, bleeding gait for the remainder of the section. Unable to run and without weapons, Lara must use whatever’s nearby to make her way back to the surface. In the examples shown, this involved a few quick time events (with overlaid button images prompting the player) and some interesting physics challenges revolving around fire and water. Going beyond the press demo, Tomb Raider’s clearly not going to let players just run and gun, the sequence shown to us required some lateral thinking and a bit of imagination, creating an explosion and setting forth a cascade of barrels to open up new areas.
Tomb Raider’s pacing seems strong, with the thinking sections punctuated with attacks from humans and animals, and a desperate scramble up a slippery slope with the triggers, whilst dodging rocks. It’s hard to get a true feeling for the level when you’re being led by someone who’s worked on the game, but with tight schedules perhaps it’s the only way.[drop2]Once out into the open, the developers showed us a brand new area and a new character, Roth. Injured by wolves, the old man is forced to sit it out (complete with some brilliantly acted and genuinely emotive cutscenes) whilst Lara does her thing, jumping and climbing towards the wolves’ den in order to pick up a vital piece of equipment. This more closely resembled Tomb Raider of old, and although our demonstrator fell a few times, the physics and the way Croft interacted with the environment felt very strong and dynamic.
It’s obvious that there’s going to be a considerable story to tell here and, from the few sequences we’ve seen, there’s scope for a really engaging plot – the way the exposition is delivered is genre leading (certainly up there with Drake’s recent outings) and whilst we’re not expecting every level to be as fresh and original as the ones shown, we have hopes that Crystal Dynamics are up to creating what looks like being one brilliant game.