Lara is lost, injured, and confused. She doesn’t know where she is or how she’s going to make her way out of the situation she finds herself in. All she knows is that her plane crashed and that she woke up bound upside down in a cave. She’s in a bad place and she knows it. What we were shown of the all-new Tomb Raider was much more than an escape from captivity, it was a fight to survive.
As Lara fights to survive, there’s a certain air to things. It doesn’t feel right. Nothing is certain. For all she knows, she could be the only one left alive. She can’t think that way though, she has to keep going at whatever cost. This doesn’t seem to be something that she’s had any experience with before, but I’d be more worried if she had. It is so shockingly real and involved. There’s a feeling that this is how the player would react if they were put in a situation like this.
At the end of the demo shown during the Xbox conference last year, we saw Lara escape her captor’s hideout just as it exploded into pieces. Our behind-closed-doors demo picked up right where that left off. Lara is hurt and broken. She stumbles around, hoping to head in the right direction toward the downed plane in hopes that she might find some of her fellow passengers waiting there for her. She isn’t a jungle explorer, so she has a bit of trouble exploring the world. She tries her best, but things don’t always work out. She slips and falls down a stream, squirming and struggling to stay above the rushing current. Time slows as we see a dam of tree branches covering the stream up ahead, just waiting to impale Lara. She pulls out her shotgun and blasts a hole in the dam for her to slip through. This happens multiple times on the way down. She slides off the end of the stream, landing hard on the rocks below. Crying out, her pain comes across so directly to the player, you feel the consequences and severity of the situation presented to you.
It’s beginning to become dark, Lara must find food and shelter for the night. Before she can find shelter, she finds a man lynched in a tree. She works up the courage to climb up and grab the bow dangling from his body. Luckily for her, there are plenty of deer nearby. She quickly dispenses one and puts it down, expressing her sorrow. She guts the animal in a surprisingly efficient manner and returns to the peak of the stream where she has set up base camp. She has become exceptionally skilled with her bow, firing off shots with extreme accuracy and speed; even looting the corpses to replenish her arrows.
There’s always multiple ways to find out where you need to go, there’s checkpoint markers but there is also simple environmental visual indicators. If you don’t want to be looking at checkpoints all the time, you can easily find your way back to the base camp by following the river to the top. It’s interesting that all roads lead to the high point, her base camp, where she feels safe. Well, safe enough. She sets in for the night, falling asleep to the sounds of her radio scanning for communications and the rain of the wild.
As she wakes, she hears a familiar voice coming from the radio. There are other survivors, and they are trying to make contact. Both Lara and the player can breathe easy, there’s help. But that’s too easy, it’s never that easy. The man on the radio doesn’t offer much solace or help. Simply providing Lara with the knowledge that there are other people out there – some good, some bad. She sets off toward the position that the man said they were meeting at, hoping that things can finally be over, that she can move on.
She comes across two other survivors, a friend of hers and some mysterious man. She can finally breathe easy, she’s among friends, safe and sound. She seems to be a bit sceptical of the man but her friend isn’t. Something is afloat and she doesn’t feel right about the situation. As she starts to voice her concern, the man takes a knife to her friend’s throat, holding her hostage as he moves away and out of Lara’s sight. Again, she’s all alone and more worried then ever.
There aren’t many games that can portray raw emotion as well as Tomb Raider seems to. Sure, she may moan a bit much, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the situation at hand has been presented through a medium that often struggles with narrative design and does so in a way that doesn’t compromise gameplay, but actively encourages it as a way to further progress the narrative. Tomb Raider is excitingly beautiful and challenges the qualms of a female protagonist in a situation as dire as this with devastating ups-and-downs that have you feeling every twist of the knife constantly destroying Lara’s hope.
Tomb Raider is due to release next year on Xbox 360, PC and PS3. You can pre-order a copy here (PS3), here (360) or here (PC).