Despite being the Tomb Raider game to offer you the most freedom in where to go and what to do, Crystal Dynamics’ reboot feels claustrophobic. It has an overarching sense of desperation: a feel that Lara is only just figuring things out, and is about as far as she can logically get from the super-capable archaeologist adventurer that she’s been since her inception.
The demo on show at the Eurogamer Expo picked up where previous demos ended, with Lara emerging out of a nightmarish cave system after being abducted by the islands denizens. She’s on a cliff face, staring out across jagged, sharp rocks, dozens of shipwrecks littering the coastline. So you start to move, because there’s no other option.
It’s here that the thought behind this reboot starts to come to light; giving you a very simple list of tasks, but ones that are absolutely essential to Lara’s survival. It’s raining, you’re on the coast, and everything is getting increasingly cold and slippery. So you need shelter, and you need warmth. Which means some sort of roof over your head, and some sort of fire.
Once those are taken care of: Lara huddled under an overhang on the cliff face having reignited an old campfire, she curls up and goes to sleep.
One small task accomplished, the next most pressing surges to the top of the to do list. Pangs of hunger force her awake. Mercifully the rain has abated.
That means hunting. While I’m sure Lara is perfectly capable of eating berries and nuts, I don’t think she’s been educated on the potentially poisonous greenery in anonymous Pacific islands. So after luckily stumbling across a bow and arrow, you track down and kill a deer.
This isn’t Skyrim, and that deer isn’t just a random critter that you can scoop empty of body parts to sell or cook. Lara is forced to put the suffering doe out of its misery. The whole scene is a little unpleasant: clearly striving for something more approaching reality than the typical nonchalance towards death that you find in games.
More than anything, it’s encouraging. This focus on the steps that Lara took to become the heroine that we know her as today demonstrates a maturity that isn’t just about showing blood, gore, and sex.
Hopefully ‘shooting goons’ stays similarly in low priority. When you’re spending so much time setting a tone of desperation and survival, suddenly emerging into your typical action hero is only ever going to be incongruous with the rest of the game.
But what we do know is that, at least for a section of the game, it’s going to be engaging parts of your brain that aren’t usually tickled by games. In this brief section on display, by emphasising survival, Tomb Raider follows part of the path laid down by Stalker, Minecraft and, recently, DayZ - albeit in a more linear, scripted, directed way.
It’s a great slice of game. Tomb Raider will be released on the 5th March 2013.