Not-So Uncharted Territory: Tomb Raider Hands-On Impressions

Lara Croft has had quite a bit of gossip surrounding her ever since the first trailer for her big reboot was revealed; most notably concerning if a Tomb Raider game in this day and age be able to succeed in a genre ruled by the high king himself, Nathan Drake. Problem? People seem to be judging this based on how different Crystal Dynamic’s iteration will be from Naughty Dog’s kingpin. Solution? Don’t! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, molds don’t have to be broken for a great game to emerge from the proverbial ashes; especially when it’s a reboot of a franchise that has spent quite a bit of time in ashes. After spending some time with the game I can say with confidence that Tomb Raider is in actuality strikingly similar to an Uncharted title in several ways; this however is not necessarily a bad thing.

First thing's first, if there are still doubts at this point whether Lara can be a successful leading lady, then it’s time for those still marred by this year’s ridiculous controversy to toss Halo back into your Xbox and accept the limitations of your reason. Nothing upset me more hearing complaints from others coming off of the demo at New York Comic-Con about the aura of weakness and inexperience Lara exuded during every cut scene. Of course most of the complaints weren’t worded so eloquently. It’s actually quite a shame that this seemed to steal attention from the wonderful animations of Lara’s movements and physiological reactions whether shivering from the cold in her struggle to start a fire or disemboweling a deer with an arrow in what was very obviously her first time ever doing such a thing. I guess the general belief going around is that men are born with the knowledge of how to look cool when doing everything for the first time, and do it perfectly.

The fact of the matter is this is an origins story and every character deserves the opportunity for development, especially when we all know what the transformation eventually becomes. No protagonist is born a star (suppose this will be put to the test once Ninja Theory’s DmC is finally released), they rise from humble beginnings; those who do not must either be very special cases or are the ones that fail to be dynamic enough to fill the shoes of a relatable lead. Lara questioning her capabilities when she finds herself alone and unprepared in the wilderness is neither degrading nor chauvinistic, it’s human; the idea that because she is a woman makes it either of the aforementioned misconceptions is the real ignorance here. I would however like to meet all the gamers out there who would seemingly not crawl up in a fetal position if they found themselves surrounded by murderers on an isolated island with nothing but sticks and deer to survive on.

Getting back on track – falling and tumbling down steep cliffs, leaping from trees to recover primitive projectile launchers from hanging corpses, and scaling large dangling airplanes about to plummet to its mechanical demise; Lara has either been playing Uncharted games or she has simply discovered the re-invigoration a younger age and a new look can provide a leading lady. It was all but inevitable that those exhilarating tense moments and grandiose set pieces would make their way into the world of Tomb Raider. Once you experience a bacon cheeseburger, it’s damn hard to go back to regular cheeseburgers; so this has become about how many equally exciting or perhaps even more exciting “big” moments Crystal Dynamics can deliver to set Lara on a level worthy of a Drake rival. The controls are amazingly similar and the camera angles as accommodating, I was able to traverse the hanging airplane rather easily on my first try simply by envisioning I was playing an Uncharted game. The only real difference is hearing the aches and moans of a female protagonist. What to take away from this is simple: If you liked these moments in Uncharted, chance are you’ll like them in Tomb Raider.

Some of the most remarkable aspects about the current state of the game stems from the term “design”. The quality of the stage design and the overall ambiance of locations when paired with the impressive sound design truly delivers an immersive setting. As beautiful as the swaying of tree leaves and the unique dichotomy of serenity and strife that steady rainfall can inspire are on their own, they are only half as effective at conveying the appropriate feelings without the whistling song of the wind and the pitter-patter of the raindrops on each rock and blade of grass. Luckily, the Tomb Raider demo showcased its understanding of this probably better than anything else it achieved. My time spent at the Square-Enix booth at New York Comic-Con was a better usage of a high-end headset then the majority of the hours I’ve put in on my Call of Duty sessions. Do I really need to hear 10 year olds scream obscenities at me in super stereo anyway?

Now in the interest of fairness, we should probably take a look at what wasn’t particularly spectacular. Needless to say while there wasn’t much that was terrible there was enough that felt like it was only there to satisfy the protocol of the genre; specifically the combat. Not that anyone was expecting sick God of War style combos or even the super solid mechanics of Red Dead Redemption and Uncharted’s third-person shooting but feathering a deer with a bow and arrow just doesn’t feel as fun as it could be. A big part of the fun for any shooter I play is finding my killing groove with any new weapon I pick up; while I can’t speak for actual guns with bullets since no such weapons were available during the demo, the piercing impact of an arrow is not nearly as satisfying as it should be. The aiming is steady enough to take down a wide animal, but I can’t help but feel like I’d have a harder time pinpointing human limbs.

Using the objective marker to help guide you to where you must go could certainly be a little more clear and accurate. While the light it emits is obvious in and of itself, it really doesn’t become visible unless the right angle is realized and the distance between Lara and point B isn’t too far apart. While it was relatively painless getting mixed-up when I couldn’t locate the marker due to the stage design, I don’t predict that will serve as a permanent saving grace later in the game if this kind of difficulty continues. Of course if you’ve a good sense of direction and acclimate to maps well enough, this might not be as much of a hindrance to you.

All in all nothing about this demo really proved to me that the Tomb Raider reboot does not deserve a chance. When it comes to a game emblazoned by so much uncertainty it’s refreshing to be pleasantly surprised as opposed to sorely disappointed. If people can stay focused on the product for what it is intended to be, I don’t see Crystal Dynamics fizzling out.Whether Lara Croft can once again become a significant household name again however remains to be seen. I for one cannot wait until March 5th of next year to see if things get shaken up in the realm of action adventure.

Post written by Senior Staff Writer Matt J. Randisi. Questions for the author? Send an email to Follow him on Twitter: @SaveUsMatt.

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