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Previews

Tomb Raider: First hands-on with Lara's ambitious reboot

We play the first two hours of Crystal Dynamics' new adventure

Welcome aboard Lara Croft's ship, the HMS Stereotype. We've got the salty Scottish captain, the nerdy computer expert with the thick-rimmed glasses and ironic t-shirt, the spiritual Māori guy, and the snooty, pig-headed professor who brags about his two PHDs.

They're filming a reality TV show about an archaelogical expedition, but the ship crashes on a mysterious island and Lara and her crew of caricatures are split up. We played the opening two hours of the game, in which Lara learns how to survive in the jungle, hunts for food, meets the sinister denizens of the island, and kills about a hundred people.

The first time it happens (in a scene that recently caused some controversy), she's visibly distraught - as anyone who's just been forced to kill someone would be - but minutes later she's merrily blowing away waves of bad guys without a glimmer of remorse.

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Up front, we'll say this: we don't know if the first two hours of Tomb Raider reflect the rest of the game, but we spent a lot of time crouching behind waist-high blocks of concrete, shooting at people. Weirdly, though, Lara will duck behind objects to avoid fire, but she can't lock to them - nor can she pin against walls or lean out from corners.

So even though many set-pieces are designed exactly like a cover shooter, complete with conveniently placed chunks of scenery to cower behind, there's no cover system to speak of. It's almost as if Crystal Dynamics were trying to distance themselves from Uncharted, resulting in a game with something of an identity crisis.

The levels we played were long, winding, linear trails, occasionally opening up into larger hub areas. Most of the time we were just following a path, which didn't exactly evoke the feeling of being lost in a vast, untamed jungle. It reminds us of the claustrophobic forests in Remedy's Alan Wake: a huge, dense environment, but only one way through it.

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The open areas are better, with classic Tomb Raider-style platforming puzzles, and the island itself looks stunning. The rain-lashed temples and shadowy, torchlit jungles are brilliantly atmospheric, and the rusted remnants of World War 2 bunkers paint a vivid picture of its history. It's a fascinating setting, but we hope there's more freedom to explore it later in the game.

Our biggest concern is that it doesn't really feel like Tomb Raider. It's a good action game, but that's not what we want from Lara Croft. We've yet to experience that feeling of entering a huge chamber and wondering how the hell we're going to reach the top, or being baffled by a complex puzzle. We encountered a few entertaining physics puzzles, but Lara's survival instinct mode, which highlights important objects with a telltale glow, made them too easy.

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