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E3 2012: Tomb Raider Eyes-On: A Welcome Controversial Return

Posted by on June 18, 2012 at 9:14 am

While the others were swayed by Splinter Cell: Blacklist’s slick wham-bam action, Tomb Raider endeared to me. In the heart of the Square-Enix booth, we were secreted away to see a portion of the game that didn’t feature all of the Lara Croft body torture that the conference displayed. What I saw inspired me to really give this game a shot after I’d largely ignored the franchise for the past sixteen years.

I think we should cut to the chase: this is obviously a completely new, controversial take on a new Lara Croft who ‘can’t stand tombs’. Lara is no longer the aristocratic spelunker with the ornate mansion, but rather a young woman who’s making due on the ragged shoreline after her ship runs asunder. And she’s vulnerable, taking tons of Jackass-levels of abuse in scene after scene. As a male-dominated gaming media industry surveying a male-dominated gaming industry, the response has blared that developer Crystal Dynamics has some idol of misogyny radiating creepy vibes throughout their office, going so far as to force Lara into a situation where a rape is implied. Now I don’t know who’s really to blame for the misogynistic barps, the media or Square’s poor portrayal of Lara’s plight, but I don’t see Tomb Raider’s treatment as malicious, but realistic. Crash landing on a strange Pacific island where some of your fellow passengers aren’t “WE GOT A GUN AND WE SHOOT YOU NOW” thugs, but rather believeable ones with crummy ideals, it makes sense that a beautiful, young, and incredibly naive Lara Croft is going to be taken advantage of, just as in real-life.

Setting aside, this isn’t the Tomb Raider you’ve been playing for years anyway, thank God. This franchise saw a reboot only a few years ago on this very same generation of consoles. How far can you refine the ‘sexy Indiana Jones’ idea and original PlayStation-selling gameplay? Avoid that rock! Dodge those spikes! Jump those ledges! In this latest game, actions you take allow you to gain experience, which in the context of a new Lara makes 100% sense. Lara retrieves a bow from a corpse dangling from a tree, then uses it to hunt a deer. By boosting her talents, she could then retrieve the arrow from that downed deer. The portion we saw was very cinematic; the demo had been held on a title card with Lara peering over the bay at her busted ship while we filed into the cramped theater. As it began, the camera shifted to reveal we’d been staring at the game the whole time.

It’s not hard to see that Square wants Tomb Raider to be a raw experience and with the time they’ve put into it (probably with resources that couldn’t have been granted before the Square acquisition), Tomb Raider is also super polished for a game that’s still almost a year out. During our demo, they kept bringing us back to base camps, where your skills can be modified. Based on the vertical slice provided, this isn’t an open-ended game by any means, but it’s an interesting mechanic. While slight role-playing elements have made their way into most any game these days, it’s a pleasure to see them here. I look forward to checking this game out in March.

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