19 October 2011

The Day Four preview begins with Lara running up to Captain Conrad Roth, her mentor and the only apparent survivor from the ship we've seen so far. The first observation I made about how Lara has developed over the course of the days is immediately by the way that Lara walks and her posture. She looks stronger and more confident, no longer limping and a definite similarity to Tomb Raider Underworld in terms of realism.

Roth is introduced in a cutscene in which the camera angle focuses from his knees up which is extremely effective in showing an awesome fighting pose, and it's my personal favourite camera angle scene from the preview, I may even have to turn it into a background later. Roth is armed with duel pistols against two wolves. There's certainly a nice link between Roth's fight against the wolves as an introduction to his character in the next game, and Lara's fight against the wolves in the introduction to Lara in the original game. I noticed several nice little tributes to the previous games in there, as well as tributes to real life events.

Now, I'm going to be honest, I usually don't like important secondary characters who have a huge involvement in the storyline; I've noticed that the main character doesn't get nearly as much attention as the player wanted and the secondary character is someone who the game wants you to like, but you think they're unpleasant...With that said, as soon as you see Conrad Roth, believe me, everyone will immediately love that character or at the very least thinks he's pretty great. When it was revealed that Roth was going to be on the island with Lara as her mentor, I would think, many of you (like me) must have been a bit unsure about his presence in the game, after all Lara has always been independent. Although after watching the preview of the game, I can say that his presence in it doesn't make Lara more dependent, in fact quite the opposite, Roth acts as a catalyst for Lara's journey from the young vulnerable woman into a gun-wielding Tomb Raider...And this is exactly why I love his character. Karl Stewart (Global Brand Director) mentioned that the character was inspired by Ernest Shackleton, and there was definitely elements of what I read about Shackleton and his voyage in Roth in terms of strength and determination. 

The cutscene continues with Roth defeating the two wolves but he suddenly collapses to the ground in agony. Lara notices the quite gruesome wound on his left leg caused by quite a ferocious animal bite. Lara runs over shouting "ROTH!", but the tone is full of concern, and they they clearly have a strong friendship. He leans against a nearby rock as Lara runs over to him. This is the first glimpse of the impressive facial motion capture, especially for Roth. who is clearly in complete agony. He reveals that the food pack, medical supplies and the transmitter to call for help were taken.

You need bandages, antiseptic, morphine…

Also in the pack…


In a word.

They both know that the injury is too great but they must keep moving to regain the supplies. Lara helps Roth to stand and move, with her taking most of his weight. They manage only a few steps before Roth collapses again, this time he's out cold. 
"Don't do this to me you Yorkshire Bastard!" Lara cries out in desperation while trying to wake up her mentor. The swearing was also addressed in the presentation. Lara won't swear all the time, however because of her situation it's understandable; most of the swearing does come from Lara's desperation combined with frustration. 

The narrative seems to be driven by three factors, all of which makes an appearance in the preview:
  • Cinematic Cutscenes  - Crystal has enhanced the immersion with these by using the camera to fous on the character's body language and face more. Even when characters aren't talking, you can tell by their posture what they're thinking. 
  • Interactive Cutscenes - Whenever these are mentioned, they're not the most welcoming words to people, but in the game I've noticed that they always have a reason behind a certain movement. For example instead of (if you're using the XBOX360) pressing X to climb up a steep incline when Lara is escaping the cave, you have to push the right and left trigger buttons in turn, which represents a similar movement to Lara climbing. 
  • Lara's Monologue - During these points, Lara will remind you of the objective. We can also get a glimpse into what she's thinking and the her opinions which helps build a picture of the new protagonist. 

After realising that Roth wasn't going to wake up anytime soon, escpecially without medical help, Lara knows that the only way her friend is going to survive is if she travels alone to find the pack and transmitter. Lara drags Roth away from the open and into a nearby campsite/hub section for safety. Meagan commented on the voice acting for Lara, the motion capture was recorded at the same time as the voice acting with the motion capture, so afterwards the actress is actually out of breath since she had to pull the weight of a grown man. The target is made clear by another of Lara's monologues as the player once again regains control of the character. She notices a pair of wolf tracks close by imprinted in the sodden dirt, the wolves must have taken it.

 Meagan paused the demo quickly and rotated the camera to show more of the scenery. She points out two specific locations which appear later in the game, a statue and the radio tower. She reveals that everything that you can see on the screen, you can travel to. Crystal are working hard to make sure that there are no invisible walls or jpeg images. Lara walks through an abandoned village, there aren't sacrificed bodies like in the caves, but there's obvious signs of a ritual. For instances a wicker man is slowly burning in a nearby shrine. After Lara travels a short distance, the camera pans up to a nearby wooden house in which we get the first glimpse of one of the wolves on the broken roof of a wooden house. The wolf turns and runs away in the direction of the cave. Meagan explains that there are numerous paths that the player can take including going through the village, climbing on the rooves so the focus is on exploration and adventure...It also means that Stella is going to have a difficult challenge on her hands! The heavy rain was incredibly detailed and really quite beautiful...but not something you would like to be stuck in. Another small detail that added to the realism was the water collecting in puddles, it's something that was small but it's something I really liked. 

Getting to the wolf den looks quite challenging. It's several metres above Lara's starting position and the only thing to really aid you is a couple pieces of wreckage and old constructions which the villagers who once lived in the houses built. During the climb to the den two things become clear. The first is that Lara moves realistically, I not going to say that it was a perfect fluid motion since there's a year left in development and there's still things that need to be polished, but so far it's looking really impressive. The second thing is that Lara's abilities have developed over the past couple of days, she is more familiar and confident with her surroundings as well as her strengths. I think it becomes less of a "Can I make that jump?" and more "What am I going to face after I do that jump?" (not real quotes in the game)

My favourite section of the preview is when Lara goes inside the den. It is very atmospheric and suspenseful. Inside it's dark apart from a luminous red light deep inside, and a loud beeping noise. The light is coming from the transmitter which is resting in what is obviously one of the wolves' beds. As you walk into the den, you can hear a howl, and a quick sudden movement in front of Lara about three metres away, the wolf is now incredibly close. Lara will walk slowly around the cave to avoid making noise. The player is able to walk over and pick up the essential items, and turn around again. 

Lara begins to relax slightly and tells herself that she needs to get to Roth. Her voice, the beeping or the light or the sounds of Lara's footsteps attracts the beast who immediately jumps forwards towards Lara, it grabs her leg before pinning her to the ground. I noticed several people in the room jumping when the wolf appeared, it was actually quite terrifying, especially if you're in a darkened room. To kill the wolf, the player must complete an interactive cutscene. Lara draws a knife and stabs the creature, however it is still dangerous and it is still trying to kill Lara and therefore she stabs it continuously either to fulfil her blood lust that is apparent in the older Lara or (and the more likely reason) out of fear to make sure she would survive. As she stumbles to her feet she whispers to the wolf "I'm sorry, it was you or me."

On the trek back to Roth, we walked through the village to take a proper look at the scenery. From here it is apparent that she is more confident. Yes, she is still incredibly young and frightened, however she's starting to believe more in herself each day and this is clearly portrayed in her gait, her personality and also in her choices. I don't think that the Lara I saw in Day One would voluntarily go into a wolfs den, not armed properly, she just wouldn't be that confident...Although Day One Lara probably had concussion, had been stabbed, and set on fire!

The village looks as though it has just been abandoned, however I have my doubts. The wicker man disturbs me, it looked as though it was on fire, however it could have just been the lighting in that specific section and there was a fire nearby, nevertheless the place did look as though it had been lived in. Or if it is actually deserted, it was abandoned recently, which may mean that there might be a backstory to some of the scavengers in the game. But we'll have to play the final version of the game to find out. 

As Lara reaches Roth another cutscene is triggered. Time has passed, and Roth awakes. Lara is sitting on the opposite side of the fireplace and crosses it to sit next to him. He looks down and noticed that Lara had cleaned the wound and bandaged it. 

Not bad. Where does a young lady like you learn to do a thing like that?

Late shift at The Nine Bells. A wolf’s got nothing on a broken bottle.

I was under the impression that Lara's work in the bar was more of a metaphor than it actually happened in the game, however it appears that she actually did work in a pub. I decided to Google this, and discovered that there's a pub in Sussex, UK, called The Eight Bells, but sadly no Nine Bells.

Roth indicates to the transmitter and tells Lara that they need to get a message out for help. Lara becomes suddenly quiet. The camera focuses on her face, and there's a slight trembling in her lip. He confirms her fears when he states that he's in no condition to climb a cliff, as he hands her a think red climbing axe. There's an important but of dialogue I absolutely love because it foreshadows who Lara is going to become:

You can do this Lara; after all, you are a Croft.

I don’t think I’m that kind of Croft.

Sure you are. You just don’t know it yet.

Then let’s hope I’m a fast learner.

There's a brief pause before she picks it up. She knows what do to do, but at the same time, she's terrified. Determined, she stands up and prepares to climb the cliff, as she walks away from Roth, the screen fades to black and the preview ended.


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