23 June 2015

Disclaimer: Transportation, lodging, and E3 badge provided by Crystal Dynamics and Xbox as a part of the E3 2015 Ambassador Program

Something that I want to share with you today are my demo notes. They were written throughout the behind close doors demo and written in full at 3am the following day, just so that existed in a format which would be a little more understandable when I return to them after the show. I'll have a better article with a more complete and professional impression on the site soon.

So a little context: Tuesday 23rd marked the first day of E3 where we could travel to the show floor and see the Tomb Raider booth. We arrived early to beat the crowds and got an exciting look into Lara's next adventure. Inside the booth we saw two demos; an extended version of the trek in Siberia (which is online now!) and a new demo set in Syria in which Lara finds a tomb....

Again, these notes are rough and the proper article is coming soon, so please forgive me for any awkwardly sounding sentences.

Demo Notes:

We had Exhibitor badges which allowed us to enter the show floor before it was opened to the press, this meant that we could catch the Rise of the Tomb Raider demo before the queues. The Tomb Raider section was located in the Microsoft booth this year, and it looked incredible. You may have already seen photos online, but the demo actually took place inside a structure mirroring the bear cave Lara comes across in the demo. It had a rocky exterior covered in ice with snow covered trees dotted around it. It was even more impressive when Jenn, dressed in her Lara Croft gear, was doing action poses in front.

Inside the bear cave was a series of seats with noise cancelling headphones, all facing a pretty large screen. Yesterday we actually saw a second scene from Rise of the Tomb Raider, and things got intense. We were joined by Richard Briggs, Michael Brinker and Jason Botta.

So, to set the scene, Lara is driving through the desert with a guide, Northwest Border of Syria to be precise, and she has paid someone to take her to a place. The first thing we see is a scorpion running across the sand, a shot which reminded me quite a bit of The Last Revelation. During the drive we learn that Lara will be entering a war zone and that she was heavily recommended not to go. Suddenly a helicopter rolls into view and our protagonist catches on that something... isn't quite right. She's sensible to doubt it; turns out that our trustworthy guide had betrayed her, and sold information of Lara's destination and whereabouts to a party who paid more. The helicopter begins to fire on the jeep, killing the driver, and the loss of control causes the vehicle to roll and catch fire. Lara escapes through a broken window, obviously shaken by the experience but still determined and stubborn enough to continue her journey. At this point in the game, Lara knows that something is chasing her and she is in a tight locked race towards the finishing line, she doesn’t know it’s Trinity.

She’s in Syria on a quest to find a hidden tomb, referred to as the Prophet's Tomb. (Not quite sure if that’s the official name or description.) After her experience on Yamatai, Lara is searching for new discoveries that explains the world in a new way that she couldn't imagine before. After reading through her father's research, she finds a clue which leads her to Syria.

The path to find the tomb is both dangerous and beautiful; for the game it feels like Crystal wants to create an adventure that is both majestic, feeding that adventurous need, but also deadly. This is seen in numerous sections throughout the gameplay footage.

The path takes Lara up a cliff side. (This game really likes vertical movement across the terrain. :) ) Immediately you can tell that the team has had improvements on that front too. It’s the little details which didn’t exist in the previous game that adds that little bit of realism to Lara’s movements and the feeling that she is trying to maneuvered the landscape. Small things like a small leg kick to create momentum and just new moves (especially if you’re scaling the wall diagonally) that looks great.

For completionists out there, collectibles are back in this game with both resources you can find (which you can use to improve and also craft new gear) and treasures. They can be found off the beaten path in worlds you can get lost in so you’re promised a new level of exploration with the title.

So, I want to talk about a new feature which Crystal added to the game which I thought was pretty cool. In the gameplay teaser, you may remember Lara finds a set of engravings. She has some knowledge but she can’t actually translate them. To unlock that ability, the player must find scriptures, paintings, etc. to improve Lara’s skill. This also expands the mythology surrounding the tombs. It’s similar to scavenging for gears or resources gameplay mechanic, but I think it’s a pretty cool way to adding context to the locations.

Lara’s journey takes her through a tight opening which juxtaposes the large open tombs in the game later. Apart from Lara’s glowstick there is absolutely no light, and the area is infested with scorpions and filled with skeletons. Once the passage opens up a little, more bodies will come into view; armed soldiers against religious pilgrims as Lara describes. There was a battle.

A little further on in the passageway, we get our first glimpse of underwater swimming as part of a physics puzzle; one which focuses on creating a bridge to reach a raised area on the other side of the room. Part of the solution involves using the ice axe to break down a wall, holding water, which raises the level to where Lara can almost reach it. At this point Lara just floats on top, but the actual underwater swimming section comes just afterwards and it looks pretty impressive. The last time we saw that gameplay style in a main TR game it was in 2008 with Underworld, and things have improved a lot since then. From a personal point of view, Lara’s movements and the underwater light effects just feel a lot more real and the experience more immersive.

“Danger is around every turn” we’re told as Lara walks further into the cavern, wading through water. She doesn’t notice until it’s too late that she’s triggered a trap, as her foot is captured, a spiked instrument swings down towards her. In slow motion the player must destroy the weapon just in time.

The demo concludes soon after as Lara finally discovers the tomb she’s been looking for. “We made it Dad” she says, staring at the ruin in from of her. The atmosphere in this section is very different from the Siberia. It’s of course the same game, but at the same time it’s such a wonderful contrast because there’s a great variety in the locations available in the game.


1 comment:

  1. I've read a few accounts of this Syria demo and I'm really, REALLY excited to see this footage for myself. Sounds like classic TR fare to me. :-)

    The only thing I'm a little disappointed with is the fact that Lara seems to be following in her father's footsteps once again. This was one of the things I disliked about the TR film and the Legend-Underworld games as it negates the "playing for sport" attitude of Classic Lara...