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Preview: Tomb Raider mixes puzzle, platforming and survival into one, gorgeous experience

Tomb Raider Screenshot - Tomb Raider - E3

Though CES isn't usually known for having many video games on display, there were a few that made the trip – including a particular private suite hosted by Square Enix.  There, the company hosted an event that showcased Tomb Raider multiplayer for the first time (which we covered in a previously posted hands-on report), as well as single player kiosks.  After taking a few fresh sessions of pwning friends, we decided to settle down and check out the first two levels of the game, getting a better idea of how young Lara Croft's perilous journey began.

And began in a good way, it did not.  Following the crash of the boat that she's riding around in, Lara finds no sign of the rest of her crew, and is soon captured by mercenaries, who tie her up and leave her dangling upside down.  This introduced some puzzle-based gameplay to Tomb Raider, as you have to sway back and forth with a tied-up Lara until you manage to catch fire to a post, then eventually yourself, before getting free and landing on the ground.

Lara

Lara, slightly injured from the fall, then begins looking around the cavern, not trying to get the attention of the ruthless killers roaming above.  She manages to grab a torch, lighting up certain objects to get them out of her way so she can keep moving.  At one point, she ends up just below her neck up in water, and the way she carries the torch through this part of the stage was quite extraordinary, showing Crystal Dynamics' sheer attention to detail.

Another puzzle then came into play, where Lara was faced with what appears to be an impregnable wall.  However, utilizing objects that are floating down the stream, thus giving her access to a small cart hanging above, she can jump on board and set about opening up a gate that contains three small explosive barrels.  She can then jump over, push the barrels down the swivel (without running into a waterfall, thus extinguishing the flames to ignite them) and destroy the wall.

Lara

We won't lie, the puzzle parts of the game are great.  However, a word of warning – this opening level does have some button-mashing involved, and if you're not quick enough, or don't have the right timing, you're dead.  One has you trying to escape the grasp of a would-be assailant; another has you scrambling up the side of a ridge as the walls come crumbling around you, desperate to reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, after getting out of the cavern, the thick of the story begins to take shape, as Lara gathers supplies, rests alongside a campfire that she makes, and then proceeds to capture a bow from a nearby corpse, simply by climbing a tree and reaching out to him, bringing him – and her – crashing to the ground.  From there, she's able to find arrows and go on the hunt for a nearby deer, as she's starving following her wreck.  The game teaches you the fine mechanics of how to shoot with your bow and arrow, a tactic that will certainly come in handy as you run into more lethal forces over the course of the game.

Throughout this journey, elements of Lara's classic style of play came back, though there are points that it relies more on up-to-date Uncharted-style scampering to get around.  But not to worry, the controls feel great regardless, and the presentation is really something to see, far more in-depth than Crystal Dynamics has gone with Tomb Raider before – and yes, that's counting Legend.  The audio is good too, with Camilla Luddington proving her worth as the young, sometimes terrified, Lara.

Tomb

We've only just scratched the surface of Tomb Raider, and we'll let you know how the rest of it fares when it hits stores on March 5th for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.

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Robert Workman
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