With Rise of the Tomb Raider, Crystal Dynamics has made one key promise to fans — more tombs. At a Square Enix preview event during New York Comic Con, I had a chance to play a brief demo of the game and, sure enough, it took place in a very tomb-like environment. It was described by a representative there as one of the earlier areas of the game, and it showed. In terms of gameplay, the whole sequence played out almost identically to its predecessor’s intro — I pressed up on the analog stick a lot as Lara navigated cracks in the environment, ran and jumped as things collapsed, and solved a simple physics puzzle. I could tell Lara had evolved, but I didn’t get a sense for how her game has.
This is definitely a post-Yamatai Lara, as we see her exploring and tomb raiding out on her own, clearly more resourceful and confident than before. She’s chasing a clue in her father’s work, and she has an evil band of mercenaries on her toes looking for the same secrets she is. It actually feels a lot like Uncharted 2 — complete with a villain that’s nearly interchangeable with Lazarevic. The Lara that responds to his threats is much more of a Hollywood action hero than she was before. You can see the same, more vulnerable Lara show through — it isn’t a betrayal of the character they created in the last game — but she’s certainly grown into more of a badass.
Beyond that I don’t feel like this demo gave me a good sense of what Rise of the Tomb Raider has in store. Clicking in the right stick on the controller highlighted the next place I had to go, and in the interest of time I used it on more than one occasion. The result was that I was moving through the tomb like any other scripted gauntlet you’d expect in an Uncharted game, or the last Tomb Raider. Any sense of discovery or adventure was quickly lost, as I was always traveling down a critical path no matter how awe-inspiring the environment looked.
Some of the last Tomb Raider’s best moments allowed players to backtrack and explore in large zones, hunting for secrets or just hunting. The new game promises more of that, and more secret tombs. A selection of the game’s tombs are optional, as they offer up challenges that may frustrate some players. For me, that’s exciting, and I’ll probably hunt for those more complex and challenging tombs when I finally get my hands on the game.
Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the last Tomb Raider, and I think it ate Uncharted’s lunch in some key ways (combat and exploration), but I also really liked the Tomb Raider games Crystal Dynamics made before that. Those games had more rough edges, poor combat, and they didn’t do anything to advance Lara as a character, but they had some really great tomb raiding. If Crystal Dynamics can meet somewhere in the middle, tone down the combat sequences a bit, keep the new and improved Lara, and provide some honest tomb raiding, they’ll have something really special on their hands. Unfortunately, for this demo, I didn’t really get to see it.