Preview: Tomb Raider Shifts Gear, Gets Shooting
World of war Croft
Tomb Raider has been pitched so far as a kind of harrowing self-defence simulator in which Lara must find the strength to shoot one man in the face (see above). The first several hours of play reveal it's a more straightforward action-adventure in which Lara finds the strength to shoot a great many men in the face (and body, limbs, etc).
Sure enough, it's a retelling and rejigging of Lara Croft's origins story: a "gritty reboot", not least because young Lara is perpetually covered in grit, dirt and bloody grazes. But high tension and genuine scares dissolve when the threat of nasty violence to Lara is replaced by more familiar actual violence enacted by Lara on hordes of enemies.
These enemies are brutal scavengers who've made their home on the mysterious Pacific island where Lara gets shipwrecked with an expeditionary crew. It's implied they're also murderous cultists of some sort, and when Lara's friend Sam is abducted by one of them, it's up to Lara to find her - and also send an SOS signal from a decrepit mountaintop radio tower in an WWII-era military base.
So goes the first chapter of Lara's origins story. Along the way, she is forced to make her harrowing first kill, but the kills come much easier after that, helped along by a choice selection of upgradable guns and new combat abilities conferred by the Brawler branch of the game's skill tree.
Long-time series fans may be wary of the uncharacteristic amount of human killing, but the shooting itself is up to scratch, thanks in part to an unobtrusive automatic cover system. Could this Lara's journey of self-discovery include the realisation she's a natural born killer? (It's "scary how easy it was", she says, describing that first kill to mentor character Captain Roth.)
As well as the guns, Lara picks up a climbing axe, which lets her scale sheer rock faces. Clambering and leaping around the levels - which mix ruined pagodas, wilderness and the aforementioned military base - is fluid fun. She also encounters her first honest-to-goodness tombs: secret chambers containing treasure and intriguing physics puzzles. These new physics elements, such as a see-sawing plane wreck, are Tomb Raider innovations we can get behind.