CVG popped down to Eidos for a lengthy demonstration of the recently revealed Egypt level from the revamped-remake of the first Tomb Raider game. And it's shaping up to be one of the best releases left on the aging PS2.
A quick recap if you missed our original preview of the game late last year; Eidos and Crystal Dynamics, under the beady eye of original Croft creator Toby Gard, have taken all the best parts of the very first Tomb Raider game (released on PlayStation in 1996) and remixing them with Tomb Raider: Legend's control system for anniversary of the original.
The first thing that hit us about the Egypt level were the visuals. Everything looked rock solid and this is a game that's still got a few months of development time left before release. One element Crystal Dynamics wanted to convey in the level, that couldn't be done on PSone, was that of sweltering desert heat and humidity. Dust particles and flies now float around the tombs and there's a blinding glare emanating from the sun as it drapes over the stone statues. We had to ask for the air conditioning to be turned on.
The scale of the level and tombs seen in the original has been increased dramatically. A waterfall that was three blocks high on PlayStation now towers through the level on PS2. Every nook and cranny will need to be explored for those all-important secrets, and even the original 'secret-found' chime is back from the dead. The original whirling inventory system also makes a welcome return from the PlayStation game.
Three new moves have been added to Lara's set since we last saw her in TR: Legend. They're all as fluid and seamless as you'd expect, making for a much more free-flowing tomb raiding experience. The first we were shown was Croft's ability to now shimmy up, down and around poles. She clings to them like a money and can pull herself up and slide down them at will.
The second new move is an extension of the first; she can now jump and balance on the top of these poles. At various points in the demo Lara had to jump across three of four of these pole-tops to reach her destination. Making these very tight little jumps is enough to make your stomach do a summersault but the control system shows no signs of letting you down. If you don't make the jump correctly, you'll get a split second to hit the triangle button so Croft re-balances herself atop the pole. All of these are accompanied by new animations of Croft flailing her arms as legs around as she struggles to find her balance.
Wall running is by far the best of the new additions though. Using the trusty grappling hook (which appeared in the original's FMV sequences, so was deemed OK for the remake) Lara can bolt onto an environment target and run across the wall to the other side of a higher ledge. The possibilities now look endless in terms of how new Lara can traverse the environment around her.
A portion of the level featured several supernatural mummy-enemies, which moved like ferocious animals, but it was nothing the trusty pistols and a lot of dodging and rolling couldn't easily deal with. A bullet-time mechanic is back that has to be charged up before giving you a few seconds to breath and hit your target square in the face. The focus is back on non-human enemies too, which suits the game a lot better than having to shoot mercenaries and the like.
We came across a selection of puzzles in the level that sees you having to scurry around the level to solve them and gain deeper access to the tombs. Most of these were in the original only they're now on a bigger scale. Thankfully they're not necessarily trickier to solve though.