Previews

Tomb Raider: 21, Broken, frightened and lost...

Crystal Dynamics rebuilds Lara for a new generation

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Crystal Dynamics' genius is to use things we already fear. This opener is beautifully claustrophobic - all nose-high air gaps in flooded tunnels, coffin-sized holes with visibly sagging roofs and hold-your-breath slots in thick curtains of rock. Lara Croft's newly lithe movement works brilliantly here, as her body bends around utterly solid granite and her hands trail across rough surfaces, sighing as they go.

HARD CHOICES
Even in this escape there are pauses for puzzles, and while there's only one solution there are now various ways to achieve that result. 2D prompts float in the world (very Heavy Rain) near usable, burnable or destructible things, but it's likely they'll disappear after the 'tutorial' stage is over.

And this is the very beginning we're seeing: Karl Stewart makes it clear this is not 'the combat' we're looking at. This quick-time button-press stuff is confined almost exclusively to the game's opening. Gunplay (and arrow-play) will follow later when we've all got used to seeing the newly vulnerable Lara struggle.

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It's only 65 percent complete and not due until next year, but we can already say without doubt that Tomb Raider can fight, and possibly beat, Uncharted 2. But that's been out for a year and half. What about Uncharted 3, surely TR's only natural predator? "I think we can coexist," says Stewart of the pair, echoing George W Bush's famous proclamation about humans and fish, which was of course wrong.

"They're out this year, we've already announced we're not coming out in 2011, so it's not like we'll be going head to head. And [Uncharted] is a different experience, more of a pulpy, adrenaline driven experience where you're... more drawn through the story than with the elements of choice we're going to give. We'll be a very different experience to that."

This is, we feel, Stewart's polite way of saying Uncharted is linear. Tomb Raider is not open world, but nor is it linear like before - it's based on a series of vast 'hubs,' where the only things between you and any given point are the gear and skills you have. 'Gear-gating,' they call it.

SURVIVE THIS
Consequently, as you explore you develop more talents and can reach areas you couldn't at first, leading you into an intimate knowledge of the island. As much as we love Uncharted, its beauty is untouchable, its detail incidental - it constantly passes by. Tomb Raider's approach (borrowed from Arkham Asylum, which borrowed it from Nintendo's Metroid before that) offers far greater immersion and, consequently, meaning. The island is stuffed with collectibles, salvage (for crafting new weapons) and secrets, too.

Tellingly, Stewart cites influences beyond gaming. "We look at many things," he says. "Things like Lost - Lost was great way to have a blank canvas of mystery and tell this emotive story of characters and how they interact. Movies... you look at the escape sequence of Descent with the girls fighting to survive, there are emotions there people feel close to.

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"The other side to it is real situations, the Alan Ralston (127 Hours) type - he put himself in a very precarious situation and had to chop his arm off. There's something a human being shouldn't have to go through. We're trying to put the player in a situation where they feel an attachment to a character, so there's a psychological aspect where you feel like, wow, even she's battling with it. So would I."

On this evidence, we think you'll want to as well. Anniversary and Underworld were great, but they were born in 1996. This rebirth is strikingly a product of 2011. It's taken 15 years to truly break Lara Croft down and build her back up, but having seen Crystal Dynamics' work, we can say she's already infinitely stronger

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