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Tomb Raider preview: Bows, bear-traps, and breakdowns in our stunning hands-on demo

The bloody rebirth of a heroine...

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Inside the cavern there's a locked door. Of course there is. Lara doesn't have anything to pry it open with, but in the next room there's what seems like a butcher's chamber with a flimsy looking axe resting on a table next to some meat. Sinister, but an opportunity nonetheless. We pick up the axe and use it to crack the lock off the door, before stumbling back to the surface and into the next area.

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Here she meets up with one female friend, who is promptly kidnapped by a sinister man with a crutch. As she gives chase, she gets her leg caught in a bear-trap. The wind starts to howl, lightning flashes, and there are wolves. They leap out of the foliage in front of her, giving us split-seconds to finish them with an arrow to the face. Or knee. Whatever works.

It feels a little too scripted to take seriously, and she walks off the leg-crushing bear-trap within seconds, breaking our immersion briefly. It's a fine line for the developers at Crystal Dynamics to tread. They're striving for realism, to make Lara feel like a vulnerable human being, but at the same time they need to make the game fun. Imagine if you broke your leg missing the first jump in the game, then spent the next few in-game days hobbling - it just wouldn't work.

"Looking back at the original Tomb Raider games - Lara dies quite horribly, gets impaled a couple of times," says Stewart. "So we're not going to forget that it's what Tomb Raider was about in the early days and we'll bring that through now. It's more of a case that we want to present the game in as real a way as possible and have some fun with bringing those intense experiences to the fray but not forgetting that you can, in those situations, die at any moment... and pretty horribly".

As Lara's friends sprint ahead of her, she finds herself in a new hub area. More dreamcatchers, more diaries, and - importantly - a massive stone door that needs a crank to be rotated before it'll open. Lara tries using her axe, but it's too flimsy. Hmm, if only there was a way of upgrading the axe to make it stronger. We search the hub for 'salvage', offing a few wolves in the process.

After reaching the arbitrary number of 50 salvage (what's the unit of salvage?) we're ready to upgrade the axe, and huddle up to the nearest campfire to complete the work. This is the standard method of levelling up in Tomb Raider. By returning to a base-camp Lara can spend XP (earned from, well, everything you'd expect - killing Bambi, completing puzzles, bagging those moreish dreamcatchers) on survival skills, like the ability to recover arrows from dead animals / humans or spot items clearly during 'instincts mode'.

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Hunted down

Axe upgraded, Lara makes her way through the massive stone door (mashing the A button to crank it open). Carrying a firey torch, she leans to look at ancient objects as she wanders up a gentle slope leading up to the next area. She comments on their historical significance; it's a nice touch. Peaceful. However, there's more violence just around the corner, and this is the motherlode.

During the next cutscene Lara surrenders herself to a bunch of armed men, who have already bagged the remaining crew-members from her wrecked ship. She's bound by the wrists and lead to a village, which these soldiers are burning. Because they're evil, we assume. Lara tries to escape, and in the kafuffle her captive friends scatter.

As the grunts leave to track their escaped captives (we hear screams as many of them are shot in the back - it's grim), Lara makes a break for it, hands tied. This rudimentary stealth section is incredibly cinematic, but feels scripted even as you duck behind low walls and take cover in a smoking hut to avoid detection.

Control is again wrestled away from the player, as Lara is finally found and yanked out of her hiding place by the leader of this small group of bandits. But she fights back when the gun's against her head, via a series of QTEs that see her knee her attacker in the balls, turn his own gun on him, and shoot him in the face, leaving her - as we started this preview - covered in blood and staring at a very different, very promising new world for Tomb Raider.

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