E3 2011 First Look: Tomb Raider

By John Walker on June 13th, 2011 at 1:24 pm.

There's so much sea around, you'd think she could have a bath.

The game I was most interested to see this year was Tomb Raider. Of everything on show, this was the one I was most intrigued by, based on Crystal Dynamics’ stellar record with the license so far, and the dark, gloomy tone that’s promised. Potential levels high. Which means I feel strange coming away from the demo a lot more concerned. Mostly by quick time events.

Don’t write this off. Good grief, that would be madness. Crystal Dynamics’ record is stunning, with three really stupendous Tomb Raider games, and the utterly brilliant Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light top-down spin-off. There’s a reason to have trust in that team. And it wouldn’t be the first time an E3 demo was completely unrepresentative of the final game. But boy oh boy did Lara spend a lot of time tapping X.

A 360 demo (as most things were this year, in a surprisingly ill-advised move by most companies – just play the PC version with a 360 controller!) saw Lara brutally wounded and utterly miserable as she crawled and squeezed her way through caverns, before emerging into an equally brutal and grim outside world. All good. If only she could have navigated most of it without hammering at joypad buttons.

In between the QTEs was a lot of exciting content. Clearly a Tomb Raider game needs to include two things: leaping and puzzle solving. And both were in full effect. And both were liberated of their previous confines. One sequence we were shown showed Lara trapped in a tight cave on one side of a pile of wooden rubble. Behind her was a waterfall, and behind that a source of fire. So the puzzle was getting the fire past the torrent of water. This takes on board the fact that things that should catch fire, catch fire. Carry a torch, Lara could burn things around her, with some realistic fire modelling. And getting the fire past the water meant manipulating objects using realistic physics, counter-weighting items, swinging objects about, and so on. While there was clearly only one solution on offer, the route to discovering it – as linear as it might have been – felt like improvisation. And there were dead ends too, potential solutions that didn’t work out.

This was somewhat tempered by some absolutely daft symbols floating above everything that could be set on fire. Hopefully this was optional, or just for the early stages of the game, because not only did it look ridiculous, but seemed to spoil half the fun of solving the puzzle.

Throughout all this, Lara was clutching at a gruesome wound in her side. Having been impaled on a stake at the start of the level, she did not immediately get better, but instead staggered around, one arm pressed against the hole, clearly in pain. A scripted wound, certainly, but a demonstration of how much less cartoonish this incarnation of Lara is going to be. And apparently they’ve recorded very many such animations for injuries, meaning Lara won’t spend her whole time in that spritely sprint.

The demo then moved to four days later, and Lara only seemed more miserable. Her narration was deeply depressed and hopeless, her time on the island clearly not a happy one. The 21 year old runs over to another survivor of the shipwreck that brought her there, his leg crushed and dangerously wounded, and sets off to find him aid. Which means it’s finally time to see some running and jumping. Which looks splendid. Things look far looser, more free and less prescribed. We were promised that the routes taken were one of many, and indeed it seemed it was freeform climbing in parts. Lara leaps from pole to branch superbly, and rather pleasingly can now leap from dangling to turn one-eighty and land running.

As in every other game in development this year, Lara has “survival instinct”, which means at the press of a button she can see what is of use to her in any scene. Hopefully this will replace the silly symbols once tutoring is over. And in cluttered locations when you’re bemused, it seems like a useful skill to have.

Combat is especially violent. A fight with a dog was, yet again, QTE-based, but it was remarkably unpleasant. “It was me or him,” she says apologetically after she kicks the creature to death. “Lara doesn’t kill for sport,” explains the demonstrator, “But she does it to survive.”

Perhaps the biggest change in this reboot of the series is Lara’s stats. Along with hubs in the world from which missions are launched (which will change as you progress, along with the time of day and the weather, and so on, and also introduce fast travel between them), Lara has aspects which you can choose to improve. Survival Skills let you upgrade her personal attributes (not that, cheeky), improving her instinct, health, and so on. And when in a hub you can also employ her Salvage skill, which lets her craft new gear and upgrade her current tools. Those are some pretty major changes for the series, and we’ve not seen any of them at work yet.

So here we’ve got this amazing-sounding Tomb Raider game: open, hub-based island, focus on survival, brutal, cruel world, and more fluid, able acrobatics from the heroine. And then we’ve got the demo we saw, that showed about thirteen seconds of all that, and a worrying volume of watching someone hammer the B button on their controller so the unconnected action on screen could take place. We want the first game, we don’t want the second game. Which it will eventually be, at this stage, is unclear.

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63 Comments »

  1. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    I’d bathe her, and in the game

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      Now that I have really read through it, I am actually quite convinced I want this one, even day one purchase maybe, as long as it’s the first one, not the second one. I don’t want that one.. I don’t think anyone does.

      I haven’t played a tomb raider game since PSone went out of fashion. Will be nice to remnice by playing a good well made reboot!

    • westyfield says:

      I’ve never played a Tomb Raider game, but I’m quite excited by this one. Bedazzled skulls and evil twins are all well and good, but the survival aspect of this game is looking like a fun time.

    • Betamax says:

      Exactly the same opinion here Tiki. Really exciting reboot… If they get it right (and choose option one).

  2. ran93r says:

    Stats and Crafting = Yes
    QTE’s = Oh dear god, just stop already.

    • MartinNr5 says:

      I can’t for the life of me understand the hatred towards QTE.

      If I press ‘X’ to do something that I should be able to do anyhow with in the game, sure, I understand the problem but when used properly QTE work very well.

      Then again, when I talk about QTE I’m not talking about the “hammer ‘X’” variety but about those that require proper timing.

      Will buy this no matter what probably.

    • The Great Wayne says:

      I did like me a bit of good ‘ole dragon’s lair back in the day. Good, unforgiving reflex-based game. But it seems nowadays that kind of gameplay has been watered down to fit the most unskilled of the players. Therefore it’s mostly crap.

      So in a word I kinda agree. Nothing wrong with game phases relying on sheer reflexes, but hell if you’re going that route it should better be challenging.

    • gwathdring says:

      I think it comes down to implementation. If the QTE’s are consistent throughout the game they tend to work better. If they pop up out of no-where or during cut-scenes (Assassin’s Creed 2, you god-damn bastard) they’re just annoying and jarring. It’s the game developer offering to shake your hand and then reverting to fourth grade for a moment, whipping the hand away with a “Haha, too slow!”

      But it’s a little tricker than that. Quicktime events often try to pretend they are more interactive than they actually are by making you hammer on the button repeatedly instead of just pressing it once. Arkham Asylum did this whenever you wanted to open a ventilation shaft door, or yank something down with the grappling hook. I understood why it was there, the feeling of strain it was trying to create, but it didn’t make me feel any more in control of the action than a single button press would. If anything I felt less in control because if I stopped pressing the button, suddenly the game didn’t care. In the same game, though, I didn’t mind reflex based events during combat—partially because they weren’t sign posted or redundant and there was a substantial amount of interactivity.

      I find that quick-time events work well in fighting games. They allow for some astounding animation sequences and moves that simply wouldn’t be possible to create in a game with 50 unique characters in a fully-interactive, real-time action game. They feel like a payoff for the dexterity and speed you’ve shown against your opponent. Not as difficult as some of the combos in the rest of the game, but utterly spectacular.

      But why would you use a quicktime event to squeeze through a narrow crack when you could just use directional movement (at least I seem to remember that from an E3 demo video for tomb raider)? Hammering on the button doesn’t even bear kinesthetic resemblance to squeezing through a crack. It looked like exactly the kind of quick-time event I hate. I quite enjoy reflex tests when they make sense (I liked the oil station hacking in Just Cause 2–though usually it wasn’t difficult enough I liked that it was real time, and that it was thematic).

  3. Premium User Badge

    Diziet Sma says:

    “A 360 demo (as most things were this year, in a surprisingly ill-advised move by most companies – just play the PC version with a 360 controller!)”

    I don’t understand. Why ill-advised?

    • westyfield says:

      Because the graphical quality is almost invariably worse, and when you’re showing something on a big screen to try to impress a group of gamers, you want it to look as good as it possibly can.

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      Not that it doesn’t look pretty or anything, but I thought you could turn the pretty up to 11 on computers, compared to 5-6 on consoles..

    • Doesntmeananything says:

      Old hardware = not so spectacular visuals. And you want to be utterly spectacular on E3, don’t you?

      Edit: Bollocks.

    • Icarus says:

      Because– damn, comprehensively beaten to it.

    • Creeping Death says:

      However, on the flip side, running it on a 360 as opposed to a PC with a 360 controller, you immediately remove the myriad list of potential problems that could happen when playing a game on PC. And lets face it, you don’t want your game to crash in front of that many people.

      I remember at a PC convention a few year back they had BiA: Hell’ Highway on display, but I presume the PC they had wasn’t up to running it well, as increasing the graphics settings at all caused it to lock up -.-

    • MrMud says:

      If you show it on a PC every single console outlet there is will imediately wonder what it is going to look like on a 360, because thats what ultimately matters to them and their viewers/readers.
      The publishers do not want to sow doubt into their consumers that the 360 version is going to run like crap.

    • Essell says:

      No idea what people are talking about here – during development, PC versions always look better and are more stable than console versions, because they run on more powerful hardware and are the platform that the whole team is constantly testing things on. It makes sense on all fronts, unless you’re out there to prove something specific to consoles (e.g. hey we got Crysis looking identical on all platforms, etc).

    • Ricc says:

      There was some backlash to BF3 only being shown on the PC, actually. People were not convinced, that DICE could pull all that stuff off on a PS360. For some reason being on the PC seems kinda unfashionable at e3.

    • KikassAssassin says:

      The funny thing is, I’m probably going to buy BF3 specifically because they’re putting so much emphasis on the PC version, even though I normally don’t care all that much for realistic military manshoots.

      The difference in capability between the consoles and the PC is really starting to show, because BF3 was the best looking game at E3 by a mile. I’m sure it won’t look that good on the consoles, and that makes me happy.

    • gwathdring says:

      I definitely understand the graphical argument, and know that most companies develop on insanely powerful computer setups. But everyone in the audience knows that games have the potential to look better on a high end PC. Yet most people who buy the games will be playing on consoles or middle range PCs (enough to run the game, but not to make it look great). This is one of the many reasons that “graphics” are irrelevant next to good art design, but consumers are impressed by pure graphical power anyway– (trails off muttering).

      In essence, showing the game on a console makes a lot more sense and prevents audience members from accusing you of showing an unrealistically optimistic version of the game (high end PC setup at max settings).

    • gwathdring says:

      Of course it shows up when I post the other one … I refreshed twice … argh!

  4. pakoito says:

    Cutie. I mean…QTE. Probably will watch a playthrough on OnLive, what’s the point of playing myself?

    • Kantorai says:

      I have an even better idea: watch the playthrough while hammering away on your keyboard to your heart’s content. Eventually you will “win” the game. It’s the Future of Gaming!

  5. Davee says:

    On a totally unrelated note; am I the only one getting crashes in Firefox while browsing RPS lately?

    • Bhazor says:

      Nope, I was getting them whenever the animated adverts loaded. Seems to have stopped now mind.

      Try updating your Flash plug in.

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      I haven’t had any problems, but I also have updated flash recently too.
      (Not because I am insistant on the latest version of everything, more because my SSD decided to Chernobyl recently, and I just got another one -_-)

    • Eukatheude says:

      Happened once or twice last week.

    • Davee says:

      Flash updated just a few days ago. I’ll try it again though.

    • Gnoupi says:

      I’ve had that for a month already, with Opera. I deactivated plugins for RPS to make it stop. I will give it another try with an updated flash.

    • d34thly says:

      Dosen’t Adobe have updates to flash player like twice a day now? Just update your flash plug-in every 6 hours and no problems.

  6. Premium User Badge

    mickiscoole says:

    I just want another Tomb Raider: Legend. That game was damn near perfect. Legend on the Underworld engine.

    Failing that, this looks pretty good too, I guess.

    • Xocrates says:

      Except Legend barely felt like Tomb Raider at all.

      It was not a bad game, but holding it as a standard that Tomb Raider games should follow is silly.

  7. pyjamarama says:

    After Cristal Dynamic plays Uncharted 3 all these QTE will be dropped and turned to contextual actions. From what I saw from the videos there is no reason for the actual prompt to appear, the player just should press the attack button when the time seems right and her attack would reflect the situation. It’s a year away so I think gives then plenty of time to fix it.

  8. Faceless says:

    Having watched footage of this during E3, I sort of figured that QTEs served as an introduction to the game. It’s not exactly uncommon nowadays, is it? Developers want players to experience intense action right from the start, but since players start out inexperienced, they feed them QTEs or mini-games, instead.

  9. Jumwa says:

    Quick time events don’t bother me a lot, though I do admit that I prefer games without them to those with them. I equate Resident Evil 5 to Hunted: the Demon’s Forge in so many ways, though one of the areas it holds over RE5 is: no quick time events to break up the action.

  10. gganate says:

    Will there be dinosaurs and plenty of endangered species to slaughter? Because I like playing Laura the destroyer, the world’s greatest poacher, deft at murdering beasties with akimbo handguns.

    On a serious note, I wish QTE and long, barely interactive cut scenes would go the way of the dinosaurs. Both of these plagues hampered my Crysis 2 experience. I don’t understand the rationale. I guess developers think we want to play a barely interactive movie, which isn’t at all what I want from a game. Not to be that guy, but I really think this is a side effect of console development. I don’t remember seeing QTE in anything but multiplatform releases (exception being the Witcher 2, which despite being a great game, had a lot of design decisions clearly geared towards the xbox).

    • Veret says:

      I believe QTEs did go the way of the dinosaurs, actually: They crawled up out of the primordial muck, grew to astonishing size and became a dominant force for quite a long time, and eventually became so cumbersome that their existence could no longer be sustained. Then they inexplicably cropped up again in a Tomb Raider game. SeewhatIdidthere?

      Seriously though, I’m with you on the death-to-QTEs front. How is it that the industry isn’t sick of these by now?

  11. teh Gibson says:

    I’ve played TR:3 and TR: Legend and thought they were both awesome. As long as the platforming and puzzles remain, adding the survival aspect can only be a good thing? Plus, there’s the exploration aspect of the open-worldy island.

    QTEs though? No thanks, I’d rather have a cutscene. I hate having to watch for the button press instruction to appear rather than just enjoying the action.

    • Walsh says:

      I hate the idea of an action packed cutscene where I have no control. If developers had infinite resources they would be able to make the cutscene fully interactive but they don’t, therefore QTEs exist. To give the player connection and interaction with the mostly automated events.

  12. Flint says:

    Where’s the tomb raiding then?

    • Jesse L says:

      Lara Croft returns in: Trauma Survivor.

    • Jockie says:

      I read one interview with the designer that said because this is in part origin story, it’ll be “more about escaping tombs than raiding them” or words to that effect.

  13. Basilicus says:

    Based on Crystal Dynamics treatment of the Tomb Raider series thus far, I’m not too put off by the QTEs. Normally, I don’t like them, but they were handled fantastically in Legend and Anniversary. They weren’t often enough to be a core component of gameplay, either, and screwing them up resulted in some pretty great death cutscenes. My only complaint is that Anniversary gave you a year to hit the corresponding button.

    The very infrequent ones in Underworld were an afterthought, and were neither here nor there, but probably should’ve just been scrubbed from the game for being such a nonentity.

    I’m also guessing that with the game so far out, they wanted to show a dramatic, plot-heavy portion. At this point, they’re still rebranding – showing off the new tone of the franchise rather than the experience of the game itself.

    • Xocrates says:

      There weren’t QTE’s in Underworld (on the PC version anyway), unless you’re somehow counting the sections where time slowed down while you retained full control of Lara.

      Personally, I hated the QTE’s in Legend for no other reason than most of them had no reason whatsoever not to be regular playable sections.

    • Basilicus says:

      Yeah, I was referring to those Underworld slow-down events. You’re right; those weren’t QTEs at all. I maintain my enjoyment of the Legend and Anniversary QTEs, though. In fact, Crystal Dynamics is probably the only studio that’s delivered me QTEs I’ve actually enjoyed. Huh.

  14. Zwebbie says:

    She’s pulling a stick out of her abdomen, it’s not supposed to be fun! How will games ever mature into an art form if enjoyment is the only emotion you’ll accept in it?

    • John Walker says:

      Where on Earth did I say otherwise?

    • The Hammer says:

      Games aren’t going to achieve emotions other than fun (apart from tedium and ennui) through QTEs.

    • Urthman says:

      I for one think the torture porn is less mature than the old T&A Lara.

    • The Great Wayne says:

      What urthman said.

      Seriously, can’t really figure how a sane adult can find any kind of enjoyment in witnessing a character suffer from various sadistic treatments for the sake of it. At least I can imagine how it could fit in an horror setting (ie.dead space – but even there it’s still a punishment, not some form of twisted aesthetics) but seriously, tomb raider ?

      When a company take that kind of franchise and reboot it to be torture porn, you can tell they’re really running thin on the creativity part. Definitely not buying it.

    • Aankhen says:

      I’m with Urthman and Wayne. One order of raiding tombs, hold the sadism, please.

      EDIT: I suppose I could understand it if the idea were to make her go through hell and come out stronger than ever. It really only seems like an excuse to trash her though.

  15. metalangel says:

    A shame you can’t increase her “attributes”. More would mean better flotation when swimming, and above a certain level would cause male enemies to stop and gawp for a moment, buying you valuable seconds to get the first hit in or escape. The tradeoff being a “back and chest pain” bar appears, and unless you collect new elastics for your bra it wears out and the bar increases faster. If it wears completely out, you risk smacking yourself in the face during acrobatics and being stunned for 15 seconds.

  16. noodlecake says:

    Heavy Rain was one huge quick time event and that was phenomenally good. Don’t see a problem with them, myself. Looks fantastic. :)

    • MartinNr5 says:

      Thanks. Properly done QTE aren’t a problem.

      Lazy ones are but that’s the case with all lazy game design.

  17. danimalkingdom says:

    Having seen the preview I was struck by how much I was completely, totally, head-over-heels not interested in this game. QTEs, ‘survival’/detective vision, going ‘dark’ with an IP, killing wolves; thanks but no thanks.

  18. Premium User Badge

    Hypatian says:

    Aside from the fact that there were on-screen prompts, these didn’t look a lot like QTEs to me. They looked more like “prompts for unusual verbs”. How often do you need your “yank sharp metal chunk out of abdomen” button, after all?

    It looked very much like the player was in control of the action, even through the “roof is shaky, stuff is falling” bit that would definitely be a QTE in many games. The controls being used for all of the actions made sense in the general case (X for general interaction, triggers for attack/shove-hands-at-things, left stick for move-around/use-feet, and so on). In particular, there were no cases of “X is usually interact, but in this one segment it means jump left!”

    The most timed/non-player-controllable looking bit of things were the “grabby guy grabs you” segments. However, the context of that makes the removal of normal movement control make sense: you’ve been freaking grabbed. In the first one, the movement-control-to-shove-with-feet seems okay. In the second one, there’s also a “press X to kick!” in the middle. And even that didn’t seem awful to me—you’re already using the obvious foot-movey control to move feet. You throw in the interact button to INTERACT!

    And of course, as people have said, this is an early part of the game. On-screen prompts telling you what buttons to use to do things make a lot of sense in that context.

    Certainly, all of this is about a million years ahead of Shenmue-style QTEs. :)

    It’ll be interesting to hear how the game plays once actual people get to play it and report back, instead of just “guy on stage who might just be going through the motions to make us believe that the game is playable instead of a canned demo.”

    • Jimbo says:

      They were totally bog standard QTEs, and they didn’t show anything to suggest they were dynamic rather than just Pass/Retry.

  19. Bodylotion says:

    I just want the next Tomb Raider to be like the original Tomb Raider. The thing i hate most of the new Tomb Raider games is the fact body’s dissapear, what’s up with that ?

  20. Jimbo says:

    I heard it suggested that ~40-50% of the game will be like what was shown during the conference. If that’s true, I kinda don’t care how good the other half is, because what they showed during the conference looked rubbish.

  21. Krimson says:

    Do any of you remember the leaked announcement of this Tomb Raider game a few years back? It sounded very much like the demo shown at E3, with one exception: the main villains were shadow demons. I really like the supernatural elements in the Tomb Raider, and I hope they retain at least some of the mystical elements of the series in this game, but an over-abundance of demonic shadow monsters doesn’t seem to be particularly conductive to the atmosphere that the developers seem to be trying to create.

    Anyway, I was very impressed with the E3 demo, and the QTE’s didn’t seem particularly obtrusive to me.The first major QTE (mashing the X-button to escape from a crazed maniac) makes a lot of sense within the context of the world.

  22. Yosharian says:

    Looks boring and scripted. Not the game I was hoping for.

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    VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    As in every other game in development this year, Lara has “survival instinct”, which means at the press of a button she can see what is of use to her in any scene. Hopefully this will replace the silly symbols once tutoring is over. And in cluttered locations when you’re bemused, it seems like a useful skill to have.

    This trend bothers me far, far more than QTEs do. Not because it’s not a useful ability—it is—but because of why it’s needed in the first place. It’s a sign of weak usability design, that designed factors have not been properly balanced: like the ratio of static to interactive objects is too high, or the visual design of the interactive objects is such that they blend in too much with the environment—so you need to artificially highlight them so they stand out again. It’s the same set of causes that lead to the “usable objects flash once a second” effect you can see in a lot of games on the 360, and increasingly often on the PC too: a deeper failure on the part of the various designers to overlook usability principles that subsequently requires an unsubtle hack to fix.

    Another example of this is the object highlighting in Deus Ex: Human Revolution (which is thankfully optional). Without it, smaller pickups are often hard to find—especially in interiors, which are cluttered with many completely static small items. One early example is a book, which is on a desk surrounded by many other books. But only this one is interactive. Or the rubbish bins on the street, which blend in with the other street furniture, such as the post boxes they often sit alongside. But the rubbish bins are searchable, while the others aren’t.

    • metalangel says:

      Don’t forget the ‘rumble/audio cue’ whenever you pass near a clue in LA Noire… you know, so there’s no need to think too much while investigating.

    • shitflap says:

      I only really scanned the comments, but I can’t help but think someone’s missed a trick by not referring to it as “Tomb Radar”.
      But yeah, it smacks of lazy design..
      Nothing to add really, I was simply really chuffed with that Tomb Radar bit…