Tomb Raider Hands-On: When Mechanics And Tone Clash

By Kris . October 1, 2012 . 12:50pm

The Tomb Raider demo I played started with a wounded, hungry Lara Croft trying to reunite with her friends. While she had a pretty sizable stab wound, she limped along at a good clip across shaky logs and over treacherous cliff edges. After hopping across a gap, she arrived at the wreckage of a crashed plane.


After hopping up onto the plane wreckage to get across a dangerous-looking chasm, Lara’s hand slipped and I was prompted to press X in time to help her regain her grip. After climbing across the highlighted, rung-like protrusions in the plane Uncharted-style, I had one more jump to make. While it looked like something doable, a cutscene played that had Lara lose her grip and fall down into a cave. Fortunately she found a backpack that once belonged to one of her friends, which contained enough supplies to make a small fire and a radio.


However, despite her attempts to radio someone, she received nothing but static. Between the cave and the fire, shelter was guaranteed, but she still needed food.


When control was returned to me, I wandered into a grove that contained a deer. The deer bolted as soon as it saw me. Pursuing it, I came to an area that contained a body hanging from a tree. Fortunately, the desiccated corpse happened to be carrying a bow and a quiver of arrows. If Lara was going to eat, she was going to need something to hunt with.


I had to find my way up to the outcropping of land near the tree that the body was hanging from, but about 30 seconds of searching revealed a few rocks I could jump onto to get to my destination. Once I got there, Lara walked out onto the tree branch and I had to use the left analog stick to reach her arm out to grab the swaying corpse at the right time.


Although my second attempt was successful, Lara fell from the tree alongside the corpse, she then grabbed the bow and a giant “XP” logo appeared onscreen and a bar started to fill. This was more jarring than any of Lara’s assorted tumbles, because outside of the button prompts that appeared onscreen and a couple of sparse directional messages, nothing in the UI really stood out like that did.


So I proceeded through the forest, looking for the deer that I’d seen earlier. Eventually, I climbed to slightly higher ground and saw two right next to each other. I raised my bow with LT, and tapped RT to fire. Unfortunately, this shot a not-so-powerful arrow that lobbed its way right into the first deer’s flank. It started limping away, but the deer next to it didn’t seem too concerned. I held RT to power up the arrow, aimed it at that deer’s head, and then fired again…


…but apparently, I’m very bad at shooting things, and the deer moved, so the arrow went straight through both of this deer’s flanks. And so, this second deer ran after the first.


Since I was down to two arrows at this point (I used another arrow half-heartedly shooting after the second escaping deer), I ran back to the quiver on the ground and refilled my arrows to the maximum five. Then, annoyed, I decided to abandon all care and simply chase after the deer with my bow drawn and little regard to stealth.


This worked better. After putting two more arrows into the deer I found, I walked Lara over to it and a cutscene had her take some meat from the it. The giant XP box appeared onscreen and informed me that I had leveled up, and I was then tasked with walking back to my campsite (which I had completely forgotten about). Holding LB would reduce the world to black and white and made my target project a giant glowing beacon. Following the beacon ran me into brambles (read: invisible walls) and got me lost. I finally just pressed the back button to open the map and followed that to get back to my camp.


Upon reaching camp, I was given the ability to upgrade my survival techniques. I could gain the ability to retrieve arrows from my targets, see animals more easily, or gain more XP. I chose arrow retrieval, watched a cutscene in which Lara communicated with someone she knew over the radio, and my demo was over.


Tomb Raider left me cold. The giant XP readouts and leveling system felt like they undermined the grim, serious tone of the game. It was strange to me that hunting was rewarded with XP instead of the food being its own reward. Additionally, Lara’s traversal acrobatics felt out of place with both her sizable wound and how frequently they showed her falling down holes and off of trees.


Finally, the hunting just made me feel bad, since it simply became me easily chasing down a wounded animal after a failed attempt at stealth. Perhaps these elements feels better within the context of the game as a whole, but it seemed like the game’s tone and mechanics were at odds.

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  • Ethan_Twain

    Out of curiosity, do you hunt?  Or even if you don’t, do you feel bad about tracking down wounded creatures in other video games?  Monster Hunter has a bit of that doesn’t it?

    Your last paragraph just kinda confused me.  Isn’t tracking and killing animals what hunting is?  I’m just not clear about what made tracking and killing in this game less palatable than in other games or even the real thing.

    • PhPhill

      I believe his problem with the hunting was that chasing the animal recklessly worked better than trying to silently kill his prey.

    • Kris

      PhPhill is correct! At the end, it just felt like I was playing the weirdest, least engaging TPS ever. It felt inelegant and stupid when I was killing this deer by firing a ton of arrows into it as it limped along.

      To answer your question, I don’t hunt (and I’m not a fan of MonHun), but hunting as a concept doesn’t bug me, especially not in a game that gives you a justification for it, as TR is supposed to. It just felt empty and unrewarding to me. 

  • malek86

    Something I haven’t quite understood yet: is eating a permanent need that you will need to take care of once in a while, as in a roguelike, or is it something that only pops up in certain plot moments and you won’t have to care outside of those?

    • konsama

      Maybe it could be like MGS3, that’d be nice. If it’s instead only part of the plot it’s meh.

      • malek86

        Dunno what MGS3 was like :P

        But for some reason I doubt it will be really necessary… I mean, we are still talking about a mainstream game. A food mechanic could make things too complicated, especially with a checkpoint system (ie. what if the game gets auto-saved when you are about to starve?).

        I think it’s possible, but only if the penalties for not eating are relatively minor (such as you going a bit slower or being unabe to use heavier weapons), or if animals are so common that you don’t have trouble scavenging for food (but that would kinda take away the point of it).

        • SirRichard

          In MGS3, you have a stamina bar, which governs a few things; your grip and air meters (for hanging and swimming) will only be as long as how much stamina you have left, Snake’s aim starts to waver if falls under half, his health regen slows right down and his stomach growls, giving you away to guards.

          It’s easily refilled by eating any animals or general food you find and capture/kill/acquire, with Snake’s own tastes determining how much stamina you get back from whatever. Food’s generally very plentiful, too, and while it can rot (and thus take stamina away when eaten) it takes a good while to do so. Some food items have odd effects or are poisonous, but you radio a support character to find out what does what and they’re few and far between anyway.

          If the system in Tomb Raider is anything like MGS3, then it should be just fine, though in MGS3 Snake could eat everything from small birds and frogs up to large snakes, goats and crocodiles and I’m not sure if they thought of letting you do that in TR.

          • malek86

            Well I’m not exactly expecting anything like Robinson’s Requiem, which would probably be eccessively complicated for a blockbuster game anyway. If the system in MGS3 works like that, it could probably happen, but I think Kojima aimed his game at fans rather than mainstream players like this one, so I’m not sure.

            Then again, I guess if food is plentiful, it’s not a big problem so it could happen. What worries me is that, until now, we have no idea if it’s gonna be in plot scenes only or it will be for the whole game.

  • SirRichard

    You know what this preview is making me think of? One of those Cabela hunting games. 

    Actually a few rolled together; one of them had a feature that made the world turn all monochrome while your objective and interactive things are highlighted in bright primary colours, the focus on hunting with stealth and accuracy being major factors in success, giant EXP bars and counters that pop up when you kill things and even the latest ones have had increasing focus on “survival” (read: running through the wilderness shooting armies of lions and wolves) in dangerous conditions in the wild.

    That’s…kind of worrying, honestly.

  • Xeawn

    I’m cautiously optimistic about this game, but…between all the bizarre comments the team makes in their interviews as well as the gameplay impressions I’m getting I’m not super thrilled about it. I do love though that Lara has been off her game for so long that I’m hearing people mention “Borrowing mechanics from Uncharted” in so many articles :D

  • Göran Isacson

    An ability to gain more XP and retrieve more arrows certainly seems to speak for hunting being a VERY important task. I mean, would they include those abilities if you WOULDN’T spend a considerable amount of time on these activities?

    I’m hoping the answer to that is yes, because frankly I’m not quite sure yet. They have put so much focus on this game being an Uncharted-esque thrill ride that I don’t quite know how the hunting, which I presume is more “open-worldly-choose-your-own-approach” style, will mesh with the action setpieces. All in all I hope the end product feels tight and focused, and not just like they took two entirely separate gameplay styles and haphazardly fused them together.

  • Hinataharem

    “since it simply became me easily chasing down a wounded animal after a failed attempt at stealth.”

    That’s hunting for ya.

  • But is it a Tomb Raider game? And is the protagonist really Lara Croft? Seems like new IP that has disrespectfully asset-stripped a classic game.

  • Mazdian

    Hopefully they’ll refine the XP system and integrate it better in the finished product.

    Main issue I’m seeing is the whole “doing something but then something else happening” event (no better term comes to mind, sorry x.x), e.g. in the plane where you fall through the glass while reaching for the backpack. I just dislike these kind of things, especially when they’re tied to QTEs or are used just for cinematic effect.

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