Tomb Raider Hands-On: When Mechanics And Tone Clash

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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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Localization specialist and former Siliconera staff writer. Some of his localizations include entries in the Steins;Gate series, Blue Reflection, and Yo-Kai Watch.