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Thoughts on the Rise of the Tomb Raider Gamescom Stage Demo

Lara's back for another round of tomb raiding this November

Lara's back for another round of tomb raiding this November

A brand-new action-heavy Rise of the Tomb Raider gameplay demo made its public début during the Xbox briefing at Gamescom 2015 earlier this week and while I managed to churn out a short article that evening expressing the sheer excitement I felt when I saw the montage of tombs and ancient ruins in the closing trailer, I didn’t really give much thought to the rest of the demo. Until now.

So consider this a “delayed reaction” piece if you will. 😉

The Gameplay Demo:

The demo opens with a beautiful panoramic shot of a geothermal valley in Russia, which Game Director Brian Horton describes as “a massive exploration space that is three times larger than any [Crystal Dynamics] has made before” and a place where gamers could spend hours “collecting and hunting resources, completing challenges, and discovering tombs”. Snow-capped mountains and ancient ruins – abandoned churches or monasteries, perhaps? – can be seen in the distance, whetting our appetites for the adventures that lie ahead. I sure hope those ruins are explorable.

The base camp feature from the 2013 reboot is back in Rise but this time around, Lara will also be able to craft ammunition and other useful gear from the resources she collects in-game. Gamers will have the freedom to upgrade Lara’s skills in any order they wish and judging from the menus, it looks like the “fast travel” option is back. This will no doubt come in handy for backtracking and seeking out those last few elusive collectable items! Upon exiting the Base Camp menu, we get a glimpse of an abandoned mountain-top church in the background and, as Lara heads off in its general direction, she twists round to warm her hands over the camp-fire, which I think is a cute touch. Fade to black.

And suddenly Lara’s neck-deep in a river or swamp of some kind. The following sequence gives Lara the chance to show off her new-found swimming skills (hurrah!) as well as a pretty cool “death from below” underwater assault move which sees her swim up to a Trinity mercenary in stealth mode before dragging the poor unsuspecting guy into the water and strangling him with her climbing axe. The Killer Queen is back with a vengeance.

Having dispatched her first enemy of the demo, Lara seems to take a page out of the Assassin’s Creed book and skulks around in the undergrowth for a bit, creeping ever closer to the Trinity base camp and giving us the chance to eavesdrop on the Trinity mercenaries’ conversation on atlases and cathedrals. Ms Croft continues her stealthy incursion deeper into the base camp, launching an aerial knife attack on another unsuspecting guard (I’m beginning to think Lara joined the Brotherhood between games) and sneaking into a nearby hut, flinging a glass bottle into an adjacent room to distract the guard.

One thing that becomes apparent quite early on in this demo – and in the Siberian Wilderness demo before it – is that Lara has evolved into a very resourceful young woman. The type who could probably put you down with little more than a pencil and a piece of chewing gum.

MacGuyver jokes aside, it’s good to see that gamers will be given ample opportunity to choose between going in guns a-blazing or taking down enemies in a more discreet manner. One of the things I disliked about the reboot was the fact that you often had little choice than to kill or be killed and although it’s not explicitly demonstrated in this gameplay demo, I get the distinct feeling that you can avoid triggering (hur hur) back-to-back shoot-outs if you proceed with a little caution and finesse.

After climbing out a window in the aforementioned hut, Lara spots a helicopter flying overhead and an abandoned, moss-covered church a short distance away (this is probably the “cathedral” the Trinity mercenaries were talking about earlier in the demo). From here on in, we’re treated to a series of stealth attacks, brutal take-downs, fiery explosions, and shoot-outs between Lara and the Trinity posse.

Particular highlights include:

  1. Lara taking down two Trinity mercs with two different arrows at the same time (they didn’t teach us that trick at archery training!),
  2. Lara mercilessly slitting a merc’s throat (holy sh*t, Lara!),
  3. Lara equally mercilessly ramming a broken bottle into another merc’s neck (ouch!),
  4. Lara constructing and chucking makeshift explosives and Molotov cocktails on the fly (*cackles maniacally*), and
  5. That creepy flame-thrower guy at the end of the demo. Flashbacks to Tomb Raider 2, anyone?

 

I have the feeling this won’t end well for Lara when I’m at the helm…

The Closing Trailer:

Those Byzantine ruins, that screenshot montage of what I’m really hoping are all explorable tombs. May I please be allowed just a few seconds to squeal like a fangirl? *squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees*

Ladies and gentlemen, *this* is what I’ve been waiting for ever since we got our first look at Rise of the Tomb Raider back in February. Actual visual proof that Crystal Dynamics are putting the tombs back in Tomb Raider. Sure, the frozen ship seen at the end of the Siberian Wilderness demo certainly piqued my interest; how on Earth did an Ancient Greek trireme end up in an icy cavern in Russia? But that montage? That montage is just simply beautiful. *wipes a fictional tear from her eye*

Lara's back for another round of tomb raiding this November

The rest of the trailer gives us a good idea of what we can expect to see in the much-talked-about Syria sections: a narrow escape from an exploding Jeep, a near-fatal tumble down a cliff (oh, Lara), crumbling ruins, secret passages full of scorpions, cobwebs, and skeletons, deadly traps, and an ancient sarcophagus surrounded by once-gilded pillars.

Let’s just say, my hype for this game is growing by the day. Roll on November!

General Thoughts:

On the whole, Rise of the Tomb Raider is shaping up to be a visually stunning game with some interesting new gameplay features. If Crystal Dynamics keep their promise of them bringing the puzzle-centric tombs of the older games back into the franchise, the game would have the potential to become the best Tomb Raider game of recent years. In my eyes, no Tomb Raider game will ever top Tomb Raider 2, but I welcome the chance to be proven wrong.

Anyone who’s been following me on social media for long enough will know that I’m quite critical of the reboot and keep comparing it unfavourably with the Core Design games but I’ve slowly learnt to accept the fact that the reboot is best enjoyed when you judge it on its own merits. So when I come around to writing a review of Rise later this year (or next year if my neglected, aging Xbox 360 refuses to cooperate), I’ll take heed of my own advice and will simply measure it against its direct predecessor and not the Tomb Raider games of yesteryear.

 

With regards to the new gameplay features, I still have some misgivings about the new crafting feature as I don’t want to spend too much of my time hunting down resources (I’d rather spend my time hunting relics, personally) and I’m not completely sold on the whole “woman versus wild” theme that Crystal Dynamics keep bringing up in their interviews. But, hey, crafting worked pretty well in Assassin’s Creed so who knows. Maybe it’ll add a new flavour to the mix.

My main concerns at this stage are that Lara will still spend way too much of her time on finding interesting new ways to dispatch her enemies and that many of the tombs teased in the closing trailer will turn out to be optional side quests rather than integral parts of the game’s story mode. That said, if Crystal Dynamics are able to strike a good balance between action-heavy scenes and puzzle-based sequences, we’ll be onto a winner.

So, Crystal Dynamics, can we have that Syria gameplay demo now, please? Pretty please?

** Pre-order your copy of Rise of the Tomb Raider over at Amazon or Amazon UK **


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