Tomb Raider blends genres like crazy in its E3 demo

Crystal Dynamics gives Lara a lot to do in a short amount of time.

At E3 today, I saw demos for Tomb Raider and 007 Legends. The two differ in many ways, but in one they're polar opposites: In 007, James Bond rarely speaks except in cut-scenes, to the point that it seems weird when his friend speaks to him and he doesn't respond; in Tomb Raider, Lara Croft is more or less an action game Tamagotchi, describing everything she's doing, talking to herself like a crazy person, and breathing loudly when she doesn't have anything to say.

It's a bit silly when you go out of your way to notice it and start scribbling down her quotes in your notebook at a trade show.

"I can do this."

Croft's cries for attention might be silly on occasion, but I'm also convinced they play a big role in making the pacing work in this version of the game, which is one of the best-paced E3 demos I've ever seen. It's also mostly linear, but the game does things with camera angles and transitions from gameplay to cut-scenes that few games match, and the variety them crammed into this 30 minute demo feels perfectly balanced.

Croft starts without a weapon, gets lost, talks to her allies over the radio, finds a bow for a little combat, climbs on a hanging vehicle, hunts down food, collects tools to repair a stick to turn a crank, gets kidnapped, sneaks around in handcuffs, jams on a button to fight off an enemy, etc. It feels like something new is happening every few minutes.

At one point, Croft comes across a friend who gets taken by someone she distrusts, and when chasing after him stumbles into a bear trap — at which point the game switches to a bear trap shooting gallery where she has to shoot wolves jumping through the grass. Sure, it's a convenient way of the developers locking Croft into place so she can't chase after this guy, but it's done with such drama that it feels like a genius bit of storytelling at the same time.

"I'm so hungry I need to find something to eat."

After taking that beating, Croft has to go hunting, tracking down a deer and killing it for food. Then expresses her regret over killing it, of course. This is a game about her growing up and learning to be tough, and the game likes to beat her up to prove that point as much as possible.

"Back to camp."

The main question in all this, of course, is if the game can maintain this pace and variety from start to finish. Given how much context sensitive, special case stuff is crammed into the 30 minute E3 demo, it seems like a proper challenge for the developers to keep that pace consistently for a full game. If they can do it, though, this one could be huge.

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