Tomb Raider E3 demo: how Crystal Dynamics has reinvented Lara

It’s official: Lara Croft’s new game is going to require you to stock up on the mansize Kleenex. But before you start digging around for your old Rhona Mitra posters, we don’t mean it in that way. See, you’re going to need them for all the wailing you’ll be doing. Because in new Tomb Raider, Lara dies. Lara dies a lot.

Thought she had it rough in last year’s gameplay trailers? That was only the beginning. Mess up in the new game and, in one of the biggest changes made possible thanks to the reboot’s ‘mature’ age rating (it’s likely to be an 18 in the UK), you’re going to see her die in a number of gory ways: arrows through the skull, brains blown out, mauled by wolves, sent up in flames, and many more.

No longer is Tomb Raider an action-adventure game with a few puzzles thrown in – it’s now a full-on survival experience. Where, above all else, your objective is to prevent fresh-faced, 21-year-old Miss Croft from meeting her maker.

“It’s no holds barred: the severity of the situation lends itself to a dark consequence,” explains Crystal Dynamics global brand director Karl Stewart. “You feel like you don’t want her to die – like you have to protect her at all costs, because [the alternative] is pretty horrific. If you’re throwing somebody on to an island and saying ‘fight to survive’, you have to be willing to be a little bit more mature about it. We didn’t want to approach this as a sim – going round picking berries and drinking tea.”

As well as filling us in on plans for bumping off his leading lady, Stewart is taking us through half an hour of the game that no one’s seen before. So, a refresher for those of you not yet acquainted with PS3’s first Tomb Raider proper: fresh out of uni,

Lara is heading towards an island off the coast of Japan in the search of lost relics when the ship she’s travelling on is destroyed in a storm. Washed ashore and separated from her fellow survivors, she begins the game minus weapons, tools and food – and unaware of what else is in store. Like, um, gun-lovin’ criminals. And bitey animals. And all those appalling deaths. Maybe it’s for the best, eh?

The maturity of which Stewart speaks is immediately evident. This is a gritty, personal experience, with moments of genuine tension – like the early scene where Lara’s only means of continuing inland is to scramble across a downed B-52 bomber hanging in trees. In gameplay terms it’s really a climbing and traversing tutorial, but a sense of danger still permeates.

That example is soon topped when Lara heads nervously into a poorly lit cabin, where a music box in the corner plays a chilling tune that wouldn’t feel out of place in Silent Hill, and the wallpaper of choice is… human insides. Oh, and where it transpires that her only way out is busting open a door with an axe that’s currently embedded in the remains of God-knows-what (or who) on a blood-soaked table. Even at this early stage, there’s no holding back on gore – and it’s a welcome change.

It’s also immediately clear that comparisons to Uncharted – inevitable given the manner in which the latter series has taken the genre Lara created, added Hollywood production values and conquered modern gaming – can be cast aside.