Tomb Raider hands-on: a whole Lara love for online? (Well… no)

Have the brains behind Lara Croft gone crazier than one of her island foes in adding multiplayer to the Tomb Raider series? Find out as we go hands-on with Rescue mode.

Tomb Raider PS3 preview

In single-player, Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider reboot features a sweetly-scented potpourri of dynamics inspired [loud cough] by other games. There’s Uncharted’s multi-directional platforming (traversing a downed plane hanging precariously in vines directly over a waterfall), Heavy Rain’s usage of QTEs (scrambling up an embankment by tapping L2 and R2), and old Raider’s reliance on puzzles to slow the game’s pace (though now based around environmental hazards like fire and water rather than reconfiguring bookshelves). Nothing we’ve seen thus far screams innovation, but the total sum of these borrowed parts is an adventure that feels at once curiously familiar and tantalisingly moreish.

Which is why the announcement that Lara’s comeback will feature multiplayer for the first time left some – okay, most – a tad surprised. And not, sadly, in an excited, arriving home to find Rhona Mitra spreadeagled on the sofa kind of way. ‘It doesn’t need it’ cried much of the internet, and their hollering appeared justified – so we ventured up to London for a sit-down with Eidos Montreal (developers of the online modes) and a hands-on, to see whether its inclusion was in any way merited.

Four online modes are to be included in the game, although for now we’re only able to play one: a capture-the-flag style group battle entitled Rescue. Split into two teams of four, one side plays as Lara’s comrades the Survivors, and must return five small white medipacks to their base (denoted, rather crudely, by nothing more than a plain blue circle) to win. The other team is the evil Solarii – if they rack up 20 kills before all the medipacks are collected, they win.

Loadouts can be adjusted pre-match and tweaked pre-respawns, and like in Uncharted’s Plunder mode, Survivors are able pass medipacks on to team-mates –  if they’re dying, for instance, or just not as skilled. There’s also one ‘gamechanger’ in each environment: so in Chasm, ringing a giant bell in the centre of the map signals a sandstorm that temporary outlines your opponents and their PSN IDs, and essentially makes your team mates invisible for a short time.

The latter inclusion is a smart one, but in terms of tactical depth that’s pretty much your lot. The shooting itself is responsive if not exactly punchy, and the action pleasingly chaotic. Yet while we certainly enjoy our time dropping instant-kill traps and haring around on zip lines, there’s no instant desire to play more once we’re asked to put down the Dualshock. Hardly a ringing endorsement, then, and it appears the furious internet masses may have been right on this one. To producer Joe Khoury, then, with a question that has to be asked: why does new Tomb Raider need multiplayer at all?

“We had to look at adding value to the franchise,” he says. “Crystal Dynamics had experimented with co-operative play on [Lara Croft And] The Guardian Of Light, and [online] seemed a natural fit when we heard where they were taking the franchise – with themes like survival, being stranded on an island, and [possibilities with] the island itself. These modes aren’t just about racking up points or kills – there are survival themes here too.”

Rescue mode is about survival in theory, but the cynically minded (so, er, us) will instantly call it out for what it is: a slight spin on Capture The Flag wearing new (if sandblasted) robes. Still, we’re happy to give Lara the benefit of the doubt for now. With three further modes still to be unveiled, and Khoury talking passionately of wanting to expand upon the single-player experience rather than simply supplement it – “recruiting for a team like this would have been very difficult if we didn’t feel we were creating something which added value to the franchise” – it is possible this does still spring a surprise with its online suite. Possibly. Maybe.

So for now, all our Lara love remains directed at the single-player – which, in case we need to hammer home the point once more, does look a bit special. The game’s out on 5 March, and we’ll have a full review in OPM, and on the site, next month.