Tomb Raider preview (hands-on, screens and gameplay video)

An all new outing for Lara Croft has been on our radar for a while now - since E3 2011, in fact - but we've never had such an in-depth look at the prequel/reboot as we were treated to at this year's show.

The forthcoming Tomb Raider - a return to the title first forged in 1996 - features a 21-year-old Lara stranded on a desert island. She's accompanied by a collection of other survivors, but the island itself is not all it seems. And there are other inhabitants that aren't quite so friendly.

Pocket-lint saw a 30-minute demo of the new chapter's gameplay behind-closed-doors at E3 2012 in LA and we were very impressed. Although the graphics engine employed here by Crystal Dynamics is the same used in the more recent games in the franchise, there seems to be more detail, better lighting and a greater emphasis on realism than ever before.

The level we were treated to, which culminated in (spoiler alert) Ms Croft's first ever kill, is set in a rainforest and is as far removed from the closed underground lairs synonymous with the series as can be. Indeed, think Uncharted and you're not going to be far wrong.

And yes, Uncharted will be mentioned a lot in association with this particular franchise's reboot. It's more cinematic and we have no doubt that Naughty Dog's adventure franchise has been an influence. However, where the latest Tomb Raider deviates from Nathan Drake's adventures is that it is far darker, in palette and tone.

In fact, the long demo we were treated to felt more like a slasher/stalker horror movie than Jewel in the Crown. Lara's friends are being picked off by the island's current inhabitants and the entire gameplay level is more to do with surviving than finding treasure and working out how to trigger "mechanisms".

And then, of course, there's that first kill. We see Lara acquire a bow and set of arrows ("her primary weapon for the game") and her initial challenge is to shoot and slice open a dear for food. That's not the first kill, but still makes you (and her) feel uneasy.

But later, events transpire that are far more shocking than animal butchery. And, in the context that this is a videogame in an industry of calmly au fait blow-your-face-off titles, the final moment when Lara Croft takes a human life is handled both sensitively and dramatically.

This is a new direction for the Tomb Raider series and one that, from our first impressions, could see the much-maligned heroine catapulted back to iconic status. And for the right reasons, this time.

What do you think? Could the latest Tomb Raider be the shot in the arm the franchise needs? Let us know in the comments below...



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