Tomb Raider was definitely one of the games at the top of my must see list this week at E3 so I was eager to reach my appointment with Square Enix, so much so that we were first in line.  It was a good thing too, because evidently even though I was given an appointment, it wasn't a real appointment, and I was given the last seat in the theater.  The trick of it is, for this presentation, even though it was very similar to what we saw at the Xbox Media Briefing, they still would not let us record.  What this means is that I am going on memory, so bear with me.  

This is a spoiler heavy post, though, so if you don't want to know about the game, then you probably shouldn't read any further.

The first amazing thing about the Tomb Raider presentation was the title screen. As the lights dimmed and the screen came on we  saw Lara Croft standing on a cliff overlooking a crashed ship in the bay, the sun glinting off of the water. It's a eerily calm scene considering this is what she sees right after crawling her way through the cave to escape the men who kidnapped her.  Then the camera moves and you realize that this isn't a pre-rendered title screen, this is ingame footage.  The title itself slips out of frame as we run down the cliff, and the audience, understandably, gasps.

While the game is beautiful, and it is with the lush jungle environments and amazing detail, it is also brutal.  This particular presentation focused on the 30 minutes after escaping the cave, where Lara must find food and shelter in order to survive.  She does this by finding her signature weapon -- a bow -- in the grip of a very dead hunter who appears to have fallen victim to his own traps.  Armed at last but still starving, Lara heads downstream to see if she can find something to eat.  She happens upon a deer, and manages to kill it in only a few shots, which is good because arrows aren't growing on trees.  

Now that she has the animal down, she's got to get meat from the carcass, which she does by using an arrow as a makeshift knife.  This is no simple task, and it requires her to stab and slice the fresh kill, ripping its belly open until she collects enough meat so that she can take it back to camp to cook.  At this point in the game we learn about the one thing that makes even this young, inexperienced Lara different from everyday people:  the game switches into Survival Instincts mode and shows us where the camp is via a small indicator in Lara's field of vision.  They tell us there is also a map in the game, but in the interest of keeping the immersion as strong as possible we use the Survival Instincts to get back to shelter and fire and cook our meat.

Sitting by the campfire, we're introduced to the Survival Skills menu, where we learn about how accomplishing certain tasks -- in this case learning to use a bow -- and growing in proficiency with those tasks unlocks a sort of skill tree. Having learned bow proficiency, Lara is now able to learn how to retrieve arrows from her victims -- something that will definitely come in handy.

Watching the presentation unfold several things begin to occur to me:  First, that while Lara Croft spends a good deal of time getting kidnapped, she's pretty resourceful about getting out of those situations.  Secondly, that there seems to be no limit to the gritty realism of this game, and I'm not sure how to feel about that.  In order to get away from her attacker, she bites his ear off, and then as they struggle for his weapon, she ends up blowing off the front of his head -- something they show in gruesome detail.  

Personally I'm impressed by the quality of the storytelling here, about how fearless Crystal Dynamics is about showing what others might shy away from, but ultimately I'm not sure I want post traumatic stress from playing a video game.  Games are, after all, meant to be entertainment, and there's nothing really entertaining about being so close to danger that you feel as if you yourself are struggling for survival.  Exactly how real is too real?  No doubt we'll find out more when we get closer to the game's launch next March.  Until then,  I'm certainly feeling sorry for poor Lara.  This girl never catches a break.

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