Rise of the Tomb Raider Preview

Publisher Microsoft
Developer Crystal Dynamics
Platform(s) Previewed XboxOne
Yet another preview of one of the huge selection of E3 treats we had to enjoy this year, all with the added bonus of being one that will hit machines this year (well One machine anyway) with another older console still planned to receive a version but the 360 release is being handled by another studio I will not bring it up in this preview.

After the success that was the reboot of Tomb Raider in 2013 by Crystal Dynamics and Square that hit both consoles and PC it re-ignited the love for Lara and adventuring with the most famous English explorer.

Then just over a year later we got a full on Remaster for now gen machines to see if the hunger was alive and well to continue the journey of a woman into the great adventurer we all know she will be, the thirst was real and it sold well allowing Square to finally achieve what they classed as “Good” sales with over 3.5 million shipped. Which means here we are on the cusp of another journey with our Oxford lass yet again throwing out the Health and Safety book from her rucksack and instead packing in all the tricks she learned from the gruelling Yamatai excursion along with some new treats and skills.

We are reunited with our trusty Bow(s) ,yes now plural, complete with upgrades that exceed the first time along with the radio, pick axe but proving more is merrier Lara now has 2 axe’s allowing greater traversal across even more precarious environments as was seen from the E3 Ice climb. Old friend Jonah is also here to lend a hand as Lara is now searching for the truth behind the conspiracy cover up from Trinity, oh yes and also maybe some treasure hunting in the form of the lost city of Kitezh which may just hold ye old treasure seeking favourite the key to immortality looking to be hidden in Russia all this time so you would have thought Bond would have found it by now?.

Along the way she can also find a Tomb or two to raid which should help ail some of the lost love from the last game where it never felt that much of the game, being more of a mixture of the old games puzzling with the Descent type horror journey that Lara went through, we are now promised a much vaster array of caverns to cavort and tombs to plunder to scratch our investigative itch. But this will not be the only challenge for Lara in this new quest, not only will danger come from the locals and armed thugs of trinity but also and even more so from the wildlife and weather, with the game now supporting a fully dynamic Time of Day and weather system she will have her work cut out to survive.

This will add a stronger element of survival now that a storm could blow in slowing down your progress and threatening your very life, having to use animals skins to craft better clothes and weapons. Snow drifts will help cover your tracks in the snow but come at the slowed progression. Move set has improved along with the climbing extras Lara has also ditched her armbands and can now swim, climb tree’s using branches to stay clear of danger. Stealth seems to play a big part meaning the art of survival is best left to brain than brawn, the exact enemies and overall theme of the game is still something of a secret outside of what we have seen. But from footage we can be sure of a sprawling adventure of peril, prison, mine carts and some quality water and explosions that should all add up to a thinking woman’s or mans action puzzler.

Expanding on the structure from the first game with weapon crafting and a linear upgrade path, this has now seen it pass over to not only weapons but clothes and ammo. As seen here with the gas arrow used to dispatch foe’s with no harm other than a thick head no more than after a Friday night out. The stealth portion of the gameplay has been increased to also incorporate the animals, now you can attack, scurry and hide from them. Tied in with the new Dynamic weather and TOD certain animals can only be caught at set times/locations making them harder to find and kill. These rare skins can be used to allow you to reach other areas of the game not accessible with certain scavenged attributes.

With this being an exclusive 2015 title for Microsoft it will surely come with a big push on marketing and delivery, Crystal Dynamics made a great game in Tomb Raider and the engine was certainly more suited to the machines we have now than when launched (High end PC aside) but even since the updated version, it has already started to age a little. With the game not having a new engine but working on improving what has come before and is a very solid and impressive base. Using the new to console and PC TressFX hair for Lara has now been improved here and covers animals and beards which should add some great touches to what was already an impressive solution that will have been refined and improved further still here in its 3d iteration.

Lara model also seems to have again undergone some changes but as the Remaster had to use the exact same animation rigs and performance capture as before, the Topology of the model had to be manipulated within the old animation frames. This resulted in some scenes in the game giving Lara a plastic “stiff” look as the change made certain areas of her face not move and look fake. Now with the model being designed completely for the animation and capture system it has been improved from the video capture methods and hand keying from before, employing a newer technique called Mova which does not use the normal white balls attached to vertices on face and body. No this uses sprayed on fluorescent paint increasing the capture precision to 7k ref points which means far more information that the animators can use to capture and tailor the intricacies of the human face and emotion from the actors when acting the scenes on set. This will still have to go through much desktop work and be matched, changed and improved but it gives the team far more to work with and the results can been seen already with the animation from the last game being greatly improved on for Lara herself and others, an area where it lacked more so for NPC’s in the game.

One great new technical feature is the Snow, now being based in Siberia this is BIG part of the game. It now has fully deformable snow that leaves trails when Lara walks, enemies and animals all leave their mark as well. This means that you can be found and followed along with it also allowing you to do the same. But be quick as the dynamic weather system will kick in and could cover tracks as fast as they appear making it harder to track but also covering your own in the process. This looks very good in practise as here the system used not only created a dense mesh that can be deformed and build on impact but follows the contours of the land an movement. With the trees and the like also being free to use for fire and crafting it certainly brings a very organic feel to the world and game, which as from the last game should also carry over to its challenges and puzzles.

Animation in cut-scenes is not the only improvement in the game as it is one that uses euphoria physics for procedural animation techniques. These look to have been expanded along with the improved capture work and key-frame animation. See as Lara steadies her walk on uneven ground, it was present in the last game but the it looks to have been increased here in precision and blend. Which was a standout sigh from the last game with blended animations not being as smooth as they are here, a sign from the increased ram available and the improved procedural system.

Voice work is again strong but I hope the writing also sees a similar level of improvement as although the reboot was a strong game, one if its weakest points was scripting and delivery in places, the stereo-type Scottish mentor was nearly as bad as the cor blimey guards from The Order. Again Lara is well voiced in game by Camilla Luddington but her accent is more Angelina Jolie than Keira Knightly, being British born but living in American it can seem alittle over pronounced at times as her hybrid accent comes across, this can leave it being a love or hate type affair for fans.

Post effects are a huge part of this generation just look at the superb implementation in Arkham Knight that has had me standing on rooftops just admiring its precision of Bokeh on objects and specular it really is superb, running here on the XboxOne it is an effect that looks good in cinematics and gameplay. Tomb Raider had a set of effects but here they now appear to be increased and improved, DoF looks of a higher resolution resolve as does the motion blur, being per object and with some velocity mapping it can be seen in great effect in gameplay here under water. As the resolution for the game is still unconfirmed, but current showing from E3 is confirmed at 1080p looks good along with its 30fps rate and with some months left of work we can only wait and see, as it stands it still looks and performs very well and should do even more so when released.

Again even more games that will use the off-line mixture of canned highly detailed fluid or destruction simulations the run through in game is present here. This waterfall scene shows off some beautifully rendered water reminiscent of the temple of doom mine cart end, and with a mine cart used to destroy some scaffolding we may be treated to crystals own salute to its reference...I hope for some grand set-pieces that allow greater control of the action mixed in with the strong exploration, puzzle and improved stealth mechanic.

Character models have increased in polygon details and texture work in addition to improved shader touches like the sub surface scattering on Lara skin, you can see the patches of less blood filled skin around her eyes as her cheeks and face are reader from the cold. Lighting has also improved in accuracy and range, with a more linear range allowing subtle changes of light within the High Dynamic Range, mixed with such an impressive looking environment, caves and enemies the signs look good for crystal dynamics and square to take the formula and improve all areas along with listening to player feedback and giving us even more of what we want.

Only a few months til it's November release with a chance of more shown at gamescom it will be a huge game for Microsoft this year and you can be sure we will see and hear more of the intrepid adventurous as we draw closer to launch.