Tomb Raider preview: Bows, bear-traps, and breakdowns in our stunning hands-on demo

The bloody rebirth of a heroine...

Lara is covered in blood. More specifically - she's caked in brain-matter, blood and dirt. She's kneeling next to the man she shot in the face, clutching a handgun, watching him gurgle out his dying breaths. And when the shock wears off, Lara begins to sob uncontrollably as she contemplates her very first human kill.

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It's here we realise that Lara hasn't just killed a virtual character (the one responsible for triggering the recent 'Tomb Raider rape' media-frenzy, by the way); she's hammered the final nail into the coffin of Core's original Tomb Raider series. She may be younger herself, but this franchise has definitely grown up from the pervy 'triangle-tits' platformer we first saw in 1996. And if you're wondering, that's definitely a good thing.

Crystal Dynamic's new Lara is the video game equivalent of Daniel Craig's James Bond. She's physically tougher, but emotionally raw, and all the better for it. During our hands on we see her gradually broken down from enthusiastic youngster to confirmed killer.

"She's in a situation which is totally uncommon to her and she's been thrown around," says Tomb Raider global brand director Karl Stuart. "She's 21, she's na´ve, she's never been in this adventure before and never had these experiences before. She's got to start at zero to get to hero, that's always been the case, that's been the first two hours seeing how she's going through this and coming out the other side as a much stronger person".

At the start it all feels very Uncharted. Lara leaps crevices, traverses a fallen log, and climbs a crashed plane as it breaks up and tumbles into a ravine. We're in control, but it's all very scripted - there's rarely a moment when we feel in genuine peril. She skirts the edge of a cliff and looks out to see, showing a bay littered with ship-wrecks dating back several centuries.

This island is definitely not a fisherman's friend. She shelters under an overhang in the cliff, and after setting up a basecamp, and warming herself by a fire (which she lights with 'the last match in the packet' of course), Lara is forced to hunt for food.

Oh deer

Climbing down into one of the game's hub areas, she pulls a bow and arrows off a dead-man, and sets to work bothering the local fauna. We can't help teasing Stewart about how 'on-trend' Tomb Raider is, with seemingly every modern game now including a bow.


"There is an element of coincidence purely in the sense of what we're developing," he replies. "We started this in 2008. At that time we went through so many pieces of equipment and it felt sexy. It felt cool. If you're on an island and you've got nothing you can get a bow. And all of a sudden bows are everywhere..."

Meanwhile, in our demo, a delicious-looking deer makes efforts to scamper away, but we shoot it down with a couple of well-aimed arrow shots. It's still alive when we approach it, wheezing for life, and Lara is forced to finish it before skinning the beast with the blade one of her arrows. We won't lie - we genuinely felt remorse for killing the deer, and we skinned New Mexico bare in Red Dead Redemption.

We distract ourselves from our remorse by searching for hidden diaries and shooting native dreamcatchers out of trees inside this small hub area. As you do, when you're marooned on an uncharted island, with no food, and all your friends are hostages. Speaking of which, now fed and watered we decide to take Lara into the next area of the game.

That means entering a creepy old house on the edge of the hub area, and descending a set of metal stairs into the bowels of the island. All around us there are markings - symbols left there by previous inhabitants. Maybe they're the ones who hung up all the dreamcatchers.

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