There was a time when traversal, action and adventure were synonymous with Lara Croft and Tomb Raider. Now that several other franchises have usurped the throne, Crystal Dynamics is bringing things back to they were. At least, that’s the plan. But to do that they’ll need more than shiny graphics and cliff-faces to climb.

The first in a series of Tomb Raider developer diaries exploring the challenges of surviving on the mysterious island Lara finds herself marooned on, ‘Smart Resourceful Lara’ shows how Lady Croft’s ingenuity and intellect will be her best allies.

While the initial details and gameplay demonstrations of Tomb Raider focused largely on its comparisons to Uncharted and mixture of exploration and QTE’s, the focus is quickly changing. We’ve known for some time that the developers had a multi-faceted experience planned, but this new developer diary does a good job of introducing the systems and mechanics surrounding the moment-to-moment combat (be it involving humans, or wild animals).

The most recent Spike VGA trailer proved thatthis incarnation of the series wouldn’t just offer intense action and seemingly endless pulse-pounding action, but just might succeed in delivering a compelling story of the events that turned the wealthy Lady Croft into the tireless explorer the world knows her to be. Of course, one must ask: exactly what does Lara do when not running for her life or falling to her (near) death?

Tomb Raider Comic Con Preview Demo

Apparently the progression of Lara is only as successful as the location and use of the game’s ‘Base Camps,’ the one place where the player can use experience gained to heighten Lara’s skills and upgrade her weapons/tools. To do that players will need to collect ‘Salvage’ from throughout the game world. We don’t know exactly what ‘Salvage’ is, but it’s the chief ingredient required to strengthen Lara’s climbing axe, bow and arrows, and more.

The mechanic certainly promises a bit deeper of an experience than a simple sequence of traversal inter-spliced with cinematic cutscenes or QTE’s. In a purely gameplay sense, the collection and exploration matched with upgrading and skill improvement is a very literal sign of the ‘evolving relationship’ between Lara and the player. It’s hard to tell just how deep the systems will be, or how much they’ll influence the core gameplay, but the more Crystal Dynamics is showing, the more we’re getting excited.

With an established actress bringing Lara Croft to life, and a game already promising enough to convince the developers that a sequel is inevitable, Tomb Raider just might bring enough of a change to convince even those who felt they’d had their fill of the series that it’s worth another look. And without absurd anatomical proportions needed to do it.

What do you think of the separation of gameplay and upgrading? Is this break in immersion a good direction for adding depth and investment, or do you fear it could break the narrative experience? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Tomb Raider releases March 5, 2013, for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

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