Ever since Crystal DynamicsTomb Raider reboot was announced, fans old and new have been eagerly anticipating what would become of Ms. Croft. Due to an unfortunate delay in the game’s release date, gamers will not be seeing Lara until early next year. After viewing a demonstration of Tomb Raider at E3 2012, we can definitely see why Crystal Dynamics pushed back the release date. In fact,  a lot of the demo was shown within the E3 2012 “Crossroads” trailer that debuted before the expo.

The demo begins exactly where we left Lara in Tomb Raider’s E3 2011 demo video. After escaping from the claustrophobia of the cave, Lara must find hope for salvation, rescue, and possibly other shipmates. This new demo is more open than last year’s, as we see our young heroine venture outside through an unknown forest searching for supplies while staying wary of her surroundings.

Tomb Raider Hunting Sreenshot

The new Tomb Raider does bear some resemblance to Uncharted, but still manages to be its own game. Of course, the scene in which Lara tries to climb up a deserted, rotting airplane as it crumbles and falls apart is practically a shot for shot recreation of the action in Uncharted 2, but there are many other elements that help make Tomb Raider unique.

A lot of the gameplay has survival elements and tactics that, in a way, are similar to Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater — basically, having to use resources to adapt. There weren’t any puzzle challenges in this year’s demo; most of what we saw was Lara learning how to become a survivor through skill building and new experiences.

To keep gameplay flowing, and to stop Lara from constantly talking to herself — which she does quite a bit — there are handy objectives that pop up on the screen every once in awhile. Still, we can’t forget about the progression of our main character. This journey is supposed to tell how Lara becomes the confident, gun-toting tomb raider that we all know and love. By completing tasks, fighting off enemies, and using various other survival techniques, Lara gains XP that can be used to rank up a number of stats, including weapon handling skills, survival skills and more.

Each step of the way, Crystal Dynamics has invested in Lara’s character, and players should be able to grow with her. But while developing the character is great, there may be too many cutscenes intertwined with Tomb Raider’s gameplay. Almost every other minute, play stops and a short cutscene is introduced — which could prove distracting for some players. Nevertheless, audiences looking for a rich, fulfilling story should love this game. Lara’s facial animations, particularly, are outstanding, and really help sell the emotional narrative.

One standout gameplay dynamic is Lara’s ability to use wreckage to improve her tools — and possibly weapons — at an established base camp. For instance, we witnessed a weak wooden pick-axe transformed into a sturdy metal axe. Meanwhile, action fans will definitely enjoy fighting off enemies, and especially the slow-motion sequences for bow hunting. The demo is set near the very beginning of the game, so some of the high-intensity action seen in the “Crossroads” trailer wasn’t present. The new demo did, however, enhance the notion that this game will be grittier and more violent than previous expected.

Tomb Raider Screenshot 2

Tomb Raider’s environments are beautiful, but the game’s dark contrast may hurt what Crystal Dynamics is trying to accomplish visually. At night it’s rather difficult to see where to navigate, which may cause some real problems. Luckily, there is a map to use in case players become lost.

All in all, Tomb Raider looks very promising. It should be a great starting point for those new to the franchise, and fans who have grown up with Lara should keep an eye out (and an open mind) when the game arrives next year.

Tomb Raider is scheduled to release March 5, 2013, for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.

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