Previews

Tomb Raider hands-on: how young Lara outclasses her older self

Crystal's revamped heroine is no victim

The new Tomb Raider is different. You first feel it in the camera - tight, intimate zooms as Lara crushes herself into a confined, suffocating crevice, and a vertigo-inducing top-down shot as she climbs the narrowest, highest mast.

Lara's also different, but not how you'd expect. This is supposed to be a more fragile and naive Lara. But she's actually never been more robust and formidable. Sure, she'll stop between scenes to have a little ponder, and read introspective passages from her diary when you set up camp.

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But no amount of thoughtful voiceover can subtract from the fact that her first act as a player-controlled character is to deliberately set fire to herself, receive a metal shard through the abdomen, pull it out, and outrun a collapsing cave. If this is the story of a woman realising her potential, then that potential was already bubbling pretty close to the surface. For all her battered gasps, this isn't a victim. This is a better Lara.

The see-saw of combat and acrobatics in these first few hours is heavier than ever on the combat side. Before you take a human life, you have to survive and hunt a deer, and until you get a hold of the climbing axe, it's a matter of old-school shimmying and tightropes. With hub areas and a more natural sense of exploration, this even feels a little less linear than previous games.

The game's two currencies are XP and salvage, which can be spent on three sets of skills - Surviving, Hunting and Brawling. Low level survival involves boosting the salvage you get from various actions, and ends up highlighting hidden items on the map. Brawling, meanwhile, is a great place to spend your earliest points, giving you stunning melee attacks and finishing moves as a fallback when your bullets and arrows fail.

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The writing's good, even if there are some cheesy moments, like when Lara muses on the nature of nightmares. Nightmares, she reasons, are something you wake up from. This doesn't happen in real life, when you are already awake, you see. She concludes that not having woken up, this must be real.

Those moments aside, this is Lara in a more action role, branching out from her ledge-hanging roots, and making good on the dramatic promise of her previous games. Wherever it's going, we're in for the ride.

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