Needless to say, Lara Croft has been freshly redesigned. Her days as a buxom and sly lass of the 90s have come and gone, and out of her ashes rises someone grittier and noticeably toned-down. The younger Lara stands out in the hands-off E3 demo (an extended version of what was shown at Microsoft's press conference) as a resourceful but scared kid straight out of college - a far cry from the Croft we've come to know.
The change extends to the new voice actress, whose take on the character has given her a girlish, moany twang. Croft's ship has crashed off the coast of Japan, and its survivors have been taken captive. When we meet her, Lara finds herself strung up and chained to the ceiling - responding with worried huffs and whimpers.
The introductory scene builds to teach you the basics behind Tomb Raider's physics. A back and forth swing from her ceiling chains is the best little Lara can muster, but it's enough to create a simple Rube Goldberg reaction: Lara swings into a nearby corpse that's been wrapped in cloth, the cloth-body swings into an open flame, and off we go with the flame roaming from the cadaver onto Lara's own bindings, causing them to break and her to plummet to the ground.
Welcome to Fire 101. This appears to be your tool of choice in the first portion of the introduction. Lara's weapon set is non-existent at the beginning of the game, but we are shown how a basic flame can be used to her advantage and later how far simple survival instincts extend to solving puzzles. Survival Instinct is an ability that highlights pertinent objects in a scene without giving away how they specifically relate to the problem at hand.
The demo itself is littered with QTEs, an element that many are already on edge about. As Lara first attempts to escape one of the underground rooms her captor attacks, giving you an on-screen prompt to hammer LS in order to escape - fail to do so and he gruesomely stabs her in the throat with a small pick axe. A similar scene appears a few minutes later when she's attacked once again, prompting the LS order to appear, which if successfully pressed causes a boulder to crush the attacker.
However in an interview with developer Crystal Dynamics' global brand manager Karl Stewart, we're told the game will not be "heavy when it comes to quick time events" - despite the elements shown in the demo footage.
We skip through time to a scene that should ring familiar to anyone whose finger has been on the pulse of Croft news. The wolf attack sequence that was leaked in a script last month here rears its head in full animated glory. At this point we meet Conrad Roth, a 52-year-old treasure hunter who helps turn young Lara into the Croft we know.
Roth is attacked by wolves and passes out, leaving our bewildered Lara to pursue the animals to their den to retrieve items they've taken. There's an element of non-linearity to the mission, which means Croft can find the den a number of different ways - in this case she scales a nearby dilapidated building, but alternatively she could have followed the wolves' fresh prints. Similarly she can get back to Roth using a number of different routes. In the demo she does this by diving down from the top of a waterfall, as opposed to crawling down the side of the same building she just scaled.
We're told this island is just one of many hubs that Lara will be able to travel to repeatedly, by forming basecamps at each of the hubs she discovers. Fast Travel allows Croft to easily get back to old hubs for further exploration - although what you gain from exploring these areas isn't made clear. Crystal Dynamics has also implemented varied weather conditions as well as night and day cycles which affects the islands you visit. Additionally, Lara will be able to salvage material to craft into items, which offers a nicely literal take on her resourceful survivor persona.
Little is known about the game's combat system, or even much of Lara's revised character as of yet, but so far the refurbished Tomb Raider seems like an impressive concoction of old themes and very new interpretations.
Tomb Raider is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in autumn 2012.