"On screen, Lara Croft is inching her way up a rock face. She’s wedged in a narrow vertical gap, chimneying her way up. It’s complicated, gruelling work. She grunts as she works her way past outcrops, exerting herself totally with the effort of remaining suspended some 40 feet above the jagged ground below. She slips, losing her footing for a second, before she jams her boot against the wall, steadies herself, and heaves a lungful of air. She climbs on.
In a chair, I’m pushing the thumbstick on my gamepad forward. I’ve been pushing it forward for almost all of Lara’s ascent. When she slips, I take my thumb off the controller for a second. I do this because the game makes it clear that I have no way to stop the event or assist in her righting process, and because my thumb is getting mildly numb from the effort. Three quarters of the way up, I release it again, interested to see what’ll happen to a visibly knackered Lara left to dangle. Nothing. She stays there, wedged in the rock, her superhuman core strength keeping her legs stable for – presumably – eternity. I go back to pushing the thumbstick forward.
A quick note: I’m pushing the thumbstick forward – not pressing W on a keyboard – because journalists are only able to play Xbox 360 code at this stage in Tomb Raider’s development. I’ve been pushing it forward for most of the three hours of Tomb Raider I’ve played so far, from Lara’s shipwreck at the opening, through her escape from local madmen down a perilously narrow and conveniently sized cave, during lengthy climbs up the side of a variety of precarious structures and rock formations.
Sometimes, Lara slips and tumbles as I’m pressing the thumbstick forward: collapsing into a heap after diving past a falling rock, missing a handhold halfway up a radio mast. It’s meant to feel thrilling, moments of near-death to keep the pulse racing. It succeeds instead in frustrating me. I can see the obvious coming, but I can’t avoid it. I can’t do anything but press the thumbstick forward as control is wrested away from me, keeping the scene rolling as Lara finds out about her own survival instincts on her own.
Crystal Dynamics want players to guide Lara through adversity, to help her find her strength and will to survive. Her predicament looks harrowing, but such is the lack of meaningful interaction, she might do just fine without your help."