As part of its 25th anniversary celebrations for Tomb Raider, Square Enix has revealed footage and details of Tomb Raider: Ascension, an early survival-horror-like prototype created by Crystal Dynamics as it explored ways to reimagine the series – with various aspects of the project ultimately making their way into the developer’s 2013 reboot.
“After narrowing in on the concept of a survival story on a remote island,” explains Square Enix over on YouTube, “[Crystal Dynamics] began developing what was internally called Tomb Raider: Ascension.” The project is said to have “felt closer to a horror game than a Tomb Raider title” at one point, although this aspect would eventually fade into the background as the studio opted to focus in on survival elements.
Square’s Ascension showcase takes the form of three videos, the first consisting of concept art, and the second showing a surprisingly substantial chunk of in-game footage, in which Lara scrambles through a claustrophobic flooded cave, prowls (and eventually rides horseback) around a vast, foggy forest wilderness, and more.
There’s a definite sinister fantasy edge to proceedings as Lara encounters various unsettling, otherworldly creatures, but there are undoubtedly early hints of survival too, with Lara seen brandishing her crossbow, and using fire to hold back enemies and clear a path forward.
A third video, meanwhile, offers a look at some early designs for Ascension’s box art, as well as an “early exploratory” voice over, aiming to capture “the tone for the difficult journey ahead”, and introducing the kind of angsty, introspective take on Lara Croft that would go on to define Crystal Dynamics’ po-faced reboot.
“You think you know me,” says Lara in the video, “think you’ve seen me before. The Brit princess; rich girl with a pretty face; shiny guns and a flair for gymnastics. I think you’ve got me mixed up with someone else. I’m not perfect, I’m not bulletproof; I struggle, I bleed, I get cold, I get lost, I have doubts, I know pain, I know fear. One day, I will become a legend, a warrior, a hero, a raider. But first, I will be a survivor. Still think you know me? Think again.”
All in all, it’s a fascinating glimpse at a game that never was, and it’s hard not to wonder what might have been if Crystal Dynamics had opted to lean into Ascension’s atmospheric horror elements rather then pursuing the dour, miserabilist survival angle that ultimately formed the heart of its eventual reboot. Still, with the reboot trilogy now complete, anything could be in Lara’s future, so here’s hoping Square is ready to reveal more Tomb Raider soon.