A review of Square Enix Montréal’s Lara Croft GO that’s now available to download on Windows Phone, iOS and Android
With the mobile market expanding exponentially, many AAA video game companies are attempting to widen the breadth of their audience by introducing their intellectual properties to handheld devices. Some of these attempts include disastrous ports that fail to translate to touch controls and some are shameless micro-transaction cash-ins. Few have nailed down the formula like Square Enix Montréal who are not only able to produce mobile games that are satisfying to control and do not include intrusive monetisation stratagems, but they have the ability to make stellar games that put other games on the marketplace to shame.
Last year Hitman GO’s announcement seemed to come out of nowhere and people were rightfully hesitant when you consider that the only fate of handheld reimaginings of beloved franchises seems to involve festering on the gigantic pile of shovelware on the AppStore. However, if you’ve played Hitman GO you wouldn’t disagree that it was one of the best games to hit the mobile platform last year, possibly only eclipsed by Monument Valley. For anyone who believed that Hitman GO was a serendipitous fluke, they are so very wrong. Announced at the Square Enix E3 press conference in June and launching on iOS, Android and Windows Phone on August 27th, Lara Croft GO is as good as, if not better than Hitman GO.
Those familiar with Hitman GO will recognise the same stylised art style and turn-based gameplay in Lara Croft GO. Rather than taking out specific targets (and usually everyone in between) Lara Croft GO involves the titular Lara solving various puzzles to traverse through tombs (obviously). Instead of henchmen and guard dogs posing as the game’s obstacles and threats, snakes, boulders and spikes (and anything else that can be found in an Indiana Jones film) stand in Lara’s way. Each level is typically divided into three sections with the sole objective being to tactically manoeuvre Lara to the other side of the grid unscathed
Lara’s movement is controlled by a simple swiping gesture on the touch screen whilst a gentle tap will allow her to move totems or pick up a fragment of the game’s several hidden relics (about three or four pots containing fragments are inconspicuously dotted around each level). This simplistic yet extremely intuitive and effective control scheme perfectly complements touch devices and since no dexterous sleight of hand is required, Lara Croft GO can be played at anywhere, anytime by anyone.
The gameplay is turn-based so any movement made by Lara will be reciprocated by the movement of other interactive objects and creatures. The creatures; snakes, spiders and salamanders; behave similarly to the different enemy types in Hitman Go. Snakes will remain in situ, whilst spiders will move one step at a time and salamanders will follow your path if you’re seen. Coming head-to-head with any one of the animals will result in Lara’s death but she’ll whip out her dual pistols and end them if she flanks them or approaches them from behind. Although you could usually remain a pacifist out of choice in Hitman GO, often you’ll have to keep enemies alive out of necessity in Lara Croft GO since some solutions to puzzles require the creatures to be present and their death will result in you clicking the restart button. It’s a case where brains take precedence over brawn, which is fitting considering the Tomb Raider series’ puzzle-solving-over-combat approach.
Creatures aren’t the only things Lara will have to contend with throughout the game. New elements such as fire, spears, levers, pressure pads, boulders, totems, buzz saws and spikes are introduced every few levels which will keep Lara on her toes and prevent the game from stagnating. Towards the latter stages of the game, you’ll be juggling multiple elements but interconnected objects are colour-coded and the difficulty curve is gradual so you’ll never feel overwhelmed. The puzzles are diverse and are wonderfully crafted so they’ll get those rusty cogs in your brain grinding.
Lara Croft GO will appeal to any newcomer purely on the basis of its magnificent gameplay but fans of the Tomb Raider series will find many little nods to the series’ rich history. It’s evident that Square Enix Montréal wanted to incorporate a few Easter eggs and lovers of the franchise will appreciate the fan service that goes beyond Lara’s iconic pony tail and dual pistols. For instance, now and then when Lara pulls herself up to a ledge she will transition into a handstand; when she kills a creature from above she’ll pirouette in the air whilst shooting; and new outfits such as the Area 51 costume from Tomb Raider 3 or wetsuit from Underworld (other outfits based on Square Enix characters such as Agent 47 and Rico Rodriguez can be purchased) are unlocked by collecting relics. All these subtleties demonstrate Square Enix Montréal’s respect towards franchise as well as their audience.
The stylised art direction is nothing short of stunning. Lara Croft GO has a clean, simple aesthetic but its polychromatism gives its overall visual presentation a lot of depth. The floral yellows, bright crimsons, pastel greens and vivid aquas extend to the foreground and background of each level and make each ruin and tomb a sight to behold even on a screen no bigger than 5 inches.
Perhaps my only criticism of Lara Croft GO is its omission of objectives. In Hitman GO there were three optional objectives per level such as completing the level without killing any guard dogs or finishing the level using a certain number of moves and these added to the game’s overall replay value as most objectives were mutually exclusive and required multiple playthroughs. There are relic fragments to find in Lara Croft GO but given that these can be found in a single playthrough there’s little reason to return to Lara Croft GO once you’ve hit 100% completion. Even after being on the marketplace for over a year there are still some objectives I have yet to complete in Hitman GO but, despite its brilliance, I probably won’t return to Lara Croft GO until future content is added.
Speaking of a future content, hopefully Lara Croft GO will receive additional level packs (such as the Hitman GO Airport pack et al.) so players can return to the game. New level packs could be purchased in Hitman GO but if you wanted to circumvent this financial option, you could unlock level packs by completing objectives in each level. It would be nice if Lara Croft GO adopted this consumer-friendly option but I’d be more than happy to pull out my wallet for more content because it will undoubtedly be fantastic. This approach to unlocking content is indicative of the GO series’ overall “freemium” model. Various things such as hints and costumes can be purchased in Lara Croft GO but none of these are intrusive and are completely optional as none of them are intrinsic to gameplay. If more mobile games focused on quality rather than monetisation, the marketplace would be a much more viable place to satiate your gaming needs.
Just like for Agent 47, Square Enix Montréal have rolled out the red carpet for the eponymous heroine and leading lady of the video game industry in Lara Croft GO. Lara Croft GO is the epitome of the successful diversification of a franchise and it’s telling when a company has such love and respect for a franchise. With satisfying and varied puzzles, device-appropriate controls, a non-invasive monetisation scheme and a beautiful visual presentation, Lara Croft GO is queen of the App Store. AAA companies take note. This is how to translate existing properties to mobile.
- Simple but slick control system
- Great turn-based puzzles
- Nods to iconic Tomb Raider elements
- The urns may drive you mad