Lara Croft is a name we trust. So when Square Enix announced Lara Croft GO, I was excited. Like many, my brain has been primed to approve of the Tomb Raider video game series. Honestly, I struggled to distill this game from its icon. I continuously asked myself, how would I feel about this game if it didn’t have Lara Croft? This is, of course, impossible to answer. Bias cannot be erased and that’s something working in Lara Croft GO’s favor. Gamers are already bought into the story of this heroine exploring catacombs, unveiling secrets, and collecting rare objects. Square Enix is set up for success here; all they need is the game play to drive it home. And they have it.
Lara Croft GO is a turn-based puzzler divided into five chapters, each with multiple levels. The end-goal of each level is straightforward and conventional: reach the exit; it’ll be glowing. The controls are highly intuitive and the game, rightfully, provides no real prompting. Everything is pretty simple: A tap on a lever pulls it and enemies can be killed with a swipe (when adjacent to them) or a tap (if you’re throwing a spear). The primary mechanic is walking/climbing, which is done one space at a time by swiping along the path. At first, this feels choppy. I found myself wishing I could tap the spaces instead and speed up the process, especially during initial easy levels that are a simple walk from Point A to Point B. However, this mechanic becomes important as the difficulty increases and the “turn-based” element truly comes into play. As the game advances, your movement will cause certain enemies and obstacles to move as well.
I really appreciate how this game doesn’t hold your hand with tutorial icons; it just throws you into the adventure. This lends itself well to the idea the game is selling: you are Lara Croft; you’ll have to figure things out. And I admit, it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize I was supposed to collect objects by tapping on the slightly illuminated gold containers hidden in the area. But that’s part of the fun: the uncertainties, the surprises, and—most of all—the pride of accomplishing things on your own.
A fair warning, the game starts off very easy and doesn’t get interesting until Book 3/5. The answers to these initial puzzles are pretty obvious: playing through them feels like taking a multiple-choice test that only has one answer. But stick with it; the pay-off makes the dullness worth it. Book 3 and 4 are joys (5 is also good but, with only three levels, its forgettable). They draw perfectly on your previous knowledge (Book 1 and 2) and force you to apply it in new and interesting ways. Suddenly, not every lever needs to be pulled as soon as you see it and enemies aren’t just to kill—they can be tools (sitting on switches is one of many examples). The shift in enemy relationship has been done before but it’s always an appreciated touch. It goes against our gamer instincts, making the experience feel new again. I began looking at enemies and then examining the entire area: where do I need to go? How do I get there? Do I need these creatures alive or dead? And how do I make sure they don’t kill me in the process? The cracked ground, in Lara Croft GO, functions similarly. At first, it’s just a hole you fall into and die. But as the game progresses falling becomes necessary: whether it’s getting yourself down to another level or making an enemy fall to its death.
Lara Croft GO is a reasonably demanding blast. I got stuck a few times but was able to complete all puzzles without any outside aid or excessive time spent. And even though there’s very little text, I feel like I left the game with a complete story. All of my adventuring, fighting, and strategic planning culminated into a satisfying sort-of-boss-fight with Queen Venom.
Overall, this game is great and I’d love to see a sequel. In addition to the game play, the little things won me over. The art style is charming and the hidden objects provide a nice incentive to take in your surroundings at all times. The additional animations went a long way (such as having Lara Croft occasionally balancing on a ledge before landing—developers take note!). And even something as simple as the “levels” being displayed as spots on Lara’s map enhanced the experience. My only critique is how long it takes to pick up. Though the slow-paced game play is a necessary evil to prepare for harder puzzles, it still feels like it could’ve been shorter or the challenging portion of the game could’ve been longer. Still, Lara Croft GO is a memorable experience that I highly recommend. I missed four train stops trying to solve one of the puzzles and I regret nothing.
iOS: Lara Croft GO ($4)
Android: Lara Croft GO ($4)