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Review: Lara Croft GO – Tomb Raider franchise focuses on puzzles

Latest title in the Tomb Raider series uses puzzles to succeed

Price: $4.99 / £3.99
Version: 1.0
Size: 416 MB
Developer: Square Enix

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The long-running Tomb Raider franchise has had a number of recent, and well-received reboots on consoles and PCs over the last few years after even longer in the wilderness. But many still remember those early efforts, turning the game’s lead character Lara Croft into something of an unofficial mascot for the original PlayStation. Its retro appeal shone through further when Tomb Raider II was ported to the iPhone earlier this year, signifying an ever-growing presence for the action and 3D platformer on mobile devices.

You can sneak up on that snake but don't dare try it from the front

You can sneak up on that snake but don’t dare try it from the front

However, the Tomb Raider II port was far from high quality. It stuttered, glitched, and the onscreen controls just didn’t do the game justice. Now, developer Square Enix has eschewed the Tomb Raider brand in favor of what is arguably a bigger, or more recognizable brand in Lara Croft.

The latest edition to the franchise, Lara Croft GO, is still kind of a platform game, and is still kind of 3D, but its on-rails, puzzle-centric approach makes it an entirely different game. In fact, the ancient, sandstone setting, and Croft’s character are really the only familiar elements of the franchise. So, is this Square Enix using an established character to boost the popularity of what could be a completely separate title? Or is it the regeneration, or development of a popular franchise that’s simply designed for the medium of mobile gaming? Let’s take a closer look.

A giant snake stalks you throughout the whole game

A giant snake stalks you throughout the whole game

LCG will seem familiar to those that have played Hitman GO, a stripped-down version of the wider console sniper game. The concept with this game is the same – stripping back the controls and the action. It was developed by Square Enix Montreal, an off-shoot of the larger company, and its the first game in the Tomb Raider franchise that they’ve worked on. We’d say the choice to have them work on the game was a direct result of the Hitman game that won them the chance to do something similar with LCG. However, the game is far more than a reskin.

How are you going to get out of this one? With difficulty

How are you going to get out of this one? With difficulty

The player, of course, plays Lara Croft. The idea is similar to the main franchise in which the character is required to collect various artifacts and valuables, and fight various large and smaller beasts. When first played, it feels odd that Croft can only move in specific directions, but as the puzzle nature becomes familiar, the player’s perhaps latent boardgame mentality kicks in and it feels completely natural. There aren’t any tutorials either, the game chooses the much preferred option of easing the user in with gradual introductions of game mechanics.

There's a few different creatures out to get you. The rocks will help

There’s a few different creatures out to get you. The rocks will help

The game itself is made up of an intro world, then five main worlds – three to collect keys, a big boss fight (which is easily the coolest part of the game) and then a final short, sharp set-piece at the end. Towards the end it gets seriously tough, but the levels are designed well enough so that you can always work your way through given enough time and the harder levels are really satisfying to eventually figure out. If you struggle, there’s an option to pay another $4.99 for a full tutorial. However, this seems a bit mad for two reasons: firstly, that’s a lot of money to pay on top of a paid-for game, and secondly, why spoil the whole thing for yourself? Couldn’t individual hints for $0.99 also be an option for those truly stuck? As for the gem and object-finding, it’s a fun extra but collecting them all seems a bit pointless as all it really does is unlock new outfits.

Overall, there’s enough content there for the price. It takes about 3 or hours to complete depending on competence, but it did leave us wanting more. We’re undecided on whether this is a good thing or whether it mean it’s too short.

The game culminates in a big boss level

The game culminates in a big boss level

Although the turn-based gameplay is way different to what we expect from a Tomb Raider game, it stays true to the series’ feel by letting you do everyday Croftian things like shoot snakes in the face while doing backflips. But going back to the questions we asked at the beginning of this review, Lara Croft GO is a hugely enjoyable, and challenging puzzle game. But it’s not Tomb Raider. While we wouldn’t want to be cynical enough to say that Square Enix is simply trying to boost the popularity of a different game using a familiar character, we will say that Lara Croft GO is such a well-designed game that if the Tomb Raider canon wasn’t bolted onto it, it would probably stand-up in its own right as one of iOS’ greatest puzzle games, rather than simply existing as a well-received spin-off.