Square Enix Montréal’s latest mobile game, the nostalgia-inducing Lara Croft GO, was perhaps one of the most pleasantly surprising announcements of this year’s E3. Fans hadn’t expected a brand new mobile game to be announced so soon after the worldwide release of Relic Run and with all the excitement and hype surrounding the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft GO could easily have slipped under the radar.
But it didn’t go quietly into the night. In fact, it made quite an impact, especially amongst those Tomb Raider fans who pined for the good ol’ days of ambushing animal enemies and solving brain-teasing puzzles.
And now that Lara Croft GO has finally landed, has the wait been worth it? Is it the nostalgic experience its developers promised it would be? The answer to both of these questions is quite simply “Heck yes”. I’d use stronger language here but I’d like to keep this review as family-friendly as possible.
From the moment you load up the game, you know you’re in for a real trip down memory lane. The radial menu screen is as “classic Tomb Raider” as it gets and menu navigation is smooth and intuitive. The journal functions much like Lara’s passport did in the earlier games, allowing you to continue your game or revisit sections you’ve already completed, and you can take stock of the relics you’ve collected by selecting the backpack.
The controls are incredibly easy to learn and are perfectly suited for mobile gaming; you simply need to swipe in the direction you wish to go and Lara will obey, moving one step forward at a time, performing the odd acrobatic move here and there, and dispatching her enemies along the way… as long as they aren’t facing her. Land on a spot directly in front of an enemy that’s facing in your direction and you’ll soon regret it. And look out for a familiar trademark move that seems to be triggered at random while climbing up walls!
The first few levels do an excellent job of preparing you for the more complex puzzles and trickier enemies of the later sections. New enemies, mechanics, and traps are introduced every other level so there’s an near-constant need to think up new strategies on the fly as you try to safely guide Lara to each checkpoint. Levers, pressure switches, rolling boulders, and moveable blocks are all back in full force, making Lara Croft GO a real return to classic Tomb Raider form.
Some puzzles require some forward thinking but can usually be solved through simple trial and error. As the game progresses, the puzzles become increasingly complex, sometimes combining several of them to leave you momentarily stumped, and you’ll begin to realise that sometimes it’s worth keeping your enemies alive if you want to progress to the next level. That said, none of the puzzles will leave you wanting to chuck your device out the window out of sheer frustration. With a little patience and persistence, you can probably get through the game’s five chapters within a few hours.
Watch out for gold vases hidden throughout the levels as these contain various collectables, such as gems and fragments of relics, that will unlock a variety of costumes from the early Tomb Raider games. One of the relics is a nod to something seen in Tomb Raider 1’s Vilcabamba level and is incidentally one of my favourite works of Aztec art. Well played, dev team! You may miss a few of these vases during your first play-through but you can easily go back for these later by selecting the journal from the main menu and choosing the level you wish to revisit.
As for the graphics, well, what can I say? The character animations are wonderfully fluid and the levels are beautifully crafted; clean yet bursting with colour. In their “Making Of” video, the development team made it clear that they drew inspiration from their “childhood memories” of the early Tomb Raider games and this is clearly reflected in the game’s art style and environments. From lush jungles to snake-infested swamps, from claustrophobic caves to an almost-hellish underworld, Lara Croft GO’s world is a diverse and dynamic one that never fails to capture your attention.
If I was pressed to think of any weak points, I’d probably say the game’s soundtrack. While Pixel Audio have done an outstanding job of composing hauntingly beautiful tunes for the game’s various levels, the soundtrack doesn’t really conjure up the same feeling of nostalgia that the game play and graphics do. I feel that the Temple of Osiris soundtrack did an overall better job of capturing the essence of “classic Tomb Raider” and feel that the development team may have missed a beat by not hiring the original Tomb Raider composer, Nathan McCree, to help produce the tracks for GO.
That said, I don’t wish to belittle Pixel Audio’s efforts as they’ve still done a smashing job. Their ambient soundtrack helps evoke that sense of ancient mystery and solitude that we’ve long associated with the franchise and the game incorporates enough musical cues and sound effects from the Core Design games to satisfy even the most demanding Tomb Raider fan.
All in all, Lara Croft GO has turned out to be one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in years and is perhaps the most impressive entry in the Lara Croft brand to date. The puzzle-heavy gameplay and nostalgia factor are the game’s major selling points and Square Enix Montréal have definitely delivered on that front. I’d even say they’ve exceeded my expectations. Last year’s Temple of Osiris, while fun, was let down by its temperamental co-op mode – though the glitches made for some interesting live-streams – and a game-killing glitch that forced me to restart the game from scratch. And unlike Relic Run, I had no problems whatsoever running the game on my Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini, though do keep your battery charger handy as the game will eat up your battery power within a few hours. And, trust me, you *will* lose track of time while playing this.
Could we be looking at a contender for Mobile Game of the Year? I guess time will tell but something tells me that Lara Croft GO will be scooping up some industry awards in the coming months. All I know, without a shadow of a doubt, is that this game was five euros very well spent and that I’m already craving a sequel.
Lara Croft GO is now available worldwide for iOS, Android, and Windows and should run on most (if not all) smart devices. As always, please check the minimum technical requirements for your device before purchasing.