Review: Lara Croft Go Is Classic Tomb Raider in Slow, Beautiful Motion
As fun as it is to witness Lara Croft’s rise as a Tomb Raider, nothing beats trekking into a tomb dressed in the famous ensemble of blue tank top, brown shorts, and boots and hunting for ancient relics. The recent Lara Croft spin-off games, like last year’s Temple of Osiris, have taken us back to the adventurer’s classic raiding days, full of runaway boulders and T-Rexes—times when Lara shot giant spiders and executed fancy handstands and swan dives without a second thought. The newest release from Square Enix, Lara Croft Go, is a brand new type of Tomb Raider game, but it feels as wonderfully familiar as ever.
Lara Croft Go follows on the success of Hitman Go, a mobile puzzler where players swipe to guide Agent 47 along lines and nodes as if moving a piece on a game board. When the Agent moves, enemies also take a turn, but otherwise the action remains paused, giving players time to think and plan their next strategy. Lara Croft Go works the same way, only this time returning developer Square Enix Montréal has brought the board to life, with a talking, moving Lara and equally animated foes—snakes, spiders, and lizards.
I had no experience with the Go games before this, so I didn’t know what to expect when Lara plopped down on a linear path, waiting for me to direct her. For anyone who’s played Tomb Raider before, the change in style in Go takes a moment to get used to. Lara runs forward or rolls back in fits and starts, one touch swipe and one board node at a time. The master acrobat doesn’t much jumping here, either, which caught me off-guard when I encountered a giant pit less than a minute in. Since the game didn’t give me any instructions on the controls, I figured I needed to make Lara leap the gap—a feat I’ve done countless times. It took me a few minutes to realize that by allowing her to fall (to her death?!), she would safely scale down the rock into a cave. Everything I learned from two decades of playing Tomb Raider changed in that instant.
As it turns out, you don’t need any instructions on how to play because the mechanics only consist of one thing: swiping in any four directions. Lara climbs and shoots automatically. If you come across an enemy, you can kill it by attacking from the back or side, but a frontal encounter will leave you monster food. Of course, you have more than bottom-dwelling creatures to worry about. Any veteran raider knows that tombs are ridden with traps—platforms waiting to crumble, flying arrows triggered by levers and pressure plates, and more.
In a normal Tomb Raider game, all these challenges would converge at once, demanding frantic shooting, flawless jumps, and crazy somersaults from players. (I can’t help but think back to the beginning of Tomb Raider II, whose first level along China’s Great Wall is a near-nonstop, Olympian gauntlet of danger.) But Lara Croft Go removes fast-paced action from the equation, encouraging players to concentrate on solving puzzles while at the same time contending with multiple enemies and traps. It blends both together with excellent results. A worse Tomb Raider game might make me cringe if it threw one brain-teasing puzzle after another at me, but Lara Croft Go boils this task down to its purest essence, allowing players to focus less on manipulating complicated controls and more on the puzzle-solving itself.
Even the graphics feel clean and streamlined, with vivid backgrounds and sound effects reminding me of older Tomb Raider days. The opening menu calls back to the classic games, in which players could rotate a circle of icons (game settings and the like) and choose Lara’s journal to begin or load the adventure from where they left off:
While Lara Croft Go features only a few types of enemies and traps, the interactions you have with them are deep enough to sustain the five hours you’ll be playing. (While five hours is short, I’d rather enjoy a no-filler game than trudge through one that’s watered down for the sake of extra length.) My favorite monsters were by far the lizards, who of course react to you differently than the other enemies. They spot you if you’re two spaces ahead, and once they see you, they pursue you relentlessly until you kill them or cut off their line of sight.
In one level, I led a lizard up a cliff and down the other side, which was cracked. I knew that if I moved over the crack once, it would weaken so that when the lizard followed me over it, the wall would break under the weight. It was a tactic that had worked before, sending the reptiles plummeting to their death. But this time didn’t work as I hoped it would. Instead of the lizard falling in the hole, it fell right on top of me—crushing my body in the process. Ten out of 10, perfect landing.
Later on, you get your hands on spears and torches that mix up the gameplay a little, making for some interesting twists. Because each enemy acts according to a different move and attack pattern, and because the traps and landscape vary, each level becomes a puzzle in itself. You have to employ some clever thinking to avoid foes and overcome all the obstacles set before you. I died quite a few times during my playthrough and adapted my approach through constant trial and error.
Lara Croft Go is well worth a play, whether you’re an old or new fan of Tomb Raider. It does have some small replay value since you can collect relic pieces and gems, which in turn unlock different outfits for Lara. As much fun as it is, I can’t help but think a sequel—however welcome—might run the risk of wearing out the novelty introduced here, much how I found Temple of Osiris to be a lackluster imitation of its predecessor, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.
But one thing is for sure: Square Enix is intent on making the Tomb Raider series as fresh and innovative as possible, and it’s succeeding at keeping the lady raider formidable and alive. Raiding is back in style, baby.
Lara Croft Go is available for iOS, Android, Windows, and Windows Phone.
Stephanie Carmichael writes about video games, comics, and books when she’s not helping teachers and students have fun together with Classcraft, an educational RPG. Find her on her blog or on Twitter.