It only took a few minutes for me to get hooked on Lara Croft GO, a new premium title from Hitman GO creators Square Enix Montréal.
Created in partnership with Crystal Dynamics, this gorgeously done puzzle-solving adventure takes Hitman GO’s turn-based strategy concept and simplicity of action to a whole new level while managing to incorporate several marquee aspects of the traditional Tomb Raider formula and gameplay.
But Lara Croft GO, a $4.99 download in the App Store, is hardly the same game as Hitman GO. More than the collection of its impressive parts—mesmerizing soundtrack, artful animations and gorgeous visuals—Lara Croft GO manages to distill the famed series down to its essence.
I spent a few hours playing and reviewing this game in the days leading up to its release, here are my hands-on impressions and findings.
This puzzle game with its classic character is somewhat confusingly billed as the follow-up to Hitman GO. Yes, the two share the isometric perspective and mechanics but that’s where the similarities stop. Rather than being just a re-skinned Hitman GO, Lara Croft GO is the full-blown adventure game in its own right, period.
Set in an unspecified long-forgotten world, Lara Croft GO is about exploring the ruins of an ancient civilization, discovering hidden secrets, solving puzzles and killing creatures like venomous spiders and snakes. Your ultimate goal is to overcome these challenges and obstacles as you uncover the mystery and myth of the Queen of Venom.
The real challenge was taking the established triple-A video game series beloved by tens of millions of players and distilling it down to an almost byte-sized experience without diluting core concepts of the franchise.
Lara Croft GO takes place in a gorgeous diorama world with tile-based movement. Each screen is a different board so you basically traverse from one “room” to another. Smart cut scenes are sometimes provided as you transition between the boards.
For instance, just as Lara seemingly falls off a cliff the scene scrolls down to reveal a pit she’s fallen into: another board to explore with new puzzles to solve.
Controls and mechanics
As mentioned before, Lara Croft GO is built around the puzzle format that the team established early on. I’ll admit that the game looks and plays much better than I would have imagined. You are definitely going to love how it starts and the mechanics are introduced gradually one by one as you make your way through the introductory chapter.
Speaking of which, the game couldn’t be easier to master.
You navigate using simple swipe-to-move controls.
As you can see on the screenshots, the diorama board features the line-dot-line pattern which defines where Lara can move. Simply swipe in a desired direction and Lara will walk or run one tile at a time. To operate switches, pick up artifacts, gems and other collectibles hidden in urns, just tap on them. Unlike Hitman GO, you can swipe anywhere on the screen to move rather than only from Lara’s feet.
And you don’t have to stand on the adjacent tile in order to pick up an item—just tap on it anywhere on the screen—but you must be near a creature to kill it. Using Lara’s pistols is just as easy: upon moving to the tile next to the enemy you want to attack, swipe in their direction to kill them.
Adventure and puzzle solving
If Hitman GO was the Essence of Assassination, Lara Croft GO is definitely all about the Essence of Adventure. As you progress throughout the game, you can optionally collect various objects and artifact pieces.
Once you collect enough ancient relics to complete an artifact you can exchange it for new outfits for Lara, providing a refreshed look for the adventurer. The impatient types can also unlock the outfits for real money in the built-in store, but why bother? Just collect enough relics and you’ll have some new clothes for your heroine.
Puzzles range from challenging to superfluous and involve pulling levers, flipping the switches, stepping on stones, manipulating platforms, doing things in a particular order and so forth. The puzzles are interesting but I wish there were more of them.
Now, should you get stuck the game offers permanent access to step-by-step solution for every puzzle in the form of a one-time $4.99 In-App Purchase. I’ve finished the first two worlds whilst reviewing the game and don’t think I’ll get stuck: the puzzles aren’t that complicated (though they’re not simplistic either) and most can be solved by trial and error.
Visuals and audio
The locations, Lara’s moves and the types of enemies you encounter are all positively inspired by the original Tomb Raider that older iDownloadBlog readers will remember enjoying playing in their childhood.
Not only are the graphics sharp, lively and wonderfully shaded, the character is fully animated with way more detail than in Hitman GO. Tomb Raider fans will instantly recognize some of Lara’s trademark moves and animations.
My only quibble with the graphics: too tiny character and enemies. I couldn’t help but wish Lara was a tad bigger on my iPhone 6 Plus but then again it could be my aging vision and astigmatism.
Seen below: some of the concept artwork created early in Lara Croft GO’s development.
Generally speaking, the game’s distinct visual aesthetics are a tad reminiscent of Monument Valley’s artwork style but with more detailed 3D graphics and some impressive lighting effects, especially later on in the game as you venture into dark tombs.
Watch the Lara Croft GO reveal trailer below as it provides a nice overview of the gameplay, graphics and the overall concept.
From a technical standpoint, this game purrs on my iPad Air and iPhone 6 Plus.
During my hands-on time with Lara Croft GO never did the game drop a frame, stutter or otherwise hint it was fighting for resources or struggling to run smoothly—courtesy of the Unity graphics engine that powers Lara Croft GO.
Many in-game objects and details are subtly animated, creating a dynamic environment. Leaves move in the wind. Torches throw dancing shadows on the wall, disturbing creatures lurk from the dark, branches of the trees dangle down to the ground and so forth.
I especially like end-of-level animations.
For instance, at the end of the tutorial level, just as Lara was heading for the exit, the music became more menacing as an eerie shape started emerging from the shadows to reveal the head of a huge dragon who roared, growled and hissed as Lara was fleeing the room.
In terms of audio, Lara Croft GO features some captivating soundtrack based on the original music by Pixel Audio. The ambient sounds coupled with the mesmerizing soundtracks help create the atmosphere of suspense and exploration.
Though small in scale, Lara Croft GO takes that Hitman GO magic, improves upon it vastly and applies it to the Tomb Raider universe that many of us have come to love. The game feels contemporary yet unmistakably Tomb Raider-y, but is it worth five bucks a pop?
While I don’t normally comment on app pricing (price is what you pay for, as the saying goes), I would wholeheartedly recommend getting your hands on this game. And if you’re in the market for an exploratory puzzle/strategy game with high production value, Tomb Raider GO is a no-brainer.
On a final note, I wish the game had more levels, a tad more complex puzzles and better longevity. There are five worlds to explore (each comprised of five or more levels) and about 75 puzzles to solve.
Most people will finish Tomb Raider GO in about a few hours, or a few days at best. Unfortunately, the game offers rather modest replay value: it’s linear and the puzzles and levels don’t change. I can hardly think of a valid reason to play the game all over again other than to discover all the collectibles.
As mentioned before, the game includes additional outfits for Ms. Croft that can be unlocked for $1.99 or by finding artifact pieces scattered throughout the game.
These outfits give you bragging rights but they don’t serve any particular purpose. You can also buy tips for in-game puzzles for a one-time fee of $4.99, but that In-App Purchase is completely optional, too.
Lara Croft GO is a 396.4-megabyte download requiring an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad with iOS 8.0 or later (the iPhone 4 is not supported). The game is available for the iOS, Android and Windows Phone platforms and takes advantage of the iPhone 5/5s/5c, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus display resolution.
To celebrate the game’s launch, Square Enix slashed Hitman GO to just $0.99.