[Review] Lara Croft GO – A Gorgeous Surprise

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Lara Croft Go – or the one where Lara gets cut in pieces… Truth be told, I was skeptical about this release because a turn-based puzzle and Lara Croft seemed like an improbable concoction. However, the Canadian division of Square Enix got some brewing masterminds who’ve made a daring move and hit a bull’s eye.

A whimsical, charming, playful, unique and engrossing game, Lara Croft Go from Square Enix Montreal sings to those who loved Hitman GO, Room and Room 2, Monument Valley – you can add any clever and beautiful (turn-based) puzzler on the list here. Even though it’s not a first or third-person shooter, endless runner or arcade, Lara Croft GO nonetheless feels more Lara Croft than anything you’ll find on mobile so far, including the Relic Run.

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Looks Fabulous

The first thing that struck me the moment I launched the game was the artwork. I mean, the screenshots and the trailer look nice, but I did not expect to be wow-ed this much by the clever and ingenious decisions SE Montreal have made in the design department. First of all, the grid layout of Lara Croft is similar to, but in fact nothing like Hitman GO’s clockwork grid. Here, the paths Lara can walk and climb are limited, and rendered in lush 2D while the backgrounds are multi-layered, with some objects rendered in beautiful 3D. The mesmerizing, yet soft colors that ultimately brought the Monument Valley reference, are gorgeous, deep and complex, creating a vibrant, moving and breathing world that I expected to be still and silent.

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A final reference to MV is the architecture – even though it has nothing to do with the MV’s impossible architecture, Lara’s architectural surroundings look just as fascinating. I don’t see any idea borrowing, though. It’s just that both games take the architecture and make it one of the critical elements of the gameplay, and a gorgeous looking one.

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It’s worth mentioning the game defines the graphics quality automatically, but you can still switch to a high or low end manually.

Now that we started with the artwork department, the soundtrack is soft and thought-inducing, and never distracting – hitting the sweet spot for a puzzle-adventure. In other words, the looks alone make this game a worthy $5 purchase.

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Hypnotic Gameplay

The game consists of 5 chapters as of now, and each offers some 15 levels. Each chapter is rendered in a unique color palette and entails a unique set of challenges. More on the difficulty later.

Now, you start off with a fairly simple chapter that introduces the basics of movement and traps. The very fact that there is no Tutorial and you have to figure out things by yourself should not be a turn-off – Lara Croft GO is quite gentle in introducing its complexity.

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The objective in each level is to get Lara from the entry point to the exit checkpoint, and collect some artifact goodies along the way. You move by swiping up, down, left and right – one section at a time. As you stand still, nothing seems to move, but make a move and the environment comes to life, and you will see that not all reptiles are friendly geckos. There are snakes that attack you head-on, but don’t notice you if you creep on the from behind or the sides. There are spiders that move back and forth along a set path. There are alligators, for some reason red, that are the nastiest of them all – for once one spots you, it will follow you step by step until you are cornered. However, their predefined movement pattern that makes it move on exactly the same blocks you do, opens a window of opportunities.

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The grid itself is full of tricks and traps – cracked tiles can only serve you once. Step on them for the second time, and fall to your doom. Or, not. You figure that out for yourself. Steampunk gizmo that moves the ancient platforms as if they were oiled and polished yesterday, crumbling bridges, toxic swamps, saws, levers, stones and monuments – everything may turn out to be useful and interactive. While some elements like levers are obviously interactive, others like huge stones may seem like they are there to block your way, but look for clues and don’t ignore anything on screen.

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Lara sports her famous two-barrel gun, but it has a surprisingly limited range. Thus, you can not shoot a snake front-facing, but have to creep on it from the side or the back. However, if you come by an ancient spear, it can deliver some “magical” results and hit a beast quite far from you, but it also has a range. Mind you, the beast that gets highlighted automatically is not always the one you need to hit with a spear – think strategically.

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Not Hard, but Challenging

Spoilers aside, it is worth noting the difficulty ramps up gradually, and you never feel frustrated to stamp your feet and spit smoke from your nostrils. There is a one-time $5 IAP that buys you solutions to all puzzles, but I’d recommend against depriving yourself of the pleasure of solving them all by yourself. After all, it is a very rewarding feeling.

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Strong hands, no doubt.

The game takes some time to introduce all its tricks, and teach you how to use them to your advantage, and before you know, you are neck-deep in an immersive experience. At some point, at the further levels, it will throw several or all of the beasts, traps and tricks in a single level and have you scratch your head. At times, you might need to pause, take a nap and get back to it with a refreshed brain.

UI-wise, it’s intuitive and fluid. You will find the Settings under the multi-tool knife icon, while the levels and chapters are in the handbook.

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Replay Value

And come back you will. First of all, the length of the game may not be the longest, 75 puzzles, but many of them sure are hard enough to forget how you solved them the moment you clear a level. Additionally, the game challenges the perfectionists by hiding the artifact containing jars all over the maps. Uh-oh… This is the one nagging point of the game that may itch until you collect them all. The motivation? Lara has a fancy wardrobe, which includes a very smart suit obviously a courtesy of Agent 47, and a couple others. If you collect all the artifacts in a chapter, you unlock one extra outfit for Lara.

It may not be a temptation great enough for me, since the default shorts and boots look was always my favorite, but my girlfriend is grinding the levels trying to find the jars she missed to collect that full golden snake and unlock the Hitman suit and tie.

IAPs

Since we mentioned the clothes, Lara Croft GO lets you unlock them all for $2 only, and it may be a good value for a fashionista. Another in-app purchase you can use is the book of solutions to all the puzzles that costs as much as the game itself.

The IAPs are so moderate, optional and few that I don’t even feel like whining about them in this particular case. After all, it is a premium game that does not limit you in any way, and the purchases you can make are either cosmetic, or non-essential to the gameplay (I for one refuse to give up on solving all the puzzles on my own). All things considered, Lara Croft GO launching as a premium title with non-essential IAPs feels like a very mature title, confident about itself.

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The Good

  • The fabulous looks
  • The immersive gameplay
  • The accessible, yet steadily growing difficulty
  • Good replay value
  • Tons of personality
  • Addicting
  • A premium title worth every cent
  • Non-essential IAPs
  • A unique, whimsical take on the franchise

The Bad

I see no faults with the game except for an occasional frame rate drop issue that sometimes caused the game to fail to register my swipes. Considering how timing is not a factor in this game, I am willing to forgive the fluctuating glitch.

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lara logoLara Croft GO

Developer: SQUARE ENIX Ltd
Genre: Puzzle
Price: $4.99, Offers in-app purchases
Download from Google Play
Download from iTunes
Download from Windows Phone Store
All Puzzle Solutions $4.99
Square Enix Universe Outfit Pack $1.99

The Verdict

Lara Croft GO is as addicting as the first movie was, even though the former is a turn-based puzzle adventure and the latter is an action adventure starring the young Jolie. Surprisingly, the puzzles and the stealth action of GO have just the perfect nods to the original Lara Croft to give it the strong personality it deserves. And it’s not just about the looks of the protagonist and her outfits, but also about the environments and ancient temples, the beasts and the danger, the action, and the elegant somersaults with long legs making a full circle around the head (not sure if it’s salto, but looks damn good). Remember that scene when Lara practiced bungee jumping in white pajamas in her mansion? That is the kind of atmosphere Lara Croft GO captures, or at least that’s what I feel. Which is why it is ever more surprising in a turn-based puzzle that is supposed to be static and slow. Long story short, I am enamored with Lara Croft GO and can’t recommend it more.Lara Croft GO (103)

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Gameplay
Controls
Design
Replay Value
Difficulty
IAPs/Price
  • darkich

    Hm, I was skeptical too, in the same way..but not any more.

    Btw I think that visually, this is where mobile gaming should go – creating games that look like they simply can’t look any better even though technically they don’t try to chase “realism” like pc or console blockbusters

  • Alexandra Vasiliu

    Love the visuals – no gradients + washed out colors go easy on the eyes.