Greetings, XP4Ts. There’s less than a week to go before Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus etc, and also that universal celebration of December gaming known as the Steam Winter Sale (22/12-04/01). I’m sitting here late on a Saturday night, relaxing with Lara Croft GO, which was released just this month by Squeenix’s Montréal, Canada branch. And as I sit here thrilling at my tiny, perfect, polygonal Lara, it occurs to me that I opened this year on XP4T with a review of Rise of The Tomb Raider and a bit of a flap about Tomb Raider (2013). So what better way to close the year out than with a return to the short-shorts and hipster sunglasses of my favourite Englishwoman? (Sorry Theresa).
The nitty-gritty, first. LCG is the second in Squee’s lineup of mobile-first AAA derivatives, preceded by Hitman GO (2014) and followed this year by Deus Ex GO. So far only Agent 47 has also had the Steam treatment, which was fairly well received, and Lara’s leap to Steam seems to prove that Windows ports of mobile games can actually be really good. Certainly the PC version comes with a few benefits over its pocket-sized cash cow (cash mouse?): a free expansion due in March next year, unlimited use of hints for when you’re stuck, and all alternative Lara outfits for free (although you still have to unlock them through play). Plus, like its similarly spun-off small-scale companion Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light, it’s a wallet-friendly ten clams (sequel Lara Croft and The Temple of Osiris remains a slightly more exorbitant 20).
Speaking of which, how does it compare to those two? Not at all, is the answer. Where the former are Gauntlet-style co-op action/puzzle-’em-ups, LCG is a relaxing, turn-based, tinkly-musiced, pastel-coloured puzzle experience. Something like the insanely good Slayaway Camp (Google for the free version), but with archaeology instead of horror. You control Lara one step at a time, using nothing but your mouse to ‘swipe’ her to-and-fro through a long series of grid-based areas full of wild animals, traps and environmental puzzles. This mouse-based swiping felt quite awkward at first, although I quickly got used to it, and given that speed of play is not locked to the animation rate it soon becomes a fast, fluid, natural-feeling way of controlling Lara.
This feeling is greatly enhanced by the character animations themselves, which are as smooth and slick as you’d want, and all immediately recognisable from Lara’s AAA 3D outings. The handstands, the back-flips, the way she pulls her pistols and fires – even the way she steadies herself with legs straight and feet apart – all are recognisably Lara. And given the choice of outfits (with several available straight away), you do really feel as though you’re revisiting a favourite Tomb Raider game through the colourful, relaxing lens of a rectangular bong. It’s a completely pared-down experience. No extravagant splash screens or intro videos, a simple, stylish menu, one single UI element and only one possible control – the aforementioned ‘mouswipe’ (I made that up. Can we call it that? heh).
The presentation is perfect for puzzling. It also hides a fiendish amount of sometimes very well hidden collectables: each level contains a number of rare gems, as well as parts of some exotic relic or desirable archaeological curio, and completing each one unlocks another new outfit for Lara. All of these gems and relic fragments appear in little urns with discreet sparklies hovering over them. As you step through each small area, a bit of gentle parallax scrolling sometimes reveals previously-unseen nooks and crannies in which there may be an urn. This slow reveal of the scenery is a subtle and discreet thing, part atmospheric graphical stylisation, part core gameplay mechanic. At first I thought it would be too easy, too ‘mobile’ to be a really worthwhile pursuit. But some of the urns are hidden with such cunning that it quickly becomes a real challenge to collect them all on your first run through an area. Fortunately, upon starting the game again you can flip through the pages of various journals recording your adventure so far, and see at a glance which sub-areas still have urns to collect. The motivation to spot them all is there for the customisation fans, but ultimately it’s unnecessary to do so if you’re not fussed with Lara’s appearance.
What about the actual puzzling then? Well, I’m no great puzzle genius myself. Games of logic and cunning usually leave me baffled, but I’ve been doing very well with Lara Croft GO. Having played… I don’t know, about 40-odd areas so far, I’ve only had to use the Hint system twice, which frankly surprises me. Once you activate it, a red arrow points you exactly along the route you should take to complete the area you’re in, although pleasingly you can turn it off again on the spot should you suddenly work out the rest for yourself anyway. If you’re unfamiliar with the type of thing LCG hinges on, it boils down to working out the correct sequence of movements and actions you need to take to reach the exit each time. This involves your facing, in so far as if you step in front of a creature it will kill you, whereas approaching from the side or rear causes Lara to pull out her pistols and murderise it in grand Tomb Raider tradition. It also involves operating loads of levers and pressure plates, avoiding weak tiles that break after two steps, shoving columns around to reach higher places, platforms that go up and down and various other interesting dilemmas. Each new type of hazard, creature or mechanism is introduced gradually, allowing you to get to know it before it’s combined with other things to create some quite evil layouts. Everything is well used, too: at some point, I realised I had to avoid the easy creature kill and actually get it to inadvertently help me operate the mechanisms. This lead to a brilliant, ultra-polite silent comedy chase routine as we ran, chess-like, around and around until one of us got killed or was encouraged into the right spot. On a couple of occasions, I miscalculated and we both ended up being squashed by boulders. Hilarious stuff, in a quiet, low-key way.
And that’s Lara Croft GO in a nutshell really – brilliant, low-key fun. Ideal for a few minutes’ play in idle moments, or for extended plays in the quiet of the night with a favourite drink at one’s side. Definitely recommended for both Tomb Raider fans and puzzle fans alike.
I probably won’t be back again before the new year, so until then, from all of us here at XP4T, have a very happy holiday with your nearest and dearest, and see you in 2017!
Lara in Your Pocket
- Visuals – 9
- Sound – 8
- Playability – 9
The PC port of a mobile game that shows such things needn’t be nightmares. Lara Croft GO offers authentic Tomb Raider gaming in pretty, colourful, bite-sized chunks that are nevertheless incredibly moreish. Just one more GO!