Review: Lara Croft GO27 Aug 2015 0
Lara Croft GO adapts the puzzle structure of Pocket Tactics darling Hitman GO to the Tomb Raider setting. Replacing the delightfully unexpected boardgame aesthetic of the earlier game are far more varied, visually appealing backgrounds and artful animations.
It’s a step away from what might have seemed like a defining trait of this new franchise, and at first might seem like a poor fit for the discrete, turn-based actions in the game, but it also allows for more cinematic moments without which the “Lara Croft” moniker might feel superfluous. The puzzles are generally well-designed and satisfying, if not extremely difficult, but there are surprisingly few of them. “Always leave them wanting more” may be good advice, it's entirely possible to take that advice too far.
Each puzzle in Lara Croft GO consists of traversing a level using point-to-point movement along a fairly constrained grid, avoiding inconveniences like giant spiders, poisonous reptiles, and local authorities who object to your wanton theft of their national treasures. (Actually, that final group is curiously absent.) Frequently, this involves the use of switches to move platforms or otherwise employ the startlingly effective and durable engineering of an ancient civilization. It’s not exactly clear which civilization--the setting is attractive enough, but evokes no architectural tradition with which I’m familiar so much as the boxy forebear stuff from the Assassin’s Creed games or the Vex segments from Destiny. But if the 1980s Volvo school of design seems a bit out of place, it at least suits the movement options, which make a great deal of use of vertical space, but always at right angles.
A typical puzzle presents a series of smaller challenges, some of which interact. For example, one shows you a snake sitting right in front of your goal, just past a short climb. It’s facing you, so as soon as you pop over the edge, you’ll enjoy a slight tingling sensation as deadly venom is injected into your face. You can see that there’s a spear nearby, but you don’t have enough space to use it once you’ve climbed up to the level of the snake, so you deduce that you’ll have to hit it from another platform at its height. Which is great--that’s where the spear is! But there are series of slots between you and it, of the sort where you’ve seen rotating knives in prior levels. You’re probably going to have to find a safely deactivated wheel of doom and move it into your way in order to get to something else you’ll need to pass the other snake on the level, then carefully time your dance past the obstacle course you’ve been forced to create. The architects of these tombs seem to be have been diverted from careers as promising slaughterhouse designers.
There are two major improvements over Hitman GO which deserve special mention. First, the control scheme has been vastly improved by allowing you to swipe in the direction you’d like Dr. Croft to move from anywhere on the screen, rather than only from her feet. Second, the puzzles seem to have hit a better balance between foreseeability and solvability by trial and error. That’s very difficult to get exactly right, because having too many options wastes developer resources and players’ time, but having too few makes it too easy to make progress on a puzzle by simply trying out the few available options and considering the results rather than applying any insight. These are my two biggest complaints about Hitman GO successfully addressed.
Where Hitman GO added some replayability and some ability to skip particularly troublesome puzzles by locking later levels until a given number of accolades had been earned by finishing earlier ones in various ways (e.g. within a given number of moves, without killing anyone), Lara Croft adopts a simpler structure which omits these. Instead, all levels are mandatory, and the only reason to replay them is to find a number of collectibles hidden in urns. These seemed wholly disconnected from the rest of the gameplay. They’re usually easy to acquire, sometimes cleverly-placed, and relevant only for unlocking purely cosmetic costumes, but it feels a bit like turning the page and finding a hidden-object puzzle from Highlights Magazine. Oh, and of course, you can buy a costume pack, or solutions to all the levels, because apparently if you pitch a game with no in-app purchase options the suits upstairs sentence you to a month in the eighth circle of monetization.
Where Lara Croft GO surprised me was in improving on the Hitman GO formula I loved in a few crucial ways, without losing anything I liked about it other than the tabletop-style presentation and the Ave Maria. Sadly, it’s dreadfully short. Given the expansion pattern of the earlier game, I have hope that we’ll see a lot more of Lara Croft solving puzzles very enjoyable content.
Lara Croft GO was played on an iPad Air for this review.