Square-Enix Montreal seem to have a bit of a thing for brilliantly translating their most popular western home console and PC franchises into mobile efforts that play to the strengths of the platform. From its inspired board game style take on the Hitman franchise seen in Hitman GO, to the brilliant stealth sniper shenanigans witnessed in Hitman: Sniper, it’s clear that the mobile developer has a knack for distilling the essence of these games into new and entertaining experiences. So it is then that Lara Croft GO follows in such footsteps as an effort that is not only brilliantly adherent to its parent series but also brings enough new to the table to make it an essential prospect on its own merits.
Once you get past the brilliantly retro, carousel-style main menu screen (fans of the original, PSOne era titles will be giddy), Lara Croft GO gets players stuck in right away, taking on an isometric perspective as Lara gets to the business of exploring tombs and siphoning the glorious loot contained within. Essentially an evolution of the turn-based puzzle game shtick that made Hitman GO so effortlessly entertaining, players must move Lara in one of four different directions, with each movement taking a ‘turn’ and causing other dynamic elements in the world to move too. Similar to the 2014 mobile title, Lara can vanquish foes by moving into their space from either side or the rear but will get ruined if she attempts to move in front of an opposing enemy.
Much like Hitman GO before it then, Lara Croft GO places a similar premium on planning your moves beforehand and brilliantly, even if you do screw up, a restart is readily available and enables you to get back to where you were for another go with little fuss. Being based on the Tomb Raider franchise, Lara Croft GO brings a number of elements to the table that Square-Enix Montreal’s previous mobile efforts could not encompass. Chief among these is Lara’s agility. If you recall in Hitman GO your bald headed little Agent 47 could only move flatly across the board; seemingly unable to clamber over obstacles or engage in anything remotely athletic.
Here though, we see Lara climb walls, flick switches to move blocks, throw spears, shimmy across surfaces and even do her trademark handstand in a beautifully animated flourish as she pulls herself up and over a ledge. So in essence, Lara’s agility actually meaningfully evolves the turn-based puzzler template lain by Hitman GO in new and interesting ways and in doing so, provides a loving nod to the established heritage that Lara Croft GO trades off of.
Of course such an addition would be largely pointless if the level design wasn’t up to scratch but happily and thankfully, I can report that Lara Croft GO’s stages have been meticulously sculpted, easily rivalling the most entertainingly fiendish scenarios glimpsed in its spiritual predecessor, Hitman GO. In staunchly keeping with its mobile DNA, each level in Lara Croft GO, though increasingly difficult later on, is bite-sized enough can be completed quickly and as such, it makes the game an easy ‘go to’ proposition whenever you have a few minutes spare. It also doesn’t hurt that the turn-based nature of the whole thing emsures that Lara Croft GO a tremendously relaxing cerebral experience and makes for an ideal palette cleanser from more frenetic, twitch-based affairs as a result.
Spicing up proceedings is the addition of collectibles. Split into the categories of precious gems and long forgotten treasures, these items can be collected simply by tapping the screen wherever a glowing pot exists and when all the collectibles in a particular area have been scooped up, these can then in turn be parlayed into additional costumes for Lara to wear. Such collectibles are not a massive or overbearing distraction and given the scope of the game, they make for a nice additional activity to get drawn into without turning the experience into an eye-rolling collect-a-thon.
Although Lara Croft GO is a clear evolution of the concepts glimpsed in Hitman GO, the game ditches the board game aesthetic of the latter and instead brings the whole experience kicking and screaming into some brilliantly designed and organic looking cel-shaded environments. From cliff faces bound tightly by encroaching vines and trees through to deep caverns illuminated by dynamic light sources and given real presence by flickering shadows, not to mention a huge, stage-busting boss, Lara Croft GO isn’t just a noted visual improvement over Square-Enix Montreal’s last game, it also happens to be one of the best looking games you can get on mobile full stop.
So while this isn’t Tomb Raider as you might know it, Lara Croft GO is instead an intelligent and nuanced distillation of the essence of the franchise that plays into strengths of the mobile format rather than shoehorning gameplay systems that simply do not fit. You can now stop playing that poorly controlling mobile port of the original Tomb Raider and delete that wretched Lara Croft: Relic Run from your system; Lara Croft has finally arrived on mobile in fine, stellar form where the only flaw is that there isn’t enough of it.
An Android copy of Lara Croft GO was independently purchased by the reviewer and tested on a Samsung Galaxy Note 4.