A temple better left untapped

Last year, Hitman GO’s board game aesthetic and challenging puzzles provided a breath of fresh air for everyone’s favorite bald murder machine while still channeling the stealth and tactics the main series is known for. Not satisfied with just giving Agent 47 the tabletop treatment or continuing to build new boards for the burgeoning spin-off franchise, Square Enix Montreal decided Lara Croft could use her own GO-style makeover. Unfortunately, they should have stuck with the assassin.

Lara Croft GO sees the titular tomb-raiding heroine in search of an item called the “Atlas of Beyond”. While exploring a temple that supposedly houses the artifact, Croft accidentally awakens the Queen of Venom, a gargantuan snake so large that it could slurp Lara up whole with one snap of its massive jaws. She must now find the Atlas while dodging both the Queen and the temple’s many traps if she has any hope of telling the tale of her latest adventure.

Lara Croft GO is almost nothing like its predecessor, making it all the more curious that it carries the GO name brand. The change you’ll most likely notice immediately is the scrapping of the board game motif. Even though it is broken up into stages, the tomb that Lara is exploring is one world that tries—and often fails due to a lack of general explanation—to convey a continuous narrative. The characters are no longer simplistic tokens, but fully realized models that move like you’d expect from more traditional games. The stages themselves have lost all notion of being part of a tabletop setup besides the path lines drawn for Lara to follow as she and the enemies she’ll encounter move one spot one finger swipe at a time. This gives the game an art-style more reminiscent of a cheap Tomb Raider knockoff than something that has an entirely original look to it like Hitman GO did.

The only other gameplay aspect besides movement that carries over between the two GO games is that Lara can only kill enemies from the side or from behind. Giant spiders, snakes, and humanoid lizard people are some of the creatures Lara will encounter while searching for the Atlas. Confusingly, though, Lara carries her iconic dual pistols throughout the game. It makes little sense for her to be wielding them if she can only attack from the side or from behind. And if she finds a spear or a torch, then she can approach enemies from the front or from a distance. Since when are torches and spears more powerful than guns? I found it to be an odd choice to say the least that this was the one rule brought over.

Lara Croft GO also at no point feels like it tries to do justice to the Tomb Raider games. Hitman GO’s strategic requirement lined up perfectly with what Hitman is known for. My hope was that LC GO would find a way to incorporate some sense of exploration, or branching paths at least, to pay homage somehow to Tomb Raider. If Square Enix Montreal had kept pushing the board game feel of everything, maybe they could have gone with a Betrayal at House on the Hill style, with random tiles being added to the world mid-stage the more Lara explored instead of everything being laid out on a single path for you from the beginning. This also could have helped with replayability, but as is, Lara Croft GO is too linear an experience to be that enjoyable, and completely ignores what it means to be Lara Croft.

While on the subject of replayability, this is something that Lara Croft GO sorely lacks. Hitman GO offered up multiple objectives per stage, allowing players to continue forward if they wished after accomplishing the hit, but rewarded players who could master every stage, which often required multiple playthroughs. LC GO has rewards, too, with alternate costumes for Lara if you find the various hidden items on each stage. The problem is that all 120 of them are in plain sight as you advance, and only need a fourth-wall breaking tap—as in Lara doesn’t need to be anywhere near the collectible—to retrieve them, making them nigh-impossible to miss.

The one saving grace Lara Croft GO has is its puzzles. About 40 different stages will test your mental acuity as you navigate through winding temple paths, looking for the proper solution to the problem placed before you. Switches that control moving platforms, trap doors and crumbling pillars, even large boulders that roll after Lara and timed doors that threaten to cut you off from advancing will all need to be overcome if you hope to escape. The stages are broken up into five different sections of the temple and ramp up in difficulty at a steady pace that will push you, but should never break your will to keep going. All told, I was able to one hundred percent Lara Croft GO in just over four hours, so even the most complex puzzles weren’t the greatest of challenges.

Lara Croft GO is a decent puzzle game to kill a few hours with, but lacks all the finer things that made its predecessor in the GO series so much fun. It abandons the GO aesthetics, and at the same time, fails to channel anything about the Tomb Raider series beyond the setting—making me question why Square Enix thought Lara would adapt at all to this format to begin with. Even for the mobile price of $4.99, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend this to anyone but the most fervent of Lara loyalists.

Developer: Square Enix Montreal • Publisher: Square Enix • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 08.27.15
Lara Croft remains a poor choice that never fit for the GO-style that was established with Hitman GO last year, even if you can find a bit of fun in the short, simple puzzles.
The Good Inventive puzzles that ramp up nicely in difficulty.
The Bad A lack of overall challenge. Fails to capture the essence of the Tomb Raider series or continue what was started with Hitman GO.
The Ugly It’s been so long since we’ve seen Lara made of so few polygons.
Lara Croft GO is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Primary version reviewed was on iOS using an iPad 2. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review.