Tag Archive: lara croft

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.

Spelunking in the sand

When you have as much history as Tomb Raider, it’s always a big risk to deviate from the gameplay that’s defined the series and helped it last as long as it has. But four years ago, that’s just what Crystal Dynamics did when they decided to take Lara Croft out of the third-person action-adventure world and introduce her fans to some old-school, twin-stick-shooter gameplay.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light ended up being a huge success as an ancillary adventure, smoothly blending the puzzle-solving from the main series with top-down shooting and co-op. So, it’s no surprise that while we wait for Lara’s next big action-adventure, Crystal Dynamics decided to revisit their spin-off and give it a sequel.

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris starts off with our titular heroine doing what she does best: discovering relics and ruins. Lara’s searching for the Temple of Osiris in Egypt—a long-lost pyramid dedicated to the Egyptian god of the dead. She’s not alone, however, as she’s racing against Carter Bell, a young upstart in the field of archeology. Edging out Lara, Bell grabs Osiris’ fabled staff upon entering the tomb, ignoring Lara’s pleas for caution, and unknowingly breaking the magical seals holding back Set, the Egyptian god of war who murdered Osiris. With the help of the seals’ guardians—Osiris’ wife Isis, and their son Horus—Lara and Carter must drive Set back and prevent darkness from consuming the world by piecing together the remains of Osiris—just like Isis did thousands of years ago, according to legend.

Temple of Osiris will immediately feel familiar to fans of Guardian of Light. Just like before, the camera is locked far overhead at a three-quarters angle, and in terms of gameplay, Lara solves puzzles with her grappling hook and shoots bad guys using her guns and grenades.

One immediate difference you’ll notice with Temple of Osiris, though, is how much larger and more detailed the world is. Exploration stems from a massive hub area, and Lara will be able to investigate a dozen tombs themed after key members of Osiris’s court, like his silversmith, architect, or ferryman, each holding a piece of the god’s form. The tombs are meticulously detailed, and the dynamic lighting effects are truly impressive, considering how far away the camera sits from the action.

Besides the story-related ruins, though, the game also includes five challenge tombs that will push your puzzle-solving skills and a half dozen massive bosses that include corrupted Egyptian gods that have thrown in with Set, like Khepri, god of the sunrise, and Sobek, god of the Nile.

There’s also a customization system this time around. In Guardian of Light, gems were merely present as a way to increase your high score. Now, these precious stones have another purpose beyond points, since they allow Lara to unlock scattered treasure chests that bestow her with rings and amulets, which can augment her abilities. The more gems you have to spend on a chest, the more likely you’ll receive an item that will give Lara multiple positive benefits.

The puzzles in Temple of Osiris are far more involved this time around as well. Some remain simple timing puzzles, while others require Lara to actually change the seasons and put into effect a day-night cycle in order to open up different paths in the world. The game also includes a variety of puzzles that require nimble platforming, and Lara will need to use the Staff of Osiris to move columns or reflect light around darkened rooms.

The most impressive thing about the puzzles, however, might be how they change in co-op. You’re more than able to beat Temple of Osiris by yourself, as Lara will take the Staff of Osiris and be outfitted with all the abilities needed to overcome the challenges of the tombs. But if you play co-op, only the Egyptian characters, Isis and Horus, can use the Staff, and only Lara or Carter Bell can use the grappling hook, changing the dynamic of many puzzles and requiring teamwork to advance through the story.

Speaking of co-op, one big change we see is that now with the introduction of all these characters, up to four players can come together locally or online, instead of only two as in Guardian of Light. I couldn’t find any co-op games in the wild due to the limited number of players with their hands on the game before launch, so I can’t speak to the matchmaking, but I was able to gather the EGM Crew together, and two of us were playing locally, joined by two others via online. The game ran smoothly from a technical standpoint, but I felt that four players didn’t really add more to the gameplay than two did. If anything, it only made things more hectic, since we kept getting in each other’s way. The only times we were able to come together was against bosses—which, disappointingly, don’t scale with the extra players. With four guns firing away, the combat sections of the game were vanilla at best and a breeze to overcome.

The minimal differences between Lara versus Carter and Isis versus Horus were also disappointing—it felt like there were two unique characters and two clones who not only felt unneeded in co-op, but also unneeded in the story. The entire experience would’ve been better off had just Lara and Isis teamed up, and the game would’ve flowed more smoothly both in terms of co-op and the loose story that ties this arcade-style endeavor together.

Temple of Osiris builds on the foundation of what Guardian of Light started, giving us more levels, more puzzles, and more detail in the world that Lara has to explore. Unfortunately, it also gives us more co-op, and the game would’ve been better balanced with just two-player co-op again. Despite this, Temple of Osiris is still a fun, worthwhile adventure that shows why Lara Croft is such a great character, no matter the camera angle.

Developer: Crystal Dynamics • Publisher: Square Enix • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 12.09.14
Another fun twin-stick-shooter romp for Lara Croft, Temple of Osiris finds a way to go bigger and better in most regards, but four-player co-op was just too much on my TV screen—this one would’ve been better off with only two main characters instead of four.
The Good Lots of interesting puzzles that dynamically change in co-op; solid twin-stick action.
The Bad Locked camera can be a nuisance. 4-player co-op is more of a detriment than a boon.
The Ugly Our news editor, Chris Holzworth, trolling the rest of the EGM Crew during 4-player co-op.
Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review.

Originally Published: January 22, 2011, on youtube.com/CGRUndertow

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed Tomb Raider: Underworld for the Xbox 360 from Crystal Dynamics and Eidos.

Originally Published: December 19, 2010, on Youtube.com/CGRUndertow

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light for the Xbox Live Arcade.

Eternal Darkness Would Suck

Originally Published: June 11, 2010, on Examiner.com, ESPNNewYork.com, Lundberg.me, Original-Gamer.com, and PlayerAffinity.com

It is one of the most successful franchises in video game history. Tomb Raider has seen the gaming community’s beloved Lara Croft travel from mountain tops and dilapidated temples to the very Underworld itself. Now though, Lara will take on something completely unknown to her, having her game released completely via download.

That’s right. For those of you who are unaware, the next Tomb Raider game, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, is a completely downloadable title that will be available at the end of this summer on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.

I had a chance to sit down with Crystal Dynamics Brand Director Karl Stewart to talk about their latest entry in the Tomb Raider series and how difficult it was to balance making a viable downloadable game while still keeping true to the series’ roots.