Lara Croft is the latest Square Enix character to get the turn based treatment on PlayStation 4. The GO series has had three incarnations since 2014, all of which were built for mobile devices. This was my first experience playing this style of game so I had very few expectations going into it. Lara Croft GO turned out to be a short but action packed adventure that fit nicely onto the PS4.
The easiest way to sum up this title is to imagine a third-person exploration title miniaturized into a isometric board game format. You control your Lara Croft piece and you move her one space at a time. After your turn, any enemies and active traps will make their move. The pace is quite lax here as you have all the time in the world to plan out your next move or search the screen for hidden treasure. At first it might seem counter intuitive to limit an action game star to slower experience but the accompanying traps, environments, and relic hunting make Lara Croft GO feel like a legitimate tomb raiding experience.
The story is threadbare in this game and honestly, it’s the perfect fit. You’re basically on a number of quests to uncover ancient treasure. There are a small number of interactions that you’ll have with a mysterious mirror world or a slithering (and persistent) antagonist that give some character to the game. It also helps that Lara is very expressive and her movement is nicely animated.
Speaking of character models, the game’s art design has a nice balance of retro blockiness fleshed out with modern sheen. The aesthetics in Lara Croft GO evoke a feeling of the early Tomb Raider games while taking place on a glossy game board. While the enemy types are limited, your mostly-reptilian foes are menacing enough to keep you on guard.
The most impressive aspect of the visuals however are the numerous environments found throughout the adventure. Forests, caves, and some more supernatural areas are all lush with detail and are impressively put together. The multiple backgrounds blend beautifully with the game board. And on certain levels you’re treated to a silhouetted foreground that creates a stunning landscape. There’s a lot of ‘depth’ found in the locales of this title and also within the gameplay itself.
Gameplay in the GO series is basically puzzle solving meets turn based movement. Numerous elements are slowly added to this formula until you get a healthy mix of levers, buttons, traps, and enemies. The way these aspects are integrated are actually quite ingenious: at one point, I needed to use a giant lizard as a shield from arrows flying out of the wall. At another point, I had to throw a spear over a pit to kill a snake holding down a pressure sensitive button. The interplay of objects is what makes the game feel fresh and not overburdened. Well, that’s the case for most of the adventure.
The PlayStation 4 port contains (at no cost) the two pieces of DLC that were released for mobile devices. The first, The Shard of Life, is a noticeable step up in difficulty from the first five chapters. The first two-thirds of the game had some head-scratchers that were fun to solve. However, the puzzles after that are much more devious. While looking for this ‘shard’ you’ll encounter monsters that can’t die and multi-level action with movable pillars. Some of these challenges require you to be thinking up to 8 steps ahead which is jarring compared to the gradual build of the first campaign.
Once you get use to the complex logic of The Shard of Life levels, things get a little less frustrating but there definitely was a noticeable effort to make this DLC much harder than the main game. This isn’t a negative thing per se, but this was the only part of the game where I put the controller down for a bit because the answers seemed to obtuse.
There is a ‘hint system’ in place to basically solve any puzzle that you get stuck on. It’s well integrated as it will show you each step of completing a level. You can stop these hints at any point and continue on your own trying to figure out your next move. I tried my best not to use the feature out of sheer stubbornness, but there were times when it was very handy.
There were a few times though where I just wanted one subtle clue on how to proceed, but it took going through the entire process of solving the puzzle to see how it was done. I definitely felt like I cheated myself out of those solutions. However, the PlayStation 4 version of the hint system will not cheat you out of money compared to the original mobile release which charged you for this service.
I was surprised that the final chapter of the game (the mobile DLC Mirror of Spirits) left me using the hint system only once. The difficulty from the previous section has been toned down enough to make this final mission a great way to end the game. The new setting and gameplay additions are really impressive and work well within the GO framework. Here you’ll encounter your mysterious doppelgänger and at points will have to control her and Lara at the same time. It seems complicated at first but soon becomes a welcome ‘dimension’ to the core mechanics.
The audio nature of Lara Croft GO is a nice fit with the slower pace of the game. Music is either ambient or mellow, almost achieving meditation-lite classification. There are times when more eerie chords start to play, giving a level a more sinister tone. But the acoustic energy never gets too riled up, maintaining that calm background while you try and crack another puzzle.
One of the big benefits of this design is that the sound effects come through beautifully. Spiders skitter along and floors crack with crisp abandon. The audio-scape compliments the graphics and gameplay so perfectly that it doesn’t take long to see that this is an amazingly designed package.
Lara Croft GO isn’t that long of an experience. It takes about five hours to complete the game and another hour or so to 100% the game (this Platinum trophy is one of the easier ones to acquire). There are extra costumes for you to unlock by finding urns hidden throughout all levels. These containers are not connected to regular gameplay and you must use the right analog stick like a mouse to scope them out.
It’s basically like a hidden object game squeezed within the main campaign. It felt like half the urns were obvious whereas half where well hidden. There were only a number of them that took me a good hard look to locate. When you replay levels, the amount of secrets waiting needing to be found is shown making the hunt even more user friendly. It’s a nice distraction that worked well with the exploratory nature of the title. Also, the unlockable costumes served as good motivation to collect everything. Does Classic Lara interest anyone? She even comes with her blocky sunglasses!
While it would be easy to dismiss the GO series as another mobile game cash grab of a recognizable franchise, it’s definitely much more than that. Lara Croft GO is a great fit on the PlayStation 4 (beyond a few rare instances of fighting with the analog stick), especially at the $9.99 prige tag. I am now a proud member of the GO fan club and I’m ready to move on to the Hitman and Deus Ex incarnations. However, I might wait for the latter to come to PlayStation 4 since my time with Lara on my console was so great.