Classic Lara Croft has been relegated to digital arcade titles since the series reboot was ushered in this generation, and it's likely the last place old-school fans can continue the illusion of raiding tombs and tackling mythical opponents full-time. And for a turn-based puzzle game, Lara Croft GO is closest to the purity of the original games. Even combat is turned into strategy.
As with the studio's last project, Hitman GO, Square-Enix Montreal reinterprets Tomb Raider from an isometric viewpoint - similar to Guardian of Light and Temple of Osiris - and maps Lara's potential movements via nodes that are layered onto the environment. Flick your finger in a chosen direction and, if a path is open to her, Lara will move forward one step.
There's no rolled dice here, the environments are fully (beautifully) realised temples, jungles and such, but there's an inescapable board game element to the experience, which works wonderfully. Cue boulders that roll one step for every one you take, or enemies that patrol set paths with the same consistent movement that matches your own. Get spotted by some later enemies and they'll follow you, tracing your exact route - which plays into the strategy of escaping rooms unscathed.
There's a smooth learning curve here as the developers gradually introduce you to the basics then afford you a room or two to test out new additions such as enemies or puzzle parts. And by room, we mean the current part of the level that's on-screen. For the most the studio makes sure switches and potential dangers are in view so you can theorise a route through - hit this switch first so the enemy that'll follow you next will be right here to fall foul of a trap you've baited - then test. Which'll likely be wrong first time through. But a quick restart dropping you at the beginning of the room makes sure you're not frustrated with the trial and error nature of the gameplay. The learning curve may be smooth but you're soon deep into locations with several moving parts to juggle correctly. There's no timer forcing your hand - though we can imagine people speed-running this - so you've time to contemplate and decide your next move.
The presentation has to be commended. There's a soft, almost watercolour sheen to everything that's more striking on the mobile screen because of its simplicity. A score is rarely used, but effectively strong when it does dominate particular moments, showing how effective brilliant music can be when used in moderation. When's the last time you got chills entering a mouldering temple in an adventure game? Lara Croft GO captures those moments perfectly, and for the rest there's a low-level ambient soundtrack that really serves to heighten the isolation. You really feel lost and alone in the bowels of the earth.
Collectables are nicely inserted in via background vases that when tapped crack and reveal their secrets. These become increasingly well hidden amidst the caves and waterfalls, but with a tell-tale glow above them to make it not completely impossible to spot. It's a simple, but very rewarding system.
It's a very easy game to recommend to both puzzle and Lara Croft fans. We ran the game on an iPhone 6, so we can't comment on its performance on other devices, but it is the reason why our usually stellar battery has drained part way through the day as we play. It's enjoyable enough that you won't mind packing the extra battery charger in your bag while you work towards completing it on your commute.
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