If Hitman GO is any sort of indication, then it would seem that Square Enix's Montreal arm has quite the knack for translating their big budget, core franchises into different genres entirely, all the while brilliantly adhering to the essences of those games in the process. The latest labour of love from these endeavours, Lara Croft GO swings into action on PS4 and PS Vita and in doing so represents itself as the definitive version of one of the better puzzlers released in the last few years.
A familiar heroine given new life
Once players proceed past the nostalgia-triggering carousel title screen (a warm and timely nod to Lara Croft's origins on the series 20th anniversary), Lara Croft GO wastes little time in thrusting the player deep into the first of its subterranean lairs, encouraging them to break open its secrets and ransack the ancient loot which lay within.
Viewed from an isometric perspective, how you'll be doing all this secret finding and treasure hunting is in a fashion similar to that seen in Hitman GO, though with a few added wrinkles to the formula to keep things feeling fresh. What this means is that players must move Lara in one of four different directions, with each of these movements taking one turn and causing other active elements in the world to move also. Much like 2015's Hitman GO, Lara is able to dispose of aggressors by moving into their space from either side or from behind, but will invariably bite the bullet so to speak if she attempts to confront them head-on.
Similarly to Hitman GO before it then, Lara Croft GO places a familiar emphasis on planning your moves beforehand and in a fashion identical to the previous GO game, even if it all goes south, an immediate restart puts you right back where you were without any hassle whatsoever. Much like how Hitman GO cribbed various themes and elements from its parent franchise, so too have developers Square Enix Montreal repeated this feat with Lara Croft GO, embracing the storied heritage of the British adventurer in a fashion that is both aesthetically pleasing and also functionally relevant.
Arguably one of the biggest things that Lara brings to the table versus Agent 47 is her agility, since whereas in Hitman GO Agent 47 could only really move in a flat fashion across the level, in Lara Croft GO Lara has a far greater command of physical dexterity than our balding assassin did in last year's title. Indeed, in Lara Croft GO our heroine is able to flick switches, shift blocks, toss spears, swing across chasms and pull herself up and over ledges; completing her trademark handstand in an especially sublimely animated flourish that hits all the nostalgia buttons at once.
Borrowing from your home console counterpart is no guarantee for success, since for such elements to properly function, the requisite level design must be of parallel caliber in order for the whole package to succeed. Happily then, I can report that the over one-hundred stages in Lara Croft GO are every bit as meticulously designed and deftly sculpted as those glimpsed in Hitman GO, providing players with an equally compelling incentive to keep them entrenched in its brain-tickling conundrums.
Despite being a mobile port (behave, you there in the back), Lara Croft GO's technical heritage actually works to its advantage on PS4 and PS Vita. Most notably, the difficulty curve has been expertly judged; though increasingly difficult later on, each level is bite-sized enough that it can be completed in just a few minutes, making Lara Croft GO an comfortable ‘go to’ title whenever you have a couple of minutes spare to get stuck in.
Acting as an extra incentive to take your time with each level are the various collectibles which are scattered within each of their interiors. Primarily comprising of ancient treasures and ornate gems, the player can use the right analogue stick to drag an animated cursor onto a glowing pot which when selected, will give up one of those two different categories of loot.
Having such collectibles in Lara Croft GO actually proves to be a boon, because not only can these trinkets be parlayed for additional costumes for Lara to wear, but their presence helps to provide some additional variety to the proceedings as well. In fact, it speaks to the eloquence of the developer's execution that they've obviously identified that the scope of Lara Croft's GO is modest enough that adding any more collectibles than what he have here would risk turning the experience into a brain numbing collect-a-thon. As it is, these collectibles stand as a perfectly pitched addition to what is a sublimely constructed puzzler.
As similar as Lara Croft GO is to Hitman GO in terms of fundamental mechanics, the two titles couldn't be any more different when it comes to their audiovisual presentation. Gone is the glossy diorama look of Hitman GO and instead in its place is a fully rendered set of game worlds and environments. From the array of deep caves that are illuminated by otherworldly light to cliff faces that are bound tightly by encroaching vines and surrounded by towering trees, Lara Croft GO represents such a considerable visual leap over last year's Hitman GO that its massive, screen-filling boss almost feels like a rude extravagance. Additionally, PS4 owners also get to witness the whole shebang in razor sharp 1080p resolution, something that proves to be a welcome addition to an already attractive effort.
Lara Croft GO – Definitive Edition
As if it wasn't enough that PS4 and PS Vita owners would be enjoying Lara Croft GO with Cross Buy and Cross Play support built-in as standard, Square Enix Montreal have also included a brand new expansion called the “Mirror of Spirits”, which provides a whole heap of extra (and much more challenging) levels for practiced Tomb Raiders to test their mettle against.
Quite simply, this is the best version of Lara Croft GO that money can buy, and whether you intend to play this on PS4, PS Vita or both, you're arguably getting a lot of Croft for your buck here. If there's one drawback to the whole thing it's that Lara Croft GO doesn't really have a narrative of any real substance, a fact which might stick in the craw of players who are used to the sweeping and epic yarns told by Lara Croft GO's console counterparts.
A consummate rendition of one of the most accomplished puzzlers available, Lara Croft GO like Hitman GO before it, transcends its typical genre trappings to fashion a stylish ode to its parent series all the while presenting a fresh new take on one of the industry's most beloved icons. By straddling that genre divide so deftly, Lara Croft GO is simply an essential purchase for both Tomb Raider and puzzle fans alike.
|Lara Croft GO Review by John-Paul Jones|
-The Final Word-
Lara Croft GO is that rarest of beasts; a puzzle effort that not only elegantly distills the core essence of the franchise with which it shares its namesake, but one which is equally at home on PS4 as it is on PS Vita. There's no getting around it; this is one of the best puzzlers of the year.