Following in the sneaky footsteps of Hitman's Agent 47, Lara Croft GO is the next entry in Square Enix's mobile series of spin-offs to make its way to PlayStation 4. However, does the home console version justify the higher price tag?
Recent Tomb Raider outings have garnered criticism in some quarters for their emphasis on combat over puzzle-solving. Lara Croft GO changes all that by basing its entire gameplay around figuring out ever-more-difficult brainteasers. Basically, it's a turn-based puzzler in which you must guide Lara to the end of each level while avoiding deadly pitfalls, traps and monsters. You move along a fixed grid and every time you make a move, any alert hostiles in the level do the same. It's an intuitive style of gameplay that requires very little instruction yet still manages to feel intricate and complex.
Things start out fairly easy but, as you might expect, get much tougher in later levels where deceptively simple-looking layouts can cause you all sorts of problems. New puzzle elements are introduced gradually such as boulders, pushable pillars, fire to ward off enemies, and even a mirrored version of Lara who moves whenever she does. When several of these aspects are featured simultaneously, things can get especially tricky. However, the challenge never feels unfair as the game's learning curve does a good job of letting you acclimate to its new features before ramping up the difficulty (most notably in the two extra quests after the main chapters). There's also a good amount of variety in the puzzles given the small and restrictive nature of the levels.
If you get completely stuck, there is a hint mode yet it feels like cheating as it essentially plays the level for you. On the original mobile version, you could buy hints with real money. Thankfully, they're free here except this version is several times more expensive. Another difference from the mobile version is, of course, the controls. Having played Lara Croft GO on iPhone, I found the controls to be responsive and functional. Unfortunately, they're a lot worse on PS4. You move Lara with the left analogue stick but the controller often interprets the input directions incorrectly because the grid you're moving on is always diagonal. If you push up and to the right, sometimes Lara will go up and other times she'll go right. This can lead to both frustration and repeated deaths. That being said, she'll go the correct way most of the time. The controls feel even worse when trying to push and pull pillars that you have to move by holding triangle and pushing in a certain direction. Frequently, Lara will push the pillar the wrong way or just not move it at all.
A further drawback is one that seems to plague several new releases on PlayStation 4: the momentary freezing issue which I believe is caused by some kind of problem with these games' vertical synchronization. Every now and then, the action will stutter then resume, lurching proceedings forward a couple of seconds. I've encountered this problem in a couple of other games that I've reviewed this year (Dex and Moon Hunters) and it's usually sorted out in a patch. Hopefully, the same will happen here.
Despite its inferior controls, Lara Croft GO on PlayStation is still a very pleasant experience. The graphics are colourful and appealing, the soundtrack is minimalist and relaxing, and the whole thing's addictive enough to make you want to keep plugging away at its tougher stages until you beat them. Overall, it's a good feeling to be puzzle-solving in Tomb Raider again.
- + Relaxing music and pleasant graphics
- + A user-friendly learning curve
- + Some real brainteasers in later levels provide worthy challenges
- - Controls are much worse than on mobile
- - Momentary freezes during gameplay