I love games. There’s no doubt about it. The thing is, though: it’s incredibly rare for me to love a game from the moment I start playing it. Even with new entries in series I love, there’s a period of warming-up, of getting used to the new before I can decide if I like it as much as the old.
With Lara Croft GO, however, that wasn’t the case — with Lara Croft GO, I loved the game pretty much from the moment I began. It was love at first swipe.
The latest entry in the Lara Croft series — a spin-off of the current main Tomb Raider series harkening back to a time when its titular heroine spent more time solving puzzles than shooting at people — Lara Croft GO came somewhat out of left field when it was announced at this year’s E3. It’s amusing, looking back on how relatively low-key that announcement was, because I’m here to tell you: Lara Croft GO is the best Tomb Raider game of recent years.
Set across five levels each made up of a number of individual challenges, the game presents its players with puzzle after puzzle to solve, introducing a variety of new mechanics into said puzzles as it progresses. Like Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, GO knows how to handle these mechanics. It doesn’t just teach you something, and then forget about it as you get further into the game. Instead, a mechanic you might master in one challenge will show up later in another, often requiring you to play it off various other mechanics to succeed.
And success in Lara Croft GO, whether by trial and error, skill, or by sheer luck alone, brings with it an enormous sense of satisfaction — which brings us, really, to the perfect word to describe how it feels to play GO: satisfying. There’s beauty to be found in the symmetry of its gameplay. You move — your foes move. And all of those moves and countermoves are set to an incredible, soothing soundtrack in a world brought to life with visuals that are, without exaggeration, stunning.
Back in June, when the game was first revealed, it was those visuals that really caught my attention. I remember wanting the game to be good, just so it could live up to them.
And live up to them it does.
Whilst you could argue that the story of Lara Croft GO is Lara’s quest to find the Atlas of Beyond whilst avoiding being killed by the Queen of Serpents, there’s no real narrative to speak of here. It’s all about the puzzles — and that’s fine by me. Coming from someone who can be critical of games with thin stories, this might come across as somewhat hypocritical, but difference is that, in those games, I found the story problems to have a negative effect on the experience. Lara Croft Go, however, feels so complete, so — to employ once again that most fitting of words — satisfying that, honestly, I didn’t even notice its lack of an overarching tale as I played.
Thinking about it, I would go as far as to argue that GO could actually be hurt by having a complicated narrative. As I said above, there’s beauty to be found in the symmetry of the gameplay, and I think that’s also true of the game’s simplicity. Other than the ever-present threat of the Queen of Venom — which I like to think of as a throwback to the serpentine beast encountered in Tomb Raider: Legend — there’s not much extraneous stuff to think about as you play. I enjoyed this. It lets you become fully immersed in each challenge you encounter. Lara moves one step at a time, and that’s how you play the game.
One step at a time.
Eventually, however, there are no more steps to take. When you reach the game’s conclusion, Lara swan-dives off to adventures unknown. Even though I found GO to be such a flawless experience that I’m not sure it needs a sequel, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want more of this.
Lara Croft GO is not only the best Tomb Raider game of recent years — it’s also, as I’ve said before, a resounding validation of mobile as a platform for games.
Square Enix Montréal can be very proud of what they’ve created, and the almost universal acclaim it’s received. I don’t give numerical scores with my reviews — I think slapping a definitive number on something does a disservice to the intricacies a review can have — but, if I did, Lara Croft Go would get a perfect ten.
Who am I kidding? I’d give it an eleven.