TOUCH & GO
If, at the beginning of 2015, with the sequel to Tomb Raider on the distant horizon, you’d told me that my favourite tomb-raiding game of the year would be one released not for consoles, but for mobile devices, I would’ve thought you were nuts — and yet here I sit, in early 2017, able to look back and say, unequivocally, that my favourite game of 2015 was a mobile title. As much as I loved Rise of the Tomb Raider — and I really did — I consider it well and truly outclassed by Lara Croft GO.
GO, with its beautifully stylised visuals, is infinitely easier on the eyes than Rise. It feels better to play, packs more satisfying puzzles, demonstrates the superiority of a protagonist who refrains from constant commentary on her situation, and, from start to finish, serenades its players with a mesmerising soundtrack.
I first finished Lara Croft GO on a Saturday evening, sitting at my uncle’s kitchen table, earphones in — lost in GO’s world when I really should have been spending time with family — and when Lara swan-dived off to adventures then unknown, I sat down my iPad and said, to the complete confusion of everyone else at the table, ‘That was f**king brilliant.’
And brilliant it was.
It continued to be so with the release of its first piece of DLC, The Shard of Life, which I didn’t write about at the time of its release, but which I enjoyed playing just as much as the main game, and which I enjoyed looking at quite a bit more. Its fiery visuals the very opposite of hellish, Shard of Life had me from its opening seconds, as that flare fell down the screen with Lara rappelling in its wake.
When Shard’s creatures became immortal no more, I couldn’t help but feel exactly as I had when I finished the main game: I wanted more.
Cut to December last year, and more is exactly what I got — and then some.
Just under a year and-a-half after its initial release, Lara Croft GO came to PlayStation, releasing on both PS4 and Vita, and packing not just the original game and Shard of Life, but an entirely new adventure, too: The Mirror of Spirits.
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
Shard of Life might have had me from its opening moments, but Mirror of Spirits took things a step further. I was hooked even before I launched it, as the background of the stage selection screen — beige for all previous levels — turned, in a subtle hint of what was to come, a magical shade of blue.
In a fitting coincidence — at least, I’m assuming it’s a coincidence… — Lara Croft GO’s final DLC mirrors that of Rise of the Tomb Raider.
In both games, players are taken back to Croft Manor, GO’s version of which is, in keeping with the game’s aesthetic, incredibly stylised — becoming even more so when an incident with the Mirror of Spirits shatters Lara’s reality, sending her on a visually breathtaking and mechanically brilliant quest to reunite her spirit with her body.
Despite this, though, I didn’t come away from Mirror of Spirits feeling anywhere near as positive as I had upon finishing the original game or Shard of Life — not because there was anything wrong with its gameplay, but because, on both PlayStation platforms, Lara Croft GO is, frankly, a bit of a mess.
TOUCH & GO
On PlayStation, Lara Croft GO is a game of compromises.
If you choose to play on PS4, you’ll get a more vibrant presentation, drastically improved load times and — other than the occasional stutter when retrieving various collectibles — a smoother performance. Unfortunately, you’ll also get terribly optimised controls.
Lara will move in the wrong direction frustratingly often, which might not prove a big deal in earlier stages, but can become disastrous later in the game, as the puzzles become increasingly complicated and each and every move matters more and more. Attempting to move pillars is unpredictable to the point of feeling broken, and unnecessarily differing button combinations for various actions can cause just as unnecessary moments of confusion.
Using the analog stick to choose the direction, you must press Square to throw a spear, Triangle to move a pillar, or X to interact with a lever. For me, this completely undermines the soothing simplicity GO has on touch-based platforms. I truly believe it would’ve been better if there was a single action button that reacted contextually to whatever situation Lara happened to be in.
If you choose to play on Vita, you can still encounter these input issues, but you can also avoid them entirely by using the handheld's touchscreen to get a more traditional GO experience.
Despite the decreased performance, slightly blander colours and load times that are, frankly, unacceptable, this ability to play the game as it was originally designed to be played renders me of the opinion that, if you’re going to play on PlayStation, Vita is the place to do it.
Neither experience is perfect, though, which, given that Lara Croft GO is as close to a perfect game as I've ever experienced, is a damn shame — and why, though I'm a self-confessed PlayStation fan through-and-through, if someone were to ask me where to play it, I’d tell them to GO swiftly in the direction of their iPad.