‘Can you do our game too?'” Routon’s the lead programmer at Square Enix
Montreal — the publisher’s studio that’s dedicated to mobile titles.
Square Enix has a newfound affinity for trusting this Montreal team to
adapt its biggest properties in a way that makes sense for phones and
Square Enix has two very distinct visions for her. The first, Tomb Raider, is the gritty survivalist Lara which is most well-known in the triple-A big budget space. The other, Lara Croft, is what Tomb Raider of yesteryear was defined by: exploration-based treasure hunting.
Lara Croft GO fits soundly into that latter category by more
than just name alone. Despite being a mobile title, it nicely captures
the spirit of the very first Tomb Raider games. Donning her
classic outfit, Lara works through level after level in search of an
artifact. Puzzle-solving and exploration are earmarks, just as they had
been all those years ago.
However, the mobile format is what makes GO distinct. Rather
than continuous action, this game is turn-based which places a greater
emphasis on thinking before moving. A rudimentary example might be a
pair of snakes that are facing opposite directions. You always have to
attack from the side or back, lest they strike and kill you first.
There’s only one path that allows for the correct order of operations;
the others just leave you dead.
But, even when Lara Croft GO deals out frustration, it
doesn’t negate progress. This is the mobile crowd, after all — a group
that might not have the patience to have its time wasted. Checkpoints
come frequently and everything is ever-so bite-sized.
On a micro-level, the scale of each section is obviously intentional.
Routon says that the studio knows who it’s developing for. Despite Lara Croft GO allowing
for minimal time investments, Square Enix Montreal is seeing a more
encouraging trend. “People intend to play for five minutes, and they end
up playing for an hour or more,” Routon comments. “We tell playtesters
they can leave, but they say they want to finish this puzzle first. I
guess that’s not a bad thing.”
It really doesn’t come as a surprise that people don’t want to put Lara Croft GO down. It elegantly encapsulates what makes Tomb Raider work,
and boils it down to its purest form. Swipe, swipe, swiping on the
screen is so simple, yet it doesn’t feel cheap to lead Lara on an
adventure in this fashion. Helping production values are the strong
aesthetic and the narrative told only through gameplay details.
Although it’s in the mobile market, Square Enix Montreal prices its titles more traditionally. GO will be available on August 27, but the cost is unknown right now (Hitman Go released
at $4.99). Once invested, this game is fully playable at any speed;
there are no energy meters to temper progress. Routon confirmed that
there will be microtransactions of some sort, but their nature will be
puzzle solutions for those who are struggling.
In a wasteland of freemium games, this price model is commendable.
More commendable, however, is the way that Square Enix Montreal boldly
gets back to the roots of Tomb Raider. Series veterans will
rediscover a Lara Croft that they know and love in a format that’s
undiscovered to them. Fitting, seeing as Tomb Raider should be all about discovery.