An Analysis of Lara Croft Go
Published for iOS, Android and Windows platforms and developed by Square Enix Montréal, Lara Croft Go is a turn based puzzle aimed at the casual player. It features a central character ‘Lara’ which is an avatar for the player. The player is afforded certain mechanics to help Lara navigate through the game space. The other ‘player’ in this turn based game is the environment. The objective of the game is to have Lara collect a runic and escape from the ancient temple that houses this relic.
In his GDC talk A Study in Transparency: How Board Games Matter, Soren Johnson discusses how it is possible to classify games as belonging between levels of ‘Static’ and ‘Dynamic’ based on the emergence afforded by the game. Using that same convention, I would categorize Lara Croft Go as being more Dynamic than Static. While Lara Croft Go does feature a story, it is mainly intended to engage the player through gameplay. However, since it features a pre-crafted story, that means that the player could not have true agency, and a result is that it the emergence it supports is fairly limited in scope.
Understanding that their target audience would play this game on touch screen devices and probably during their commutes, Square Enix did a great job of choosing a simple input mechanism. The player swipes (left, right, up or down) to move her character. The player is able to form an accurate mental map of what her input does and since this input scheme does not change throughout the game, it results in a very stable and comfortable interaction for the player. Uninitiated players are very quickly and easily able to interact with the game. Also, since this mechanism only requires a single finger, the other hand is free to hold the device which is ideal for someone on a commute.
The game begins with Lara running into the frame and stopping on a path marked with dots and lines. This path is made different from the environment through a clever use of graphics. Even if a player does not understand the mean- ing of the dots and the lines, the worn out visual of the path helps her under- stand that they need to navigate the character through these dots and lines. Dots represent where the player’s avatar would wait on the ‘board’ while the environ- ment takes its turn. Lines represent connections between the unique positions (dots) and thus possible directions the player could move their character in. In- level goals are made clear by marking them as diamonds instead of dots. This helps the player understand where she needs to go to complete the level. How- ever, the game’s objective is not made as ever present. Compare this to goal representation in Journey where the goal (a mountain) was visible from nearly every place in the game.
The gameplay itself is based on having the player navigate through obstacles in their path. For example, the game allows players to use levers to change or bring in new paths. Cobras are placed on ‘board’ positions and they attack if they are facing the player and the player is on the ‘dot’ next to them, but can be killed if they are facing a different direction. Watching Reiner Knizia’s PRACTICE talk "Whoowasit", I felt that the designers at Square Enix had put in the same amount of effort as Reiner Knizia in exploiting the mechanics to the fullest. For example, they used an avatar to help the player answer the question "Who am I", dots and lines for the question "Where Am I?" and the player’s directional orientation to answer the question "How Can I?". They used clever mechanics to make the same task more interesting; certain paths can only be walked over once or they crumble and break, certain enemies can shadow follow the player and razors can block paths in predictable manners. A game using such mechanics individually would certainly not feel engaging enough, but all of these mechanics working together result in really interesting dynamics. A razor could be used to kill a Cobra, or levers could be used to prevent enemies from shadowing the player.
Visually, the game is both pleasing and consistent with the theme. Lara Croft is an established IP, known to audiences as a rugged and adventurous character. This is reflected in the setting as well as in the obstacles the player faces. For example, the character uses weapons against her enemies, which is a popular ex- pectation from adventure driven characters. The designers of Lara Croft Go also make clever use of lighting to keep parts of the environmental puzzle hidden. While ostensibly acting as a graphic aesthetic, this is later used by the designers as a mechanic. However, the music is not as memorable since it lacks a clear associable melody.
While Lara Croft Go is not exceptional in that it does not break established game design norms, I feel that it is a well thought out game, and worthy of study for someone aspiring to become a game designer.