Full disclosure: I love classic Lara. Don’t get me wrong, 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot was my game of the year for many good reasons – although I’m currently putting together an article explaining why I’m very worried about its sequel – but I’ll always have a soft spot for the original version of the character.
Maybe it’s her confidence. Maybe it’s the fact she slaughters people, tigers, T-rexeses with total impunity. Suggest that the ancient relics she scoops up belong in a museum and she’ll laugh in your face. Her sheer bare-faced tenacity is definitely a major part of her appeal; the sense that a quip and twin handguns can get her out of most situations. Lara Croft, classically trained thief gymnast markswoman. How’s that for a character profile.
These days, classic Lara – in her now trademark vest and short shorts that help her mobility, alright – has been relegated to side projects to allow her younger, more fragile version to take the spotlight. However, it’s in these offshoots that the spirit of the original games still lingers, from the (excellent) recent PS+ title Lara Croft and The Temple Of Osiris to the upcoming Lara Croft GO, a turn-based puzzler. Now, Lara Croft Relic Run can also confidently add itself to this list.
There’s some things about Relic Run that might instinctively put you off, as they did I. It’s an into-the-screen infinite runner (uh). It’s free-to-play with microtransactions to top up its various currencies (URGH). It’s a mobile reimagining of a classic game (UHHH). I get it. However, somehow, Relic Run is not only a great game in its own right, its also a perfect example of how to do free-to-play in a totally non-intrusive way.
As with many such titles, the title page is a gaggle of option buttons all enticing you with just-out-of-reach upgrades and opportunities for you to part with your hard-earned cash to quickly jump ahead. However, thankfully, all of that can be ignored and with a simple tap you can send Lara sprinting into the distance. You’ll need to use simple swipes and taps to make her slide, jump, wallrun, shoot, reload; it’s actually an impressive array of actions that have been designed very carefully with easily remembered gestures. The game’s also been loaded with setpiece surprises, from jumping (and flipping) on a conveniently-placed quad bike, to swinging along a wall through crumbing temple ruins. It looks gorgeous; detailed and rich but with enough clarity to spot your next move.
When you die – and you will, lots – you’ll have to option to use one of your precious Ankhs to continue (which, of course, you can buy more of if you run dry) or start from the beginning. However, there’s no wait for energy refills or paywall obstacles; the game is generous enough with its handouts that you can totally play the game for extended periods without spending a penny. Everything can be unlocked with time and skill, and it’s actually really fun to gradually work towards that thing you really want. It helps that the game’s a load of fun to play, with each run teaching you something about how to survive a little longer next time.
In a way, it’s classic Tomb Raider in its barest elements. The game takes care of forward motion and all we have to do is keep her alive while she hunts, jumps and steals. Devoid of pop-up ads and constant reminders to pay, it (finally) feels like a free-to-play model that gets the formula right. It all adds up to a great title that reminds you of how great classic Lara’s always been.