With Rise of the Tomb Raider’s November release growing ever closer, it’s no wonder that co-publisher Square-Enix has started to ramp up the hype train. An essential part of that effort is Square’s new iOS app, Lara Croft Relic Run. Ultimately, the game is part of a marketing campaign designed to drum up more excitement for Lara’s big console adventure, which Square is certainly hoping will eclipse its predecessor’s impressive 7 million sales. But as a piece of marketing content, Relic Run is surprisingly solid.
It’s an idea so smack-your-forehead simple, it’s a wonder nobody had thought of it until now - make Temple Run, but with Lara Croft as the protagonist. After all, she was the first to run through temples on the PlayStation all those years ago.
Yep, Lara’s latest adventure is a 3D infinite runner. With Lara’s athletic skills, including running, jumping, wall climbing and parkour, having been handily demonstrated over the course of her prior adventures, it’s honestly a shock that it took Square this long to get around to throwing Lara’s adventures into the popular mobile genre. After all, many popular gaming heroes have embraced the genre already, from Sonic to Rayman - and with Nintendo’s recent announcement that they’ll be publishing mobile games, we may even see Mario in the field sometime soon.
With so much high-profile competition, not to mention games like Temple Run already attracting attention away from Relic Run, the game has to do a lot in order to carve out a niche for itself.
To this end, Relic Run makes a few attempts at differentiating itself with varying degrees of success. The game has more story than most of its peers - that is to say, it has a story at all - and it serves to drive your journey through the jungles and temples that you’ll explore as you play. As you might expect, however, the plot is threadbare and really only serves as a way to get you running.
Lara’s friend Carter was in the jungle on an expedition when he suddenly disappeared, leaving only his journal and the relics that he had been excavating behind. Without missing a beat, Lara takes off after him, throwing herself through treacherous temples, dangerous ruins and harrowing combat sequences in pursuit of her pal, effectively earning her the title of “Bestie”. As you collect ruins in your runs, notes will appear offering insight into what they are and why Carter may have wanted to find them. It’s a shallow story, but it’s interesting in the way that it provides context for the items that you’re grabbing as you run. Most infinite runners are content to simply toss you into the action without a moment’s explanation.
The combat scenarios we mentioned earlier are another change. Lara is as famous for her dual pistols as she is for her running and jumping, and they factor into gameplay in the form of occasional gun battles that add variety to the running. Occasionally, the game will smoothly pull you out of its behind-the-back running view and transition into an over-the-shoulder camera. Lara will be pursued by supernatural enemies, who will eat a healthy dose of bullets before going down. These sections play out more like a light gun game than an infinite runner, since Lara’s movement will become temporarily automated and you’ll be focusing squarely on touch-based aiming. It’s a novel idea, but most combat sequences boil down to “tap the enemy repeatedly until it dies.”
Another potentially interesting idea is the inclusion of vehicles. Sometimes Lara will take a break from running to hop into an offroading vehicle. However, the controls for the vehicles are the same as the controls for running, so what could’ve been a neat inclusion ultimately isn’t very interesting.
The same can unfortunately be said for Lara’s parkour moves. You can make Lara run on walls by swiping in the direction of the wall, but this option is only available in short, sparse segments, and controlling it feels the same as changing between running lanes. There’s no additional strategy or timing required to nail a perfect wall run, so its inclusion is a moot point. At least you’ll occasionally get a neat-looking animation when Lara leaps across chasms and surfs down vines.
The best thing we can say for Relic Run, then, isn’t that it’s innovative, but rather that it’s solid. Its attempts at differentiating itself from the pack largely fall flat, but Relic Run does the standard infinite runner formula very competently. The 3D graphics are great, the animations are smooth, and most importantly, the swipe controls are fast and responsive. Cheap deaths and unfair level design are pretty rare, which is itself a rarity in the realm of free-to-play iOS games.
And even if Relic Run isn’t incredibly different from its peers, the core gameplay formula of moving very quickly through a series of obstacles and rushing to grab coins is still pretty fun. And with a few fun Tomb Raider touches, like a T-Rex who chases you through the jungle, it’s got just enough flair to stand out for those who really like the Tomb Raider games.
Relic Run isn’t the most unique app in the store, which is a shame because it has some genuinely interesting ideas. Controlling parkour and vehicles boils down to more of the same, but Relic Run’s story and Tomb Raider flourishes make it worth a try for fans of one of gaming’s most beloved franchises.
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