See Lara run. See Lara jump. See Lara pay $9.99 for an extra life. That’s the gist of Lara Croft: Relic Runner and the fleet-footed antics of its leading lady. A slapped-together endless runner with the Tomb Raider brand, Relic Runner packs all the right ideas and none of the charm as a joyless time-waster from the folks who brought you Final Fantasy.
As its title suggests, Relic Runner sees you running, jumping, and swinging at high speeds as world-renown archeologist Lara Croft, collecting clues to ancient “hidden” artifacts as you sprint along a three-lane track. At face-value, the gameplay’s good, clean fun. Naturally, a swipe of your finger lets you change lanes and go up, down, left, and right, as you sidestep swinging axes and leap giant chasms in a single bound. These contextual controls handle nicely while Lara’s moves are fondly reminiscent of the fast-paced parkour from The Prince of Persia. It’s a shame the game insists on showcasing them over and over again.
Relic Runner thinks it’s cool and it feels like it needs to show you each and every time. This is your good ‘ole, hot pants Lara embodying the cheeky, irreverent tone of the series’ olden days, often at the cost of your play session. The time it takes to watch Lara vault through the air in slow-motion’s just enough to break your concentration and given the split-second timing required to pull off a jump, it’s just not worth it to stare at Lara doing slo-mo cartwheels only to see her smack into a tree branch headfirst.
When she’s not running from resident T-Rexes or sky-diving off of random ATVs like a buxom Vin Diesel, Lara does get in some old-fashioned target practice. The game’s shooting galleries add a new definition to the term run ‘n gun as certain, on-rail segments have Lara whip out her dual pistols on spear-wielding lizard men, shooting conveniently-placed barrels and money/ammo crates. They’re all adequate distractions from Relic Runner‘s track and field schtick, save for their third or fourth time around. You can also earn achievements for coins and gemstones, or connect with your friends on Facebook to see your leaderboard rankings as the game will needlessly remind you at every opportunity.
The courses themselves are just as mundane – all two of them. As of now, the game’s limited to just “Jungle Temple” and “Desert Ruins,” while a third, Mountain Pass, is allegedly “Coming Soon.” Both feel like merely running through the motions, so to speak, of what amounts to obstacle course in the jungle or an obstacle course in the sand. Either dish out the same cheap shots – trees or columns that all blend together or collapsing pits. It’s less and less fun to dust yourself and try again while tirelessly memorizing every booby-trap, all while suppressing the defeated image of a contorted Lara’s rag-doll physics.
Dying and dying often is the territory that comes with the genre, and Relic Runner revels in a perpetual death spiral. Once dead, players will be set back to the beginning of the course unless they choose to resurrect Lara. You can do this with an ankh that you can obtain by watching some inane 30-second ad or buying one with gemstones from the in-game store, the latter of which can cost you anywhere from $.99 to $49.99. As each death raises the number of ankhs required to raise Lara from the dead, it’s less costly to let yourself die and start over again, but time is money and Relic Runner insists you spend a whole lot of it.
Free-to-play may not mean free of distraction, as it seems that at no point is Relic Run not littered with “buy me!” signs. In it, you can buy a variety of items (charms, ammo, power-ups) and weapons (guns, grenades, crossbows) as well as “outfits” to play Barbie with Lara. Biker Lara, Bomber Lara, and Stealth Lara – they’d be ridiculous enough in themselves if not for their price tag. I’m not sure which of them Square Enix expects more people to buy – hot leather for Lara’s heatstroke or turtle charms for warding off…turtle curses?
Whether you’re riding a bus or taking an extended crap, Relic Run accomplishes the meager task it’s meant to do: kill some minutes and lighten your wallet. Though it does no favors for the genre nor will it likely broaden Tomb Raider‘s horizons for the better, Square Enix’s soulless dollar-dash realizes what the franchise ought to be on mobile if not with the imagination – and focus – it deserves.