Lara Croft: Relic Run Races onto Mobile [Interview]

The endless runner challenges players to help Lara Croft uncover the truth surrounding a conspiracy threatening the world.

Square Enix has announced the release of Lara Croft: Relic Run on iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices, taking the star of the Tomb Raider franchise on a quest to uncover a conspiracy and save the world. Created by Square Enix and Simutronics, in partnership with Crystal Dynamics, the endless runner sees Lara pulling off parkour moves, engaging in combat with enemies (include a Tyrannosaurus rex), riding vehicles and more as she searches for the truth.

In each game of Lara Croft: Relic Run, Lara runs automatically, and players swipe left and right to move between three lanes, and swipe up and down to jump over or slide under obstacles. The longer players run, the more obstacles they face, challenging them to help Lara wall-run (swiping right or left when at the edge of the screen), drive an ATV or motorcycle, and even run along a cliff face while hanging from a rope. Combat is also present, which removes obstacles from Lara’s path, letting gamers focus on tapping to shoot enemies, explosive barrels or extra coin crates.

Gamers collect relics and coins as they run, as well as points multiplier items for increasing their high score. In between games, users can spend these coins on new weapons or upgrades for Lara’s existing guns, increasing their damage, clip size and reload speed. Players can purchase new outfits for Lara using free or premium currency, each with a different effect on gameplay, or can save their coins to purchase or upgrade additional boosts, including coin magnets, clue boosters for finding relics faster and more.

As players collect relics, they’ll eventually unlock new running destinations. Specifically, the Desert Ruins stage costs 15 relics to unlock, or can be unlocked instantly with premium currency, while an additional Mountain Pass environment is coming soon. Each location has its own achievements to unlock, rewarding players with free coins, in addition to global achievements tracking overall game progress.

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For social play, gamers can login to Facebook to track their high scores on a friendly leaderboard. An additional Curses mechanic allows users to send curses to their friends in an attempt to ruin their next run. If gamers survive the curse sent by their friends (which takes the form of a limited time “full screen effect”), they receive a reward and a chance for revenge against the sender.

We had a chance to chat with Iain Riches, producer on Lara Croft: Relic Run, about the game, and what it’s like transforming such a well-known character into a mobile star.

SocialTimes: When developing a game in such a popular genre as the “endless runner,” how challenging is it to create something that’s familiar and easy to play, but not totally reminiscent of other existing titles?

Iain Riches:  When we put the original idea together for Lara Croft: Relic Run, we had some key gameplay elements that we wanted to retain so we remained true to the nostalgic Lara Croft. Lara had to feel acrobatic, we wanted combat, vehicle and boss encounters in the game—these alone, based on the competition, offered the user something different.

Obviously, it’s impossible to avoid comparisons with other endless runners as we do have running in it, but we wanted the experience to play like a Lara Croft adventure both visually and in intensity.

Visual fidelity was important, but we wanted the gameplay to go up a level as well. We wanted the player to feel like the game was different each run—to add surprise elements and secrets. It was also key that we had a story running though the game that linked to the universe and gave context to why you, as Lara, are doing what she is doing.

There was never any intention to re-write the endless runner wheel just for the sake of it, as there are so many very accomplished endless runners out there. So, we used many as benchmarks, and then added the Lara Croft game elements mentioned before to create a really fun, unique and addictive game experience.

ST: When mobile games are released for established franchises traditionally found on consoles, there tends to be backlash from many in the “core” gamer community. This is especially true when the mobile games are free-to-play, as Relic Run is, due to the additional stigma against free-to-play games in general. What are your thoughts on that?

IR: The mobile market is a very busy place, so to get yourself noticed in the crowd is an ongoing challenge. Creating a game based on Lara Croft helps give us something to cut through the noise, but the game needs to stand on its own two feet.

Mobile vs. console gamers have a clear difference; console gamers call themselves gamers, where mobile users, on the whole, don’t. Mobile is not core, and will always struggle to appeal to core gamers because of the experiences that they are used to.

Saying that, Lara Croft: Relic Run is a high production, pick-and-play game that is indeed free, but we don’t have an aggressive monetization strategy—everything can be unlocked in the game just by playing (granted this can take some time)! But there is no escaping that we want to be able to make money from the game so we can continue to support it with great content!

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ST: On that same topic, did the development team take those sorts of player reactions into account and do anything to prevent the backlash, or has the trend shown not to be true in the case of Lara Croft: Relic Run?

IR: Our main goal was to build a Lara Croft game from the ground up for mobile. It was incredibly important to work with the franchise holders (Crystal Dynamics) to not only give us the legitimacy, but the franchise accuracy as well. We didn’t want the game to sit apart from the universe, but to be part of it.

We also involved the Lara Croft/Tomb Raider community and didn’t shy away that we were creating a fun and involving mobile endless runner using Lara Croft.

The response to date has been great from the people that have played it, both from the community and the general user. The reality is, endless runners are not everyone’s cup of tea, and assumptions will always be made about what the game is without even playing it. But when people do, they are very pleasantly surprised by what they get.

ST: Was there any concern during development of being compared to Temple Run, given the games’ similar settings?

IR: Always and inevitable—it’s the foundation endless runner that still sets the bar! As said before, we never tried to ignore what has been done before because they were a success for a reason, but we also wanted to enhance the experience as hardware and technology have moved on considerably since Temple Run (and all iterations) graced the various stores.

Setting the game in the Lara Croft universe offered us so much more to play with and offer to the player.