Square Enix caught a lot of flak from fans when it announced Hitman Go. Although it's now praised for its slick design, the initial skepticism was fair: Transforming a third-person stealth game into a virtual board game is a strange and difficult thing to do.
That it would be so successful was a surprise to everyone — even game director Daniel Lutz.
"Personally, I was super scared my career would end at that moment," he told Polygon.
But the bold move payed off, and Square Enix Montreal returned to E3 this year with Lara Croft Go, a new spin on the formula. The mobile game stars the eponymous Tomb Raider in touch-based gameplay. Like Hitman Go, players swipe to move around a board. Unlike Hitman, however, Lara Croft packs in more puzzle-driven exploration. There are enemies to shoot, levers to be pulled, pillars to be pushed and trap floors that will break and dump you into oblivion of you pass over them too many times.
Lara Croft Go is a clear cousin of Hitman Go, but it's hardly a the same game. Lutz said that Hitman was tricky to create because the core concept had to be designed from scratch. With Lara Croft, however, the challenge was to make a game that kept the personality of Tomb Raider.
"I was super scared my career would end"
"We went through a lot of iterations," Lutz said. "Initially the idea was, obviously as you might imagine, we were just thinking of taking Hitman and putting Lara Croft in ... We did that, and it just didn't feel like it was paying tribute to the franchise. It just felt like a re-skin of Hitman Go, and I think with this one we'll bring much more of a — even though it's the same kind of game design and same kind of core mechanics — we really built something that's true to and really celebrating the brand."
Although it's tempting to view Lara Croft Go as the second entry in a budding franchise, Lutz isn't quite so sure. The mobile market can be tough, and catching lightning in a bottle twice doesn't come easy. Lutz jokes that another Go game might be "something really stupid like Chess Go," but for now the team is focused on its current project.
"I think we really want to see if we can do this kind of thing again," Lutz said. "I think especially the mobile market — it's very difficult to do the same thing again. Sequels usually don't work that well. And also, personally ... we just don't want to do the same thing again. So whatever happens with this game when we're done and we're bringing it out, we're obviously going to see how people react to it — 'Is this a good move?' — also see what happens, and then who knows what we could do.
"I think the cool thing about these — especially Hitman Go, but also I hope with this one — is that's kind of unexpected. Obviously you're the game that does what nobody asked for and is still kind of cool; it's very hard to do that again. I think as a studio what's cool is we have a lot of creative freedom, can come up with these things. Whatever we do next, I want to make sure that it's opening up new areas and showing new stuff to people whatever the framework around this."