Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Review
It’s about time Lara Croft got a facelift. Ever since Chronicles, it has been apparent that the Tomb Raider series wasn’t sure which way to turn, which might explain the constant retcons and design changes. This time around, the beloved explorer is splitting in two. Tomb Raider will continue with an undisclosed sequel, while Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is the first entry in a new series. It’s a top-down run-‘n’-gunner that manages to be a main contender in the genre while still recalling the sense of wonder from Lara Croft’s heyday.
While searching for the Mirror of Smoke, Lara accidentally frees an ancient evil along with Totec, the ancient hero who put that force to rest. The premise is a little silly, but it opens up the field for some intense two-player action. Only local co-op is available now, with online games set to launch in the near future, but I would be more upset if local co-op were excluded, as seems to be the trend.
The three levels of difficulty are perfectly balanced in single-player, and instead of haphazardly throwing Totec into the mix, each stage undergoes subtle changes to make teamwork a necessity. Totec can toss spears into walls, use his shield, and walk across Lara’s grappling hook like a tightrope, while Lara can stand on Totec’s spears, jump on top of his shield, and use her grappling hook to reach high points and drag Totec up. Crystal Dynamics must have uncovered a forgotten magical formula, because I looked forward to each challenge, instead of hoping my teammate wouldn’t drag me down.
The emphasis may be on action, but it’s good to know that Crystal Dynamics haven’t let puzzles slip by the wayside. In fact, many of them are so fiendishly clever that they outshine those of the Tomb Raider series. Even the usual varieties of ‘pull a switch to activate a bridge’ can get unexpectedly dicey, like when there’s a giant monster biting at your heels and huge chunks of the bridge are collapsing beneath your feet.
Enemies are everywhere, ranging from useless cronies, to undead skeletons that reform, toxic-spewing behemoths, and plenty more. Guardian of Light nails the action with slick controls and extremely clever aim-assistance that has an uncanny ability to know what you’re trying to hit. Lara has a smooth rolling maneuver that, when coupled with her new bombs, are more than a little reminiscent of Samus, in a good way. She can also carry up to 26 additional weapons, including dual-uzis, shotguns, flamethrowers, and the ever so eloquently named, hand cannon. A few of the weapons are of questionable use, but it’s hard to complain with so many to choose from.
40 Artifacts and 20 Relics allow you to tailor your character, much like you would with rings and trinkets in an RPG. Artifacts are constant modifiers that adjust damage, bomb strength, defense, and speed, and typically with both positive and negative effects. Relics also provide bonuses, including super-bombs and power-boosts, but they only work if you can keep stringing kills together without getting hit. None of the bonuses are overpowered, but they are effective enough that you’ll change your tactics whenever you swap out Artifacts and Relics.
There’s so much loot to collect and so many possible combinations of equipment that Guardian of Light reminds me of dungeon crawlers like Champions of Norrath and Torchlight. Instead of randomized item-drops or an orderly procession of gear, Guardian of Light takes a unique approach with rewards for completing mini-objectives. Some, such as breaking every urn in a stage, are easy and reward you with basic health and ammo upgrades. Others, including speed-runs and collecting hidden items while simultaneously fighting a boss, will have you working hard to get the good stuff.
Guardian of Light is a true arcade game with a heavy emphasis on scores and perfecting runs, which is where the game bobbles. Guardian of Light could benefit greatly from the inclusion of different modes, such as survival, score-attack, single-life, and weapon-specific variations that put all your efforts to use. Artifacts, Relics, and unlockable weapons provide customization, but they aren’t necessary to beat the game. And, once you’ve completed all the puzzles in single and multiplayer, repeated attempts aren’t anywhere near as exciting.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is nothing short of a triumph for Crystal Dynamics and the buxom adventurer. The score-based gameplay and objectives are geared towards providing hefty doses of replay value, but even a single playthrough promises to be an exciting journey filled with top-notch action and ingenious puzzles. And, in a rare turn for modern games, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is even better with a friend at your side.