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9. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Number 9 this year is another reboot of a flagging franchise. After a blockbuster debut back on the original PlayStation, followed by a few solid sequels, the Tomb Raider formula started to stagnate, relying more upon the sex appeal of its busty heroine than gameplay innovation. By the fifth entry in the franchise, the Tomb Raider series started to feel like a cheap cash-in, with gameplay elements stuck in the mid-1990’s.
Anniversary and Underworld saw the series make a slight comeback, refining the gameplay and control elements, while adding some much-needed polish that had been missing from the series. However, in the age of games like Prince of Persia and Uncharted, the games still seemed fairly bland.
Imagine my surprise, then, when developer Crystal Dynamics decided to take Lara Croft into the DLC arena, crafting a wholly different type of experience for the download-only market. The result was a fresh and inventive new direction that managed to capture the best of acrobatic platform exploration and puzzle solving, and combine it with the visceral adrenaline rush of a dual-stick shooter.
The storyline is admittedly somewhat bland. An evil force is unleashed upon the world, and in order to save the day, Lara and her new companion Totec must infiltrate a jungle ruin full of traps in order to deliver a mirror to its rightful place. However, the story is just a framework for the action, which takes center stage as you climb and shoot your way through the landscape from a fixed isometric perspective. The action is suprisingly thrilling, and expertly paced, and level-specific challenges add to the replay value. The co-op mode introduces a number of new elements, relying upon Totec’s unique skill set to tackle the puzzles from a different perspective. Only some minor control issues mar what is otherwise one of the freshest entries in the landmark series.