Giant Bomb Review75 Comments
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Review4
by Ryan Davis on
It would seem that a change of perspective is all Lara Croft needed to revitalize her tomb-raiding antics.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is the best Tomb Raider game that doesn't bear the Tomb Raider name since, well, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. But Guardian of Light takes the blend of exploration, puzzle-solving, and gunplay in a different direction, adopting an isometric perspective and scoring system befitting its downloadable nature. Oddly, the net effect of the old-school perspective shift is a game that feels more fresh and vital than a Tomb Raider game has in a while. It has a few hitches, but overall it's just a terrifically fun, well-paced game.
The setup here is pure, classic Lara Croft business--business that the game chews through with incredible efficiency at the top. There's a magical artifact, there are other, evil treasure hunters out for the loot, and the next thing you know, a diabolical Aztec god has been released back onto the world along with a whole host of demonic minions. After that, well, these tombs aren't going to raid themselves, are they?
While the game is played from a fixed isometric perspective, it still hits a lot of familiar Tomb Raider beats. It has more of a focus on puzzle-solving and combat than exploration, and it does all of it with a greater emphasis on speed, a point that really benefits the whole package. Everything about the controls feels sharp and responsive, and a dual-stick gunplay system, paired with an awesomely expanding arsenal and a greater focus on crowd control, makes the combat more fun and satisfying than it's arguably ever been in a proper Tomb Raider game.
One of the hooks in Guardian of Light is that it's largely designed to be played cooperatively, with the second player assuming the role of Totec, that titular Guardian. While both are relatively nimble, Lara and Totec have fairly divergent abilities. Lara has her conventional arsenal, as well as a grappling hook, while Totec has an endless supply of throwing spears and a shield, and both have explosives that can be dropped and then triggered remotely.
These abilities seem simple at face value, but there's a lot of interdependence built into them that make this a pretty deeply cooperative experience. For example, Lara can use her grappling hook to create tightropes for Totec to walk across, while Totec's spears can be thrown into walls, creating temporary paths that only Lara is slight enough to take. It's a really well-thought-out system that demands some real cooperation--when you're playing cooperatively, you're truly reliant on your partner to progress and survive.
Catch is, at least as of this writing, the online co-op component of Guardian of Light doesn't actually exist, though developer Crystal Dynamics has promised that this feature will be patched in at a later date. It's categorically bad news when a major feature like this doesn't make it in time for a game's release, and this could've been a real deal-breaker, but it speaks to the quality of Crystal Dynamics' craft that its still been able to offer a single-player experience that doesn't feel terribly compromised. There are some puzzles that are harder or easier in single-player than they would be in multiplayer, and it's not hard to spot the points where the level was clearly designed for two players, but frankly, you move so damn fast through most of the game that there's little time to dwell on the occasional inconsistencies.
For the most part, it was taking me about a half-hour to get through most of the individual levels in Guardian of Light, which would put the game's runtime at about six hours or so. It's a fun, propulsive six hours for sure, though Guardian of Light gives good reasons to play through repeatedly, with a huge number of optional, skill-and-score-based objectives that, when completed, reward you with various trinkets and treasures which you can equip that can have a tangible impact on your various abilities. You'll also find lots of optional, self-contained tombs as you move through the game that provide similar rewards, provided you can crack their dastardly code.
I can understand why Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics might not want to put the Tomb Raider name on Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, considering the ways in which it diverges from the typical Tomb Raider experience. Hopefully, though, some lessons were learned from this enjoyable package for the next time they're ready to invoke the Tomb Raider name in a proper retail format.