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Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Review

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It would seem that a change of perspective is all Lara Croft needed to revitalize her tomb-raiding antics.


 I can't leave without my buddy Totec!
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.

   Some obstacles require you to act quickly and use your abilities in less-than-obvious ways.
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.

 Gah! Spiders! Run!
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.
75 Comments
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Posted by Protonguy

Wow i'd completely written off anything related to tomb raider (and this title in particular) but after the quick look and review i'll be picking this up....... as soon as i get a new 360 that doesn't overheat at least ;(

Posted by Underwhelmed
@Diamond: Ditto
 
Summer of arcade has been like that though. The two games I had the least interest in turned out to be the best two and the game I was most excited about was the worst of the bunch.
Posted by eloj

I was going to get this, until I heard of the FIVE (5) DLCs nickel-and-dime scheme. Our children need to know that some people fought back while others collaborated. Feel free to message me when the full version is out.

Edited by phrosnite

It looks like this is the best game featuring Lara Croft... like I said many time before, "I'm buying it for sure on the PC". Co-op baby!

Posted by MjHealy

I will probably pick this up when it's the Deal of the Week. Sounds like fun.

Edited by fisk0
@Nes said:

" I can't leave without my buddy Superfl-- Totec! "

Yeah. I loved that Daikatana reference.

Damn, I have to get that game.

I mean, both this Lara Croft game and Daikatana.

Posted by Lind_L_Taylor

Why do they make these games so fucking short?

Posted by tweetspot

why does the guardian look like he should have 4 arms?

Posted by dpp

Well, with that I'll have bought 3 games this Summer of Arcade. Not bad Microsoft, not bad...

Posted by bitwalk

I think this game looks fantastic! Can't wait to try couch play.

Posted by GeekWhenSpoken2

Great review as always Ryan, I think the game looks great and it's nice to see Crystal D back on track with the franchise. I just wish they would tone down the silicone Sally look a bit. All of the promotional materials feature a Lara Croft that, while still a bit too scantily clad for adventuring—is at least more realistically proportioned.
 
I guess the big question now is where does the team go from here? The last few Tomb Raider games have been increasingly improved, but I still long for a Lara Croft game that has great depth and is every bit engaging as Uncharted 2 is.

Posted by trueheart78

Looking forward to picking this up.

Posted by Foreverwalker

Decided to grab this after only a little of the demo, lots of fun so far.

Posted by pweidman

The game looks great but no online co-op?  Seems like the main hook and sp looked gimped in comparison in the QL.  If they get that mode working I'm in.
Posted by Scotty_Gun

I played some of this last night.  I enjoy the diabolical level design but I was totally bumbed that I couldn't play online coop.  Let's hope that patch come quick.

Posted by InFamous91

Definitely buying this for the PC.

Posted by Zeninnnnnnnn

I just became number one in the world multiplayer-wise. Boom. 
 
Seriously enjoyed this game.

Posted by Johnnty37

Best Tomb Raider game in an age, played it with my son and had a great time.

Posted by papuccino1

I really enjoy playing this series for some reason. Very nostalgic.

Posted by Lind_L_Taylor

I can't believe anyone believes that something that only lasts for
6 hours is a "game".  More throw-away games produced by the
Summer of Arcade!   I'm pretty disappointed at the high price,
low return on investment.
 
Only one thing is certain however:  this game beats Kane/Lynch 2
by price & time!

Posted by lacke

@Ryan said:

 /../ make this a pretty deeply cooperative experience.  

I don't think it's a deep cooperative experience at all. Granted I'm judging based off the QL but there is nothing deep at all with having two people standing on switches or the game comes to an halt because "oh I can't pass now because the other player have to use the spear/grappling hook in order to let me continue". I'm not bashing its co-op mode or anything, just saying I don't think it's deep. :P 
 
 Other than that great review and will definitely pick this up if it gets a Steam release.
Posted by Jbul

I'd like to pick this up... when it actually has online co-op :|
Posted by Jasman23

Nice to see a publisher allowing some "risks" to be taken with a long standing franchises.

Posted by MrKlorox

Bring back isometric cameras in games, especially in RPGs. There's something special about it that first/third person does not deliver.

Posted by rolfmayo

Superb game, loving it. Best dlc since shadow complex. Fast paced, great powerups and well balanced action and puzzles.