Giant Bomb Review

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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 JDUB_XL

Nice!

Posted by HellBound

Sweet.

Posted by Diamond

The game was a real surprise to me too.  I had almost completely written it off.

Posted by nickux

A really great review- I can't wait to get this when it comes to PSN. Kind of funny to hear it only took 6 hours on the first playthrough. That doesn't bother me but I wonder if it will get the same amount of crap Limbo received for being roughly the same length and price. Thankfully, I doubt it will. To me, the game looks awesome and I'm happy it's getting some accolades. 

Posted by Skullo

Good!

Posted by jkz

Very well written review Ryan, thanks. I've already started downloading the game.

Online
Posted by OllyOxenFree
@grossblood said:
" yuck "
...?
 
It's great that this game has done well.  Time to buy some pointz.
Posted by Herocide

Way better reception than I expected.

Posted by OmegaAmen

A lot of positive reviews. I plan to get this on Steam. By then, the online co-op should be finished.

Edited by RAGEosaurus

After watching the quick look, it totally changed my perspective of the game. Really looking forward to getting this now, kind of a bummer that you can't play online co-op yet. I was going to get it today but realised i only got 1180 points! a few days wont hurt

Posted by FalconCritical

I'm not surprised really, I played some 2D Tomb Raider games on a Nokia phone back when 2G was the business and similar to this game the exploratory platforming translates really well.  Before the Quick Look I was tempted to say I'd get this were it on a handheld device, but seeing it in action I'm tempted to get it on 360.

Posted by Steve_C

Is there a butler in this game? A lot hinges on this!
 
Nice review. It looked pretty good from the quick look, so i'm glad Crystal D are finding some success, critically at least.

Posted by PK_Koopa

Seems like Summer of Arcade was a success.

Posted by buzz_killington

This game has been (at least for me) surprisingly well recieved, and Ryan's review is actually one of its lowest scores on Metacritic. Seems like Crystal Dynamics got this shit.

Posted by Godzilla_Sushi

I'm so glad this game turned out good. I love Crystal D and I think if their games weren't the greatest, they were still a really awesome video game. Hopefully they can start nailing Lara Croft AND Tomb Raider at the same interval. They have a good publisher behind them. Come on guys!

Posted by biggblack86

oh yes indeed gentleman... lara croft is back, revived to her former glory

Posted by TheJuda

Totec.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

Did not expect this high of a review, but I'm really pleased to read it.  As a bit of a puzzle fan, I'm a bit disappointed to see a shift towards a more action based Lara Croft game, but honestly, given today's market, it's a smart move by the developers and publishers.  I'll definitely at least have to check out the demo.

Moderator
Posted by MisterMouse

Wasnt it Toltec not Totek???

Posted by mosdl

I wonder if there will be a steam version achievements?

Posted by TheJuda
@pyromaster222: 
Totec.
Posted by Estel

You don't mention what I've read elsewhere, that the co-op play will be "activated" at the same time the game receives its PC/PSN release. This wording makes it sounds like like the limit is more something which might have been a part of the exclusivity deal than just being a feature they haven't gotten around to completing yet. Can you elaborate on this?

Posted by kitsune_conundrum

where muh skullz!

Posted by Megasoum

Yes, actually it is "Totec" and I don't know if it's just me reading it wrong in the review but Ryan seems to imply that only Lara gets all the weapon? This is not true. Except for the basic pistols (Lara only) and the Spear (Totec only in co-op), all the other weapons are unlocked on both characters.
 
Let's just say that I played a LOT of that game in the last couple of months so I am really glad that you guys are liking it. It is really a kick ass game!

Posted by CptBedlam

Just played through the demo and the game is just not clicking with me. I have absolute no motivation to play any more of it. It looks pretty and all but the shooting is pretty unfun and the strict linearity somehow kills the last bit of my motivation. I would've loved some light metroidvania-structure in there.

Posted by Napalm

I'm glad this turned out to be pretty decent. Shoot'em up games FTW.

Posted by radioactivez0r

@nickux: Limbo was generally considered to be about a 3 hour game, so this is pretty different.
@CaptBedlam: I don't get your statement.  I mean, you read a review, maybe watched a video, but played the demo expecting a different game or what? 
 
And yeah, my understanding is also that the online co-op is simply being delayed to be released on all platforms after the month of exclusivity is over. 

Edited by Brackynews
@Estel said:

" You don't mention what I've read elsewhere, that the co-op play will be "activated" at the same time the game receives its PC/PSN release. This wording makes it sounds like like the limit is more something which might have been a part of the exclusivity deal than just being a feature they haven't gotten around to completing yet. Can you elaborate on this? "

Don't get too paranoid. There is no such thing as PC exclusivity deals, and PSN generally relies on developers to provide their own online support.  And no way would Xbox want a crippled version as part of their agreement.
The developer interviews have said that they are very concerned with polishing the online co-op.  Summer Of Arcade just had a hard deadline they couldn't miss.  Without it, it's entirely possible it would've been a later simultaneous release on all platforms.  The interviews have left me with the impression that the team doing this game is fairly "green" at games of this type, and they have encountered difficulties.  LIVE should be the absolute easiest online service to get working.  Microsoft is actually a software company, remember. :)
Edited by fedorajay
@OllyOxenFree said:

" @grossblood said:

" yuck "
...?  It's great that this game has done well.  Time to buy some pointz. "
Ignore him. Look at his forum history and is intelligence becomes obvious.  
On Topic, I hope the positive reviews gives developers ideas of more isometric, possibly action RPG, games for download.
Posted by Crono

I am somewhat shocked that this game is so good - mostly because it is a Lara Croft game.  I really love isometric crawlers and this seems like the sort of game that would be fun to play with the girlfriend.  I wasn't too excited about this title but after watching the quicklook recently and reading this review I am pretty sure I'll be purchasing this relatively soon.  Also, I can't wait for Diablo 3 and this, even though it will not really help with the wait, and may even actually make it feel longer, will still give me something to play that is loosely similar enough to amp me up even more.

Posted by ajamafalous

You misspelled Totec. 
 
 
:(

Posted by drj8392302

This looks really fun!

Posted by Peacemaker

15 bucks for a 6 hour game.  Gotta love the XBLA and PSN.  I did enjoy the demo quiet a bit.  I'll probably get some points tomorrow and buy the full thing.  I'll most likely be flying solo until the online is patched though.

Posted by Tordah

After the quicklook I'm not surprised this got 4 stars. Seems like a really fun game.

Posted by jakob187

Just bought the game about three hours ago or so, and I'm about halfway through on the normal difficulty.  Gotta say that it's one of the best purchases aside from Monday Night Combat, Red Dead Redemption, Bad Company 2, and a good handful of others games all year long.  Personally, it's worth well over the $15 asking price.

Posted by Maxszy

Played for 4+ hours with a buddy today. Couch co-op obviously, and it was awesome. Amazingly deep for a $15 downloadable game that if you have the other person to play with cooperatively on a coach, this is awesome.
 
Look forward to going through single player later on though definitely, it was built with two in mind.

Posted by Raven_Sword

You know, originaly I thought this looked dumb. But I might DL the demo for this. Looks interesting. Im still confused on why they didnt include online coop right when the game comes out and you have to wait for the PSN adn PC versions to get it on the Live arcade version. Maybe that was the terms of Live getting it first?

Posted by MadBaron

Good to see some fresh air in a "Lara Croft" game. 
 
Downloading the demo ASAP.

Posted by spacemanspiffgbr

Really enjoying it myself. Only managed a small amount of time on it last night, but it's fab so far. Might have to get it on Steam too to have a lunchtime play!

Posted by floodiastus

This looks like a next gen Baldurs Gate 2: Dark Alliance 
 
awesome!

Posted by haggis
@nickux:  Limbo was closer to three ( maybe four) hours long, not six. :/
Posted by Stealthmaster86
@nickux: I downloaded the demo and you play though the first stage. That took me about 20 minutes to beat and on the bullet-points it said that there were 14 stages to go through. So 6 - 8 hours, depending on difficulty, for 15 bucks is a hell of a deal. I was left wanting more when I was done.
Posted by CodeTherion

It's not a bad game at all, I almost wrote it off until my Girlfriend talked me into playing it and damn.  It handles really well in co-op.

Edited by outlawtotheend

Wtf was that ad at the beginning of the quick look? The Big Live Live Show Live? 
 
That looked hilarious!

Posted by Nes

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

Posted by RVonE

My favorite game this summer of arcade, for sure. Good review, Ryan!
Posted by kitsune_conundrum

I just like to say, in a non-creepy kind of way that crystal D have made lara croft hot again.

Posted by Estel
@Brackynews: Ok sorry, I guess I expressed myself poorly in seeking clarification. That the lack of co-op is primarily the result of the game rushing to meet the early release for 360 was more what I was driving at :) 
With respect to Microsoft being a software company, I'd be surprised if that itself had too much of an impact in the ease of development. Valve are also a software company (if CD were intending to utilise Steamworks for matchmaking), and Sony are hardly beggars in this respect: the ease/problems in developing for 360/PS3/PC seem to come from more inherit properties of the hardware.
Posted by Ghost_of_Perdition

Nice review. I'm currently waiting for my download to finish.

Posted by Ronald

Sneaky hiding the quick look in here. And the game sounds very cool. I might buy it when I have $15 to spend.

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