Guardian of Light is just what Tomb Raider needed
1996's Tomb Raider is one of those seminal games that have spawned a myriad of sequels and essentially propelled a whole genre forward. It has since seen quite a few successes, but the Tomb Raiders of late has been rather flat, offering little beyond rehashes of that original formula and the occasional cup size change for Lara. Lara Croft: Guardian of Light looks to take the franchise in a whole new direction. Featuring an isometric viewpoint and intense, well-implemented co-op action, Guardian of Light may just be what Tomb Raider has needed for quite some time, and at a budget price too.
2010 has been a great year for downloadable titles, and this relatively new medium to distribute games has had wonderful effects on the types of games we get to enjoy. Guardian of Light is one of those games that probably would have never been made had it not been for platforms such as XBOX LIVE ARCADE, and as such, we can be extremely grateful for this evolution in gaming. For being a “smaller game”, this latest Tomb Raider game is very ambitious, cramming just about as much gameplay into the current 2GB limit for XBLA games as possible.
What little there is to say of the story pretty much amounts to this: at the start of the game, Lara and a couple of foolish tomb raiders (of the bad variety, not the morally impeccable tomb desecrater who Lara herself is) release the evil Emperor Xolotl from his prison by touching an ancient artifact. You know, the usual. This also causes Totec, a guardian to the imprisonment of the evil Emperor and manly man, to wake up and join the fray. Xolotl immediately dispatches of the extras and leaves Lara and Totec to muck about for a bit, until they decide to chase after the devil incarnate. It's very straightforward, and serves as the sole motivator for the rest of the game. In that sense, it does its job perfectly well. I personally had no qualms with the simple, minimalistic tale, even if the almost complete lack of character or relationship development between the pair is a bit disappointing.
The gameplay itself is divided into levels which can range from a couple of minutes to over half an hour long on your first time through them. Each level has a number of goals, both primary and secondary. The primary goals move you towards completion of the level, the secondary ones give you new weapons, health upgrades and ammo upgrades. These bonus goals always consist of getting a set score by killing enemies, completing the level within a set time or doing something fun and random, like bouncing some of the heavy balls up into a basketball hoop with your bombs. It's this kind of stuff that made me want to go back to Guardian of Light after I had seen the end of its final level.
In true Tomb Raider fashion, series of puzzles are broken up by lots of combat. Both characters have unique abilities. Lara has a grapple hook that she uses to attach herself to both Totec and certain grapple points within the world. Totec uses golden spears rather than Lara's signature dual pistols, and he can plant these into a wall as to allow Lara to stand on them and thus create an improvised ladder. Or he can hold his shield above his head and allow Lara to stand on him. These abilities come into play in a number of well-thought out ways, and solving a rooms puzzle by figuring out what the game's designers require from you (or in some cases, even going around the clean solution and finding another way) is immensely satisfying, and easily the best part of Guardian of Light.
It bears mentioning that this game is intended for co-op play. You can play by yourself if you want, though you can only use Lara while going through the singleplayer, who will have access to Totec's spears for the purpose of getting through traps by herself. All puzzles that require use of Totec's shield or a second pair of hands have simply been removed or simplified here, which makes the game less exciting overall. Not to mention that you're missing out on a great time with one of your friends. I loved every second of this game that I had spent playing with a mate of mine, but was forced to complete two of the levels by myself at a certain point. These two levels were decidedly less fun for it, and as such I can confidently say that you really should consider whether or not you regularly have friends available that would be interested in playing this game with you. It may make or break the experience for you.
The gunplay is pretty decent. It basically consists of little more than aiming with the right stick and hitting the trigger, occasionally stopping to roll away from an incoming attack. What does make the combat interesting is the absolutely huge amount of weapons and upgrades you can acquire over the course of the game. Everything from pistols to rocket launchers and gatling guns is in here, and finding something new that blows your previous equipment out of the water is as much fun is it is in any good loot game. It's what keeps shooting dudes somewhat compelling throughout, because fighting the same dudes over and over again does get old fast.
Guardian of Light looks pretty good. The art design is superb in spots, and the music really got me going during chase sequences. There are only two real voice actors, and neither of them delivers a standout performance, but it gets the job done.
Lara Croft has needed some new direction to give the revered franchise a boost, and Guardian of Light does just that. It is a remarkable departure from the set formula, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed playing though with a friend beside me. I highly suggest you pick it up.