Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Xbox 360 Review
Publisher – Square Enix – Developer – Crystal Dynamics – Genre – Action Adventure – Players – 1-2 – Age Rating – 12+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3
Games starring Lara Croft are normally rather lonely affairs, although the latest game to star the famous adventuress is anything but lonely. This downloadable title has an emphasis on cooperative play and also has lots and lots of enemies to shoot. If you want a Lara Croft game (the Tomb Raider title isn’t attached to this one) that gives you a chill down your spine as you run around the environments, then Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light isn’t going to suit, but then again this is hardly a typical adventure for the British icon.
Perhaps a summary of the story is in order: basically Lara joins forces with Totec, an ancient Mayan warrior who became a stone statue 2000 years ago to watch over a mirror which had Xolotl, the keeper of darkness, trapped inside. Obviously, as things normally go, Xolotl is released from his prison, and Totec sheds the stone and becomes a lot more animated as he and Lara attempt to put Xolotl back to where he belongs. It’s typical Tomb Raider nonsense, although it does give a fair reason as to why Lara has a big ancient warrior beside her and does well in setting up the emphasis on cooperative play.
Cooperative play is an unfamiliar aspect of the Tomb Raider series, but here it’s arguably the best manner in which to enjoy the game. It’s likely that you’ll already know about the lack of an online cooperative option – it wasn’t quite ready for the Xbox Live Arcade release, but the good news is that it’ll be added in later this month with a free update. Don’t be mistaken though, the current version of the game does contain cooperative: you know, the kind that lots of people seem to unjustly forget about these days, that being offline.
My first steps in the game were actually with another player beside me and it soon hit home that this cooperative game is something truly special indeed, boasting a smart design which makes some cooperative modes in other games feel as if they have been bolted on. That’s not to say that they’re not fun, but if you need a good example as to how truly intelligent co-op play should be done, then Lara’s latest would be one of the first to come to mind.
Before delving into the brilliance of the cooperative play, though, Tomb Raider fans that have got used to looking at Lara from behind will have to adjust themselves to a heightened view of all that adventuring, jumping and shooting. Yes, the game has a brand new isometric viewpoint, meaning the characters and enemies are small and the beautifully detailed environments can be seen from all sides. It’s more than a novelty, too, with a real feeling of expansive environments surrounding you and a perspective that allows you to view many things at once, although occasionally the characters disappear behind certain objects in the environment, which isn’t very helpful when you need to see what’s going on.
Right, let’s start that earlier mentioned delving. When playing with another player, one of you controls Lara and the other one controls Totec, although it’s not a mere case of additional firepower as cooperative puzzles also need you to team up to overcome them. Both characters have their own equipment: Lara has her now familiar grappling hook and Totec has a spear that has more uses than simply impaling enemies with. When Lara’s grappling hook is attached to gold rings, Totec is able to jump on top of it and walk across it as if it is a tightrope and Lara can also toss the rope in order for the ancient warrior to become reunited with her at a higher place, similarly, Totec’s spears can be lobbed towards a wall in which Lara can then jump onto them to scale heights. All this brings about some very clever puzzles – words such as genius are bandied around too easily, although Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is definitely something that deserves to be permanently stamped with the word.
Totec also possesses a shield which has its uses in certain defensive situations, but it can also be raised above his head, giving Lara a place to perch herself upon. A Totec jump with Lara positioned on top of the shield allows her the extra height to perhaps reach something that would be impossible to obtain without this smart teaming up
There are some truly ingenious puzzles and, whilst I can’t think of any that had me truly stumped, there’s certainly a few that forced me to pause for thought. Puzzle solving requires Lara’s grappling hook, Totec’s spears and both characters are also able to drop and manually explode bombs, which also come in handy in some of those puzzling situations. But don’t be mistaken, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light can hardly be called a simple puzzle game.
There’s also a lot more action than you will find in any other Lara Croft game, with enemies coming from all directions at times, particularly in the later stages of the game. The ideal twin stick controls also make all that shooting and spear lobbing very satisfying: holding the trigger to produce your selected weapon and firing with pushing the right stick in the desired direction. If you’re wondering, yes, Totec does get to use all the same guns as Lara. – he may be ancient but he is a quick learner when it comes to modern day weaponry. The duo can also be equipped with stat boosting artifacts and relics: the artifacts increase (and decrease) everything from the strength of your weapons and bombs to your defence and speed, whilst the relic boosts only come into play when a meter is full (filling up with enemy kills and by picking up point-increasing gems in the environments), in which powerful weapon shots, recharging health and ammo, amongst other boosts aid you in this puzzle filled and action packed adventure.
Cooperative play is clearly the best way to play the game, although the single player has also been crafted with a lot of care, attention and effort. For those who just can’t tolerate bad AI, the single player actually forgoes an AI partner altogether, leaving you to fend for yourself. You may be wondering how cooperative puzzles can be solved with a single player, well wonder no more as many of the puzzles have been redesigned for the solo player and Lara carries the spears that Totec normally grasps. The single player is yet another area of the game that is really, really clever and, because of its cooperative focus, it could quite easily of been ignored and not included altogether.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is also a very re-playable game. There are various challenges and challenge rooms to conquer, and doing so will result in you unlocking artifacts and relics. There are also ten red skulls to find within each level and score challenges and weapon unlocks also encourage repeat play. On top of the 6-7 hour adventure, it makes the game really good value for money.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is quite simply gaming brilliance. This isn’t only one of the finest titles to have ever of been released on Xbox Live Arcade, but it’s also one of 2010’s best games and one of the cleverest cooperative games to have ever been created. I live in hope that this one game will spawn an entire series of Lara Croft isometric action adventures, as it’s certainly a very nice change from an ordinary game to star this long-time gaming heroine, so much so that I came very close to giving this a perfect 10/10.