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Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ Platformer/ Fighting

Graphics & Sound:

We're glad to see Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light breaking with tradition in several ways. First, by not bringing another mediocre Tomb Raider game into the world. And second, by taking the familiar franchise into extremely unfamiliar territory. It was a great risk, but one that has paid off. The idea that this isn't really a Tomb Raider game might occur to you immediately upon moving past the title screen. It's presented in a top-down perspective where you can't move the camera to one side or another, and where you can't zoom in on the action. Compared to seeing the world from behind Lara's back, this is a departure. Think arcade action and you're on the right track, but there are traditional elements throughout Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Whether it's the familiar T-Rex enemy, the fusillade of arrows that threaten to impale Lara around every corner, or the spiky tiger-trap pits, older players will immediately recognize this neighborhood. It's like a remix of the old Tomb Raider games, but freed from the traditional (and very limiting from a gameplay perspective) third person platforming and action framework.

The visual design in each level shows off the team's dedication to building a rich ecosystem for Lara to explore. You'll see loving touches throughout, such as vistas that let you gaze down to areas you've previously explored, or sneak peeks of areas you can reach with a little effort. Not having camera controls threw us at first, but we eventually embraced the change, because it is extremely well executed. You'll hear many enemies coming before you see them, with audio cues as they pop into the level. Moving your character around in Single Player mode is one thing, but Multiplayer requires even more coordination because of issues that arise if the camera is spread too widely across a level. Only rarely does the camera pan out or away from some important gameplay element, and only then because your partner has strayed away from you in the level. The sound effects for enemies are appropriately menacing, and the mood music is... moody. It's a great orchestral score that fits well with the style of music in past games, and works perfectly to complement the settings for Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Dynamic music rises in intensity when waves of enemies are attacking and builds tension, then simmers down at times when you are focused on exploration or solving puzzles.


The question we all asked when first presented with screenshots of Guardian of Light was whether it was even remotely connected to previous titles in the series. It looked more like Diablo with a dash of Gauntlet, especially when we heard about the new multiplayer focus. The reality is that this game probably owes a debt of gratitude to both those titles, but it doesn't feel in the least bit derivative. It's the opposite of many series that cash in on some faddish genre switch they hope will attract new gamers. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, but genre switching often results in catastrophic failure. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light goes the right direction where so many others have gone wrong, and really refreshes this franchise in the process. The story behind the game pits Lara against a resurrected demon that she must subdue with the assistance of a legendary warrior named Totec. The story progresses through a series of mission objectives, scattered with boss encounters leading up to the final confrontation.

The game is wonderfully adapted to fit players that enjoy both a single-player and a multiplayer experience. There's a seamless quality to Guardian of Light that allows you to play through the entire game with a friend, then switch over and play through again on your own. At a high level, the game isn't structured differently between these two modes, but things change once you get closer to the ground. Specific puzzles are built to accommodate two players, with features that increase the challenge, or at least force you to work with your partner. These are subtle changes, but the replay value of the game is literally doubled once you realize that playing through in the other mode reveals new challenges. What really impressed us was the fact that Single Player Mode isn't at all dumbed down, for lack of a collaborator. Sure, the puzzles are more involved when you play with a friend, but battling foes on your own tends to be much more exhilarating, so there's a nice trade-off. Familiar puzzles are scattered through the game, including those that require the use of Lara's grapple ability, but many times these must be combined creatively to support another player. Instead of just grappling herself around the level, Lara uses the grapple to transport Totec or bridge gaps that he can traverse. Likewise, new weapons like the spear and short-radius bombs contribute to some interesting puzzle concepts.


One of the things that fans of this series appreciate is a stiff challenge. Early examples of this were platforming puzzles that required almost perfect execution of complicated button-press sequences, or later entries featuring enemies that seemed impossibly overpowered. It's not that the developers hated us, but we occasionally suspected this during particularly grueling segments. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light begins at a very manageable level, and then incrementally notches up the challenge. New gameplay mechanics are introduced in advance of puzzles that require their use, much in the way that a game like Portal introduces a simple task for the purpose of teaching more advanced skills. What seems basic can work in very interesting ways, such as wrapping Lara's grapple around objects, or using Totec's spear as platforms Lara can use to reach otherwise inaccessible spots. Enemies can become especially challenging when they mob you, and there are a few (drawn from recent games in the series) that can't be harmed by normal attacks. So many things about Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light embody the puzzle ethos that we fell in love with early on, when Lara was still a fresh face on the scene. The ammo is generous, there are many weapons, and well-placed bombs can create some awesome devastation.

Game Mechanics:

The Tomb Raider iterations before Guardian of Light simplified some of the combat and platforming, in ways that seemed like a nod to one-button cover mechanics or timed sequences used with much fanfare in other action titles. This time around, Lara doesn't rely much at all on a complicated set of controls, but instead solves complex puzzles by chaining simple actions. She's aided in the solo campaign by one special weapon, a legendary spear provided by Totec. Totec can only use the spear to attack, but Lara's small stature allows her to perch on a spear thrown into a wall, creating many opportunities for impromptu platforming. Lara returns the favor by using her grapple to haul Totec up, or provide a bridge for him to cross otherwise impassable gaps. Totec also packs a shield that can block projectiles or be held over his head to stairstep Lara up to lofty platforms. Combine these interesting accessories with objects scattered through each level, and you've got a wonderful puzzle sandbox. Switches, blocks, pulleys, and other contraptions keep things from becoming repetitive or obvious, keeping the game's momentum going.

In the end, the highest praise for Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light may be just that concept of inertia, leading you all too quickly to the final credits. Instead of feeling like a slog or a gauntlet, Guardian of Light pulls you along energetically from one new level to another, providing you with some choice achievements and special challenges to unlock. Novice players will have fun playing arcade-style, running and gunning to their heart's content. There's nothing wrong with this take on Guardian of Light, but veteran 'Raiders will recognize that this game is really made for them. This homage to Lara's past ends up painting a great way forward, and whether or not there's another entry like this in the series, consider Ms. Croft suitably refreshed.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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