For the first time ever, Lara Croft has shed her Tomb Raider moniker, and taken up residence in a game that’s only available as a download. Maybe even the most radical shift of all: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is not played from a third-person perspective. Instead, it’s “isometric,” which means you play from above, looking down at an angle.
And it turns out, this fresh new take on gaming’s most iconic female is exactly what the doctor ordered, because Guardian of Light absolutely cannot be missed.
Lara Croft’s latest adventure finds her doing what she does best — raiding tombs and taking out mystical baddies — but her tired formula has been replaced with something that holds that indefinable fun factor that keeps you coming back for more and more. And don’t let the fact that it’s a downloadable game deter you; the “fat” has been cut away to give you the tightest, most honed experience possible.
I could go over the story for you, but it’s ultimately beside the point, because the real focus here is on the perfectly-polished gameplay. And in another first for the series, Lara has herself a co-op playing ally named Totec that radically alters her typically lonely occupation into a blast of a side-by-side campaign. You and a friend can team up to play through the game’s fourteen levels, though only on your couch for now; an update is coming in late September that will enable online co-op. The single player game is a similar but decidedly different game, with unique features in the levels for both.
Crystal Dynamics has crafted a dazzling, detailed new world for Lara to explore, and you’ll want to explore every crevice and crack for power-ups and other findable goodies. The new isometric vantage point is a tremendous asset here, as Lara’s environment is filled with endless puzzles to solve and vicious creatures to fight. Fortunately, Lara herself is just as spry and handy-with-two-pistols as ever, and she gets a full arsenal of weaponry to boot. Everything from machine guns to flamethrowers and missile launchers are at your command, and finding those extra goodies hidden throughout the levels will help you unlock more cool new weapons to try out. There are also points to collect, and the better you play, the more weaponry you’ll gain access to as well.
Lara’s trademark dual pistols never run out of ammo, nor do her claymore remote-detonate bombs. Lara’s also given a javelin-like staff near the beginning of the game by Totec, which continually regenerates itself, giving her an infinite supply of these powerful, mystical spears. There are giant boulders to move, grappling hooks to swing on, platform triggers to activate, and jumping puzzles galore, but none of it ever feels trite or overdone. If anything, these puzzles offer a welcome respite from the sometimes endless waves of enemies Lara frequently has to blast her way through.
Speaking of which, many of the larger enemies themselves are remarkably fun to kill, as they tend to explode in creative ways upon death. Boss battles can be maddening but gives the player an extremely rewarding feeling, when you finally take down that monster that refuses to die. Kill enough enemies without taking any damage yourself and your power-up meter will fill. Once that happens, you’re rewarded with extras like health and ammo that automatically regenerate on their own.
Sure, it’s not perfect. Some of the gauntlet-runs you have to undertake are downright evil in difficulty, and occasionally you’ll go up against an enemy A.I. that has no interest in attacking you. But the game offers so many overwhelmingly positive features, I’m inclined to overlook these trifling issues. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a blast, and the best reason yet for spending money on Xbox Live Arcade.
One last thing. It’s worth noting that Guardian of Light is a game that co-publishers Eidos and Square Enix are committed to supporting, with no less than five DLC add-on packs planned for release before Christmas.