Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

The Tomb Raider series has seen somewhat of a resurgence in recent times, with Underworld on PS3 providing a return to form that might have been even more successful were it not for inevitable comparisons with the fabulous Uncharted games. Attempting a different approach, now under the Square Enix umbrella, the latest Tomb Raider game, now under the Lara Croft label, arrives via the Playstation Store, a downloadable game somewhat smaller in scale than a full Tomb Raider release, but packing considerable punch for a store release, and offering a fully fleshed-out adventure for less than ten pounds.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

As opposed to the normal close view of a detailed environment, Guardian of Light features larger arena-style landscapes, viewed from somewhat further away, with more of a Command and Conquer feel than a normal follow-Lara Tomb Raider game. Using twin sticks to direct your character and shoot wherever you aim, the game varies the pace nicely between intense combat sections, with waves of enemies convering on your position, and puzzle solving, where your more-distant perspective allows glimpses of tricky-to-reach treasures. The different viewpoint has strenghts (in terms of big picture appreciation and combat) but also weaknesses, in that it's somewhat less immersive than Underworld was.

The story is conveyed via a series of animations, unfolding like a comic between levels, mixed with full cutscenes using the in-game visuals to introduce new elements of the plot or new enemies as you explore. Cynics will undoubtedly point out that this move is to save space and time, making a cheaper store release possible. Though almost certainly true, this shouldn't take away from the fact that the method works well, with a fresh new look to the series. This isn't Tomb Raider XIB1-c, this is the Guardian of Light, a (thus far) unique and enjoyable Lara Croft story that's decided to make its own way in life. As far as store title goes, it's also one of the best looking, and not just because of Lara's, erm, features. The game looks genuinely good, with sharp, shiny visuals, decent character models and some nice background effects. The overall landscapes aren't outstanding, with some texture repetition and evidence of a lot of geometric shapes used to simplify things, but it's carefully disguised with flourishes like flora, flames and flowing water.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

The game is more concerned with its own playability though, and the effort put into devising an effective control scheme is evident, with intuitive shooting controls leading the way. Similar to Super Stardust, players can manoeuvre their character and opt to shoot in any direction as they go. It's as far from Resident Evil as you can get in that respect, and it's better for it. The movement speed is good too, avoiding the frustrations of slow progress, and allowing smooth jumps from platform to platform. There are some areas which are inexplicably inaccessible, but it's forgiveable given the game's scope. The exploration is normally quite good fun though, with certain caves and tombs highlighted with key colours (like red flames) to indicate difficult-to-reach areas. There are additional rewards in the game for discovering relics and other artifacts, usually involving weapon or armour bonuses. There are also health and armour upgrades to be found, adding incentive for exploration.

In all, it's more than a solid experience. The Guardian of Light's gameplay stands up on its own very competently. However, it's once again the cooperative feature, something that's brought up repeatedly on this website, that elevates the game to a very high standard. Being able to play alongside a friend, taking the role of Lara's new bestest relic-guarding pal Totec, either offline or online, is brilliant. Things work seamlessly, and the teamwork elements have clearly had some thought put into them. For instance, Lara can use a grappling hook to reach distant platforms, but can't just swing down into a brick wall. Instead, Totec nimbly scuttles across the tight rope, reaches the other side and, yep, there's that pesky switch that's always on the wrong side of the bridge! It's worth noting that the trophies, though largely focussed on collection and comletion objectives, also feature a particular trophy for cooperative play, which could be a candidate for the easiest silver trophy to obtain.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

The Guardian of Light will certainly encourage you to get the most out of the experience, rewarding exploration and persistence with upgrades and special relics to find. Side avenues aren't exactly quests in their own right, not like the many distracting paths of Fallout, each almost a game in their own right, but they often provide a welcome distraction with a puzzle to solve, offering a nic change of pace from standard combat. There's nothing too taxing, especially with a friend happily jumping up and down on various buttons to help understand puzzle mechanics, and the smooth controls rarely add frustration to the puzzle solving. Similarly, the controls in combat, with a variety of weapons on offer, are highly effective. A neat addition is the remote mine, which both Lara and Totec can drop, wait for an enemy to approach, and then detonate at the expense of the unsuspecting (apparently dense) foe.

In summary, Lara's latest is an excellent immitation of adventures past, with a fresh new approach that adds new life to the series. There are better disc-based games, and some better store games, but The Guardian of Light is among the best choices on offer, and is definitely worth considering for fans of either the series itself or cooperative play.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Square Enix

Developer:

Crystal Dynamics

Players:

1-2

Online:

2

Release:

2010-08-18

Trophies:

12

Review summary

Gameplay:

Enjoyable cooperative action and puzzle solving

Graphics:

A new perspective for Lara, but snazzy stuff

Sound:

Not a full-blown experience, but decent

Lastability:

Shorter than some, but good for the price

8.6

Supernova

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