Platforms: X360 (Reviewed) | PS3 | PC|
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
I think Crystal Dynamics got a little bit bored to be honest. They've been deeply concerned with shaking up the Tomb Raider franchise since being handed the reins back in 2003 and this, finally, might just mark the massive departure that they've been looking for. You can forget about stealthily picking your way through archaeological ruins, this is all about pace, action and puzzle platforming.
Forget too about enjoying some T&A as you pick your way through the game. This is a new look for Lara. She's still romping around in the Underworld engine, so expect dynamic lighting in this game, ferns that waft in the breeze and puzzles that take the laws of physics into consideration, but this time it's zoomed out to an isometric view and handles like a twin stick shooter.
The game's augmented by RPG-lite elements too, there's an array of weapons, your four favourites can be mapped to face buttons for quick and easy access, not to mention a whole bunch of hidden artefacts and basic health/ammo upgrades to be found by looking in every nook and cranny, ticking off the side quests and extra objectives for each level, and also by occasionally indulging in a spot of actual tomb raiding.
Lara Croft's adventures have traditionally been fraught with danger, peppered with generally disgruntled wild beasts, traps that would scare the pants off of Indy and mercenaries who generally wait for Lara to do all of the hard work before pinching whatever artefact she's been swinging, climbing and swimming her way towards outside afterwards at gunpoint. If these are the markers by which a Tomb Raider game might be determined and identified, then Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light might well be the most Tomb Raider-y game of the last decade.
But of course, deep at the heart of all of the Tomb Raider games, in amongst the exploration and the acrobatic platforming, is the sense of isolation. Down there in those caves it's just you and Lara and a couple of dual pistols. This time around, however, things are a little different. That's not just a little heroine-plus-subject tagline in the title, it's a double billing. Guardian of Light, you see, is all about the co-op.
There's a different structure to things when playing with another human being. In multiplayer one of you plays Lara, with her guns and grapple hook and the other plays Totec with his spear and shield.The grapple can be used to for climbing purposes and tightrope walking and the shield provides not only protection from arrow-firing traps, but also proves useful as a platform from which to reach higher plateaus. Both of you have bombs, both of you can kick ass and both of you have point scores to feed. Work in tandem with one another to kill enemies, reach upgrades and snaffle hidden items and you'll both be rewarded. There's a real emphasis on teamwork here with plenty of options for taking down the vast array of creepy crawlies and thousand-year-old demons.
Of course, that scoring system also makes for some pleasant competition and, considering that points get deducted every time you snuff it, it's not uncommon to find that the grappling hook you've attached to your fellow as you swing across a chasm might suddenly become unstuck, plunging you to your death. t's telling, though, that the game certainly encourages you to work far more together than apart, with the scores offering a gentle incentive to push on for a better time and kill more giant spiders and magic waving zombie priests than your companion. Plus there's almost always a way to take your treacherous chum down with you as well...which serves as something of a deterrent.
It'll take about 6-7 hours to bust through the game in singleplayer, but you'll want to go back time and again to try and tick every box. Really, though, your best bet is grabbing a few drinks and a mate and playing through this one together. Although both modes have been crafted separately, and it's perfectly possible to enjoy Guardian of Light as a title for playing on your own, to do so solely would mean you'd miss out on a lot of the fun.
Online co-op won't be available until the PC and PS3 releases around September 28th, but frankly I feel that this is actually a boon. Guardian of Light provides the perfect opportunity to call up a mate, grab a few drinks and some snacks and settle in for a glorious night of genuinely fun multiplayer gaming. In giving Lara a companion, Crystal Dynamics might just have created the most unashamedly fun and accessible of Lara's games to date, and it offers excellent value for money at 1200MSP. No there's not a huge amount of story, sure, but when the action is this good, the puzzles this refreshingly inventive and more tombs to raid than ever before, it's quite hard to argue with them taking a little time off to explore a side project. In fact, we'd actively encourage that they do it more often.
- Gorgeous visuals
- Inventive puzzles, particularly in co-op
- Exciting, pacy and fun
- Arguably needs a second player to get the most out of it
- Arcade style challenges might not appeal to some fans
- Bit get a bit repetitive if you play it all through at once
The Short Version: With fast-paced action, inventive physics-based puzzles, some stunning setpieces, and a whole host of challenges to beat, items to collect and upgrades to unlock, Guardian of Light proves that you don't necessarily need a gripping story to make a fantastic game. Who would have thought it? Crystal Dynamics' breather project turns out to be one of Lara's most gratifying and enjoyable adventures...and it's even better with a friend.