Lara Croft is one of the most recognizable figures in modern gaming. Famous for the Tomb Raider series, and for the fact that she’s smokin’ hot, most any game bearing her likeness is at least worth giving a shot. Thus, I was cautiously optimistic about Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light despite the fact it bears no more than a passing resemblance to the Tomb Raider games of old. Read on to see if my optimism was rewarded.
Note: All screenshots shown are from the co-op version of the game. See the video below for a review of that.
Considering the fact that half of the reason Lara Croft caught on is due to her… assets, graphics are important for the series. Though this is a downloadable title, they didn’t skimp in this area. The cinematics are easily on par with a full fledged retail release, for starters, and the usual temple setting is rendered with a fair amount of detail, too. Unlike the more traditional Tomb Raider games, your view here is a distant third person view that reminds me of Torchlight. This means for better or for worse, you aren’t up close and personal with our heroine. Instead you have a wide and detailed view of the playfield. This may take the game a few steps away from its roots, but it is necessary for the game type. There are little touches here and there that lend a hand in gameplay, too. When aiming the all-important spears that I’ll be discussing below, a bright gold dot is painted on the target, taking the guesswork out of the aiming. Power ups and upgrades stick out as bright colors against the more subdued temple background, making them easy to spot. This is particularly useful with the bomb radius circle, which helps you not only position the mine, but makes it clear how far you need to be before pulling the trigger. Gems and other collectables, meanwhile, are just a little bit more subtle, rewarding the observant player.
Rounding out the graphics are excellent animations. When Lara leaps, she has a sort of desperate kick to her legs as she sails through the air, and balancing on a spear is distinctly different than standing on the ground. The camera is stationary, which can be irritating, but it also perfectly highlights the scale and motion of your surroundings. All in all, the graphics are good. Not jaw dropping, but certainly good enough to make a statement.
The gameplay is the biggest difference between this game and its predecessors, and likely the reason this game is called “Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light” instead of “Tomb Raider: The Guardian of Light”. Either that or they wanted to rip off Indiana Jones’ naming convention, too. But I digress. The gameplay is somewhat unique. While you are still raiding tombs, combat is now similar to Smash TV. One thumbstick aims your weapons, the other moves your character. Pulling the trigger fires continuously. A few additions have been made to the venerable combat control type. For starters, you’ve got a dodge button that sends you diving aside. Man, what I wouldn’t have given to have THAT in Smash TV. Having a health bar instead of being killed by the slightest tap is handy, too.
There are multiple weapons to be had. The traditional dual pistols with unlimited ammo are default, and later are supplemented with limited ammo favorites like the assault rifle, the shotgun, and the flame thrower. Useful though these are, the key addition to your arsenal is the golden spear, or rather, golden spears. They are a fairly weak, slow combat weapon, but they serve a more important purpose. Heaving a spear at a wall will embed it there. Several of them will remain, and the always nimble Lara is able to balance herself on them as impromptu platforms, either providing a method of traversing a wall, giving you the extra height to reach a ledge, or giving you a landing point on a distant wall so that you can leap to it. Joining the spear in the puzzle solving roster is a grappling hook. When you spot a gold ring, the grappler can snap onto it, allowing you to scale walls, repel down cliffs, or swing across chasms. It makes a good addition to the platforming aspects of the game, which are fairly polished. Lara’s leaps are slightly guided toward platforms, and downright magnetically drawn to spears, so they are very forgiving. Various artifacts can be found that act as equipment, improving your stats, or else as relics that are activated by collecting gems and fighting well. Such relics might boost your shot power, give you scatter shots, or one of a half dozen other things.
Most of the puzzles in the single player mode come in the standard Tomb Raider format: Find switch, find heavy thing, put heavy thing on switch. This will either open doors or raise platforms to lead you forward. There are switches that you must pull out that slowly tick back in, and target switches that must be shot. They can make for some fairly challenging puzzles when combined with the spear and grappling hook elements, and they help to make the game feel enough like a Tomb Raider game to feel at home in the series. There are the puzzles that require extremely out of the box thinking, careful timing, and manipulation and exploitation of the landscape. It is extremely satisfying when you figure one of these out.
Scattered here and there are challenge tombs with trickier puzzles, rewarding you with health, ammo, or collectables if you solve them. You also get little mini-challenges that range from finishing a task in a certain time limit to high stakes jump rope or golf. Success earns you relics, or artifacts as a reward. Collecting gems and taking down enemies quickly can boost your score, too. Earn enough points and you’ll get a reward, along with the bragging rights among your friends. If you are a high score hound like me, this is going to earn you some serious replay value.
I’ve got to say, I like how it plays. The platforming is pretty solid, and the Smash TV style combat is loads of fun, particularly when the enemies really start to flow. Puzzles range from obvious to devilish, and the high score system and minichallenges keep the pace up and the game interesting even when you aren’t in the middle of a gauntlet. One aspect that is tiresome is the occasional puzzle that essentially requires you to know that it is coming in order to be able to solve it. True, death is only a score penalty, but still, that’s playing dirty.
Like the graphics, the sound is well above average, but epic. Lara Croft has the perfect “sassy British girl accent”. Her Aztec sidekick is a bit more “generic hero” and the villain has the usual gravelly monster voice. The voice acting could be a bit better, at times. The phrase “Then I’ll make a robe of your fine pale skin,” is delivered in more a matter of fact tone than a menacing one, for example. I’ll admit that that might work in some situations, but it didn’t work for me. As usual, music is good enough, underscoring the action and becoming more intense when there is a battle or time limit afoot. The odd rumble or grind of Temple of Doom style traps and stones serves as an audio queue when you need it. No real strength or weakness to speak of in the sound department.
The usual plot of a Tomb Raider game is turned on its head, in that you START by finding the crucial artifact, in this case called the Mirror of Smoke. You are promptly double crossed by a South American warlord who makes the classic villain mistake of opening up the sealed evil in a can. It is now up to Lara Croft and an awakened temple guardian to save the day. Fairly standard.
This isn’t a typical Tomb Raider game, not by a long shot, but if you bought it expecting one, you won’t be completely disappointed. The puzzles are still there, and still engaging. They’ve just been tossed in with a more classic, more arcade friendly combat. Artifacts, weapons, and upgrades keep the variety coming, and score tracking keeps the game highly replayable. Keep in mind, too, that this game is designed with multiplayer co-op in mind, and I played solo. One could have easily expected a phoned in single player campaign, but instead it remains a fully rounded experience.
Here is a video review of the Co-op experience by Phawx:
8.6 / 10. Despite the extreme shift in gameplay, this game is still a strong, enjoyable single player experience and a decent addition to the Lara Croft franchise.