Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Review

By Stephen Johnson - Posted Aug 20, 2010

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is the video game you never knew you always wanted to play. Who would have guessed that last-generation video game sex symbol Lara Croft would come out swinging with an action-crammed co-op action-puzzle-platformer hybrid that absolutely kicks ass? In short: Guardian of Light offers more pure fun than many "full" games, all at a downloadable game's price.

The Pros
  • Tight Controls
  • Thoughtful Puzzles
  • Engaging Co-Op
  • Amazing Graphics For A Downloadable Game
The Cons
  • Lack of Camera Control
  • Thin Story

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is the video game you never knew you always wanted to play. Who would have guessed that last-generation video game sex symbol Lara Croft would come out swinging with an action-crammed co-op action-puzzle-platformer hybrid that absolutely kicks ass? In short: Guardian of Light offers more pure fun than many "full" games, all at a downloadable game's price.

GoL (as the kids call it) abandons the behind-the-shoulder view of Croft's older games along with the Tomb Raider title. Instead, we play from an isometric view -- think Diablo -- and progress through ancient temples and dangerous lava pits to save the world from an evil spirit called Xolotl. The thin-as-skeletons plot is secondary to the action here, though.

 


 

Lara Croft: Gaming’s Cougar

For an old biddy, Lara Croft still looks fantastic, and the girl has moves. The controls are tight, Croft's patented acrobatics and dual pistols are in place, and so are an armory of new weapons and a ton of new maneuvers, some made possible by the addition of a friend to the game.

Gone is the isolation of previous Tomb Raider titles. In Co-Op mode, the players must work together to defeat tons of enemies and solve puzzles. Player Two takes on the role of Totec, a towering Mayan warrior with an opposite skill set from Lara's. While Lara is nimble and able to balance on a spear stuck in a temple wall or employ a grabbling hook to cross a chasm, Totec is heavy but strong, and able to use his shield to deflect arrows or as a platform for Lara climb on. Totec throws spears that he can stick into a wall for Lara to climb on, where Lara can use Totec as an anchor point for her grappling hook. The game allows only couch co-op play right now, but when the game launches on the PS3 in September, online co-op is planned as a free patch. Either way, the combination of talents and the game's environmental puzzle provide a ton of entertaining, but not terribly difficult puzzles to solve.

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Realistic Archeology Simulation

Examples of puzzles include that old classic "roll the stone ball onto the floor switch to open a gate" and "jump over the fire-spewing idol in the center of a huge, spinning disc." You know, the kinds of challenges real archeologists face every day. GoL is crammed with diverting puzzles. They're interesting and well thought-out, but not terribly difficult. Unlike past Lara Croft games, you’ll never be left at a closed temple door with no indication of how to start opening it. The tougher puzzles are quarantined into special, optional challenge temples with bigger rewards, but honestly, even the "advanced" puzzles aren't all that hard to figure out.

The co-op puzzles with time elements were the highlight of this game for me. Working together with your friend to stop a huge, spiked log filled with explosives from rolling over you results in awesome fun, as well as good-natured cursing and camaraderie, and stealing coins from each other has been a co-op gaming staple since Gauntlet. It's still crazy fun.

 


 

It’s Murder Time!

When you’re not solving problems, you’re killing supernatural enemies. The game employs two-stick controls (one to move, one to fire), allowing players to handily dispatch battalions of bad guys with Lara's dual-pistol attack or Totec’s spear, or switch to any of the game's many other firearms, from shotguns, to chain guns to flame throwers. Mmmm... flame-throwers. Reducing wave after wave of creepy spiders to ash with the flame-gun is remarkably fun.

Certain parts of levels feel very arcade-y, like a game of Robotron, with swarms of enemies of various types spawning in order to be taken out with explosives or gunfire. The action is hairy and sometimes frantic, but never feels overwhelming. 'Grats to Crystal Dynamics for walking that thin line so well here.

When you're not solving puzzles or killing things, you're collecting items-- Coins, power-ups, ammo, health, skulls -- this game is packed with things to collect, but generally not in an annoying way, because there are tangible rewards for completing most in-game challenges, whether it's a bigger health tank, new weapons or artifacts that improve your attack, defense or speed. The artifacts and weapons allow you to customize a load-out for Lara or Totec. If you prefer speed over defense, you can use artifacts that boost your quickness but drop your defenses, or vice-versa. You can also pack your weapons with heavy guns that do a ton of damage but use a lot of ammo or pea shooters that are easy on your ammo supply.

Graphically, this might be the best-looking downloadable game I've ever played. It looks comparable to a full-retail release, with lush jungle settings, intricately crafted textures and complicated shading and light effects. In short: It's pretty.

 


 

No Camera-Control? I Thought This Was 2010!

I wasn't always crazy about the fixed camera angle.  Most of the time it's used effectively; relevant portions of the screen are usually visible, and interesting, faraway areas can be glimpsed as you approach.  Occasionally, though, you long to be able to look over there to places made invisible by the camera's placement, particularly when trying to complete a challenge that calls for you to find specific objects. Also, the game occasionally requires nail-biting leaps-of-faith into unseen territory.

Unlike many downloadable games, GoL is not going to be over in 2 hours. It offers a good 7-10 hours on the first playthrough, and the variety of collectibles and challenges provide ample incentive to replay it. Plus, the co-op and single player mission play differently, so if you dig the game, you’ll want to try both. In short: It’s a lot of game for your dough, and there’s DLC on the way.

Maybe it could have used a bit more story -- there's very little, and it might have been nice to get a little more background on Totec and Xolotl -- but that's a minor bitch. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light does both action and puzzles effectively. It’s an incredible game.