This isometric action-adventure features a lengthy campaign with high replay value, a precise and fluid control scheme and excellent local co-op play. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is not only one of the best downloadable games I have played, but one of the best games to ever star everyone’s favourite raider of tombs.
The premise is that Lara Croft comes across an artefact called the Mirror of Smoke in Central America at the same time as a local gang leader, who unwittingly frees the evil Xolotl and Totec, the ancient warrior who trapped him in the Mirror of Smoke.
Lara and Totec team up in an effort to chase down and re-imprison Xolotl, who escapes to a stronghold deep underground that is protected my a perilous labyrinth filled with traps obstacles and a variety of environmental puzzles.
Lara Croft is very agile and is capable of lengthy leaps, quick evasive rolls and interacting with a host of objects. She also has a grappling hook that enables her to latch on to golden rings found throughout the game’s 14 expansive levels.
Aside from basic platforming abilities, Lara becomes armed with a magic spear that acts as both a weapon with unlimited ammunition and a device that allows her to scale large walls or gaps by acting as a jumping point when thrown at most walls. There is a caveat however; Lara cannot use weapons while perched on a spear.
Combat in Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is quite different than in the Tomb Raider games. It takes a dual-stick approach, with your right analog stick used for aiming and the right trigger used to fire. Lara can equip three weapons in addition to the mandatory magic spears. Lara also has an unlimited supply of explosives that can be used to destroy or interact with objects in addition to doing damage to advancing enemies.
There are over 20 weapons to be collected; from Lara Croft’s iconic dual pistols, to machine guns, flamethrowers and grenade launchers. The game can be quite combat-heavy at times and some sections will pit Lara against a large number of powerful foes at once. These sections can be both infuriating and extremely satisfying to get through.
The controls in Lara Croft and the Guardian of light are fluid, precise, intuitive and a host of other positive words. Jumping, dodging, bombs and action are mapped to the face buttons. Players can toggle weapons with the d-pad or left trigger and Lara’s grappling hook is fired with a bumper. There are slight variations when playing co-op as Totec.
Mastering the controls is key to completing a host of in-game challenges. Players will be awarded Relics and Artifacts that can be used to upgrade weapons and abilities for finishing levels within a target time or reaching certain scores.
There are also a number of collectibles to obtain such as health and ammo upgrades and each level has ten red skulls hidden throughout. Challenge rooms will present a single environmental puzzle that is usually a bit tougher than those in levels.
Players looking for value will find plenty in Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. The campaign took me over seven hours to complete and I collected maybe 70% of the items in the game and completed about 60% of the challenges. This game is excellent for those that like speed runs as well and I found myself replaying levels a few times, trying to shave precious seconds of my best time.
This game also has one of the best local co-op modes in recent memory. Lara and Totec can propel each other to great heights and a number of co-op specific puzzles are introduced that are not present in the single-player experience, providing yet another reason to play through the game more than once.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a good-looking and highly-polished game. Great lighting and shadow effects minimize frustrating “blind leaps”; a common problem with isometric platformers. The game maintains a rock-solid frame rate, even during intense combat or chase situations and features a warm colour palette and nice special effects.
The audio presentation isn’t on the same level as the video, but still fares well. This game features competent, if somewhat uninspired voice acting throughout and a suitably cinematic soundtrack. It should be noted that any in-game speech is not subtitled, though cut scenes are.
Downloadable games don’t get much better than Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. This effort from Crystal Dynamics is extremely well-presented and will, without a doubt, appear on many 2010 game of the year lists. The extremely high replay value, fluid controls and excellent production outclass many current retail offerings that sell at four times the price.