Crystal Dynamics may have made a conscious choice not to sell the new downloadable Lara Croft game under the Tomb Raider brand name, but don’t be fooled. Lara Croft & the Guardian of Light is the best Tomb Raider game that this console generation has given us.
The game eschews the third-person camera of traditional Tomb Raider games in favour of an isometric view on the action. Despite the change in perspective, this is a Tomb Raider game in every way that matters, from the devious environmental puzzles to the treacherous traps and precarious platforming.
But simply pulling the camera further away and changing the view on the action seems to have unleashed the developers’ imaginations. The level and gameplay design in Guardian of Light is some of the most compelling that the franchise has offered for years.
The real revelation that Guardian of Light offers is the frenetic combat, a huge improvement on a traditional weak point of the series. You can aim with the right stick of the controller while moving with the left stick, with the result that the combat feels as fluid as it does in many traditional shoot-em-ups like Geometry Wars.
OUR VERDICT: Lara Croft & the Guardian of Light is one of the best download-only games of the year. It’s a must-have for Tomb Raider fans.
The single biggest twist on the Tomb Raider formula isn’t the new view on the action, but the addition of two-player cooperative gameplay. Lone wolf Lara isn’t alone this time as she navigates lush jungles and dingy tombs – she can travel with an ancient Mayan warrior, the Guardian of Light of the title.
The hammily acted Totec isn’t the most charismatic sidekick in gaming history, but his abilities add a few neat twists to the Tomb Raider formula. As they make their way through the game, the two players combine Totec’s shield and spear with Lara’s grappling hook to solve puzzles and navigate the environment.
Sadly, you’ll need to find someone to play with on your couch for now. The Xbox 360 version, available through the Xbox Live Arcade online service, features co-op only for two people playing on the same console. Online co-op will be patched into the Xbox 360 game on the same day it releases for PC and PlayStation 3.
In the single player mode – which is well worth playing if you can’t find a co-op partner – Lara is on her own with no artificial intelligence companion. She simply carries Totec’s spear herself – an item which is essential for solving many of the game’s puzzles. A few of the puzzles are stripped out of the solo campaign, but the game is essentially the same.
Whether you’re playing a single player or cooperative game, each level offers up a range of compelling side quests and challenges that reward you with bonuses such as relics, new weapons and health upgrades. They’re varied and devilishly addictive, ranging from beating a set time for completing a level to hunting down collectibles, pulling off tricky tasks quickly or without error, and hitting high scores.
Lara Croft & the Guardian of Light (YouTube trailer):
Don’t be deceived by the fact that Lara Croft & the Guardian of Light is a downloadable game – it offers as much value as many retail titles do. Like Shadow Complex – the 2009 Xbox Live Arcade exclusive from Epic – this game has knockout production values and gorgeous visuals that set new benchmarks for downloadable console games.
It weighs in at hefty 2GB of data, and the six to eight hours of gameplay it offers for a single playthrough compares favourably to Lara’s more recent retail adventures. Poor old Lara has looked rather long in the tooth in recent Tomb Raider games. It turns out that all she needed was to be seen from a different angle. 8/10. — Lance Harris, TechCentral
- Reviewed on Xbox 360. PS3 (PlayStation Network) and PC (Steam) versions out on 28 September.