Once upon a time there was a large-breasted adventurer named Lara Croft. Her adventures were so popular that it spawned movies, comic books and a slew of sequels, reboots and remakes. Unfortunately, audiences quickly tired of predictable quests and terrible controls. It got so bad that the original team responsible for creating Lara Croft were fired off of their own video game.
But just when it felt like Lara Croft's fifteen minutes were up, Eidos Interactive managed to reverse the downward trend and make a couple of half-decent Tomb Raider games. With games like Tomb Raider Legend and Anniversary
, there was a glimmer of hope that maybe Ms. Croft's best days were not behind her. Now comes Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, the best Tomb Raider game in more than a dozen years.
Ironically, this is not a Tomb Raider game at all. Apparently, the name has been changed so that console gamers won't get confused between the main series (which Eidos has all but run into the ground) and this brand-new, creative and exciting game starring Lara Croft. After playing through Guardian of Light, I would prefer if the publisher would just ditch Tomb Raider all together and focus on making more of these offshoots.
Unlike most Lara Croft outings, this is not a game about searching through a bunch of old tombs in hopes of finding some sort of mythical treasure. Instead, this game starts just as Lara has discovered the Mirror of Smoke (not to be confused with "smoke and mirrors"). Unfortunately, she's led a big group of mercenaries to the treasure, which they steal and leave our hero to die. But what's this? As soon as they take the mirror, it unleashes two locked spirits. Xolotl is an evil spirit dead set on doing something evil and Totec, who's there to stop him. Together Lara must team up with Totec (the protector of the Temple of Light) to beat Xolotl and save the world from certain doom.
While the set-up is unorthodox, the level designs will be familiar to anybody who played even a minute of Tomb Raider. Players fight their way through 13 levels of ancient tombs, forests, marshland and more. Even if these levels didn't come directly out of a previous Tomb Raider game, they are reminiscent enough to warrant their inclusion in this spin-off.
With all of these familiar trappings, one might wonder why this game isn't using the Tomb Raider branding. As best I can tell, the only thing keeping this from being part of the long-running franchise is its brand new camera angle. Instead of being a third-person action game, this brand new Xbox Live Arcade release offers us an overhead perspective that you cannot change or move at any time.This is a massive shift in how the Tomb Raider games are played. It's as if the developers decided to cross the familiar elements of this series with a dual-stick shooter. Much like Smash TV or Geometry Wars, the player moves around the screen with the left analog stick, while aiming the gun with the right stick. But this is not the kind of game where you just run around shooting weird tribal monsters, you still have to solve puzzles and explore involving levels for treasures, weapons and other goodies.
Despite the camera angle and redesigned gameplay, Guardian of Light isn't the drastic change some people are expecting. There's more of an emphasis placed on run and gun action, but there are plenty of object-oriented puzzles for you to solve. Thankfully it's a little easier to keep track of what you're supposed to be doing in this game. I often found that the puzzles in Tomb Raider gamers were so complicated, that by the time I actually had what I needed I would have forgotten what I was doing in the first place. Guardian of Light's more linear approach keeps the action moving fast and exciting. I couldn't wait to keep playing, which is why I fought through all five hours in practically one sitting.
The good news is that this is one quest you won't have to take on all by yourself. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is designed to be a two-player game, where one person plays as Lara Croft and the other plays the Guardian of Light himself, Totec. Together these two have an easier time solving puzzles and fighting the game's multiple bosses (which, in true Tomb Raider tradition, are mostly dinosaurs).
Unfortunately there's a big catch. Guardian of Light may be made for multiplayers, but for whatever reason the developers decided to leave out online play. To be fair, there will be a patch that adds the option of online, but that's at least a month away. In the meantime, people wanting to play this game the way it was intended will need to have a second control and a friend who doesn't mind squinting. Adding a second person moves the camera even further back, which is more than a little jarring.
The lack of online play isn't the only problem I ran into while playing through Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. The game has this strange tendency of not always transitioning when it's supposed to. The problem happened early in the first level, when I couldn't enter a room important to solving a puzzle. I would enter the shrine, but the game simply refused to show me the interior. Instead my character was fully blocked by the environments and stuck navigating through terrain I couldn't see. After making several attempts, I ended up having to start the game over again just to fix the glitch. I only ran into this bug a few times, but it's the kind of level-ending glitch that really makes me wonder if this game was rushed out simply to be part of Microsoft's annual Summer of Arcade. That certainly would explain the lack of online multiplayer.
I played through the entire story by myself, which wasn't nearly as daunting as some of the recent Xbox Live Arcade releases (Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
, I'm looking at you). You don't need a second player to have a good time, so don't ignore this game simply because they decided to overlook the online multiplayer. Players will have a blast fighting through the game by themselves, and it will be even better in a few weeks when the multiplayer patch is installed. It may have a few bugs and oversights, but Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is well worth your $15.Although the game itself isn't very long, there's more than enough incentive to go through it again and again. Beyond playing through the game with a friend, players will want to go back and complete the various bonus objectives in each level. Although these bonus objectives are optional, I found myself replaying old levels to hit the score and time challenges. Some of the objectives will involve you going out of your way to perform special tricks or even find secret locations. Many of these tasks come with special treasure and even an achievement or two.
The game's presentation is good, even if some of the characters and enemies are a bit on the small side. The backgrounds are full of detail and I was impressed by how different every level is. On the other hand, I was certainly not impressed by the game's gigantic file size. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light weighs in at just over 2 GB. The download may be worth the time, but it's downright shocking that a game like this takes up so much room. And to think, just a few short years ago Microsoft capped everything at 50 MB. Hope you aren't still using your original 20 GB hard drive.
Fans of Lara Croft's past adventures will no doubt have a great time fighting through this re-imagined Tomb Raider experience. And best of all, the changes made to the franchise may help pull in people who could never get used to the frustrating third-person platforming action of the 3D games. Even if it's not perfect, Guardian of Light is easily the best thing Lara Croft has done in close to fifteen years.