Review: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

Hung over. Election day. Clear blue skies. What better reasons exist for having a lazy day in front of the TV? I recently decided to make the most of this whole Winter of Arcade thing that Xbox LIVE has going on and, truth be told, the experience has been a bit all over the place. For every ridonculously playable LIMBO, there’s a meh Hydro Thunder Hurricane, so it’s difficult to tell whether sinking 1200 Microsoft Points is going to offer value for Points.

With that in mind, you absolutely, positively should get all over Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.

Microsoft has saved the best Winter of Arcade release until last and Guardian of Light stands as a glowing puntastic reminder of what can be achieved with Arcade games. By injecting a basic top-down action title (with a pinch of increasingly difficult puzzles) with solid co-op, some interesting levels of intricacy and a game length that’s longer than some of the full-priced retail games being released of late, it’s a no-brainer purchase.

And that’s coming from someone who has never got into or enjoyed a Tomb Raider experience. I’ve tried many of the older games, some multiple times, in an effort to see what was wrong with me for not having bought into the fuss. I’d like to think that it’s because my allegiance lies with one Dr Jones who Lady Croft has robbed more than a few pages from, but the appeal of a busty grave-robbing brunette never really extended beyond the ‘would you bone this cartoon/game character’.

As a sucker for all things co-op, I was always destined to at least try this game cooperatively, but it was to my pleasant surprise after finishing the trial on my lonesome that I wanted to come back for more. I was further surprised when I discovered that there are subtle differences between the single-player and cooperative experience that make me actually want to complete the game on my own. I forked out the Points and I’m glad I did.

Y’see, one of the best bragging points that Guardian of Light has is in its clever cooperative mechanic. It’s the subtle differences that set it apart from your standard affair of two samey characters that fight side by side from start to finish. While small gameplay differences such as the weight of Lara Croft versus the strength of Totec come into play, it’s the level traversing and puzzle-solving elements that allow Guardian of Light to shine.

Lara has a grappling hook that can be used to swing across environments, but can also be used to allow Totec to tightrope walk across cliché-filled ravines. The grappling hook can also be used to save players with fast reactions from falling to their doom as Totec is also capable of catching the line. I had more than one badass moment of saving my skin by deploying a timely grappling hook as I was plummeting to my demise. It looks cool, it makes you feel cool and, best of all, it is cool.

On the flip side, Totec has a shield that can be used to deflect incoming projectile attacks, protecting himself and Lady Croft. But the shield can also be used to lift/propel Lara to heights otherwise unreachable. These slightly different player mechanics are easy to pick up but offer a surprising level of intricacy that makes you feel like a genius when you solve particular puzzles that require flipping between the various character perks.

The game looks gorgeous—particularly water, fire and explosive effects—and the sound is equally fitting except perhaps with the exception of some questionable dialogue and voice acting (the main cardboard cut-out bad dude spouts gruff cliché tripe like it’s going out of fashion). Of particular merit is the games physics engine that isn’t merely a cool aesthetic thing for blowing up baddies, it’s also a very practical part of the game when it comes to problem solving. Physics engines tend to be finicky at the best of times, but my experience with this game was near flawless, with only the occasional hiccup that usually resulted in hilarious outcomes.

Guardian of Light also sports some pseudo-RPG elements in that you can collect and equip various relics and artefacts to boost health, ammunition, attack damage and so on (albeit, at early levels this is usually at the cost of something else). Couple this with the fact that artefacts, relics and more powerful weapons can be unlocked by hitting certain in-game milestones and there are more than a few compelling reasons to come back for repeat play-throughs.

The action in the game oozes awesomeness in how much fun is on offer. You move with the left joystick and aim with the right, meaning you can strafe and shoot. There’s a dodge button on offer too which, combined with the ability to plant detonable explosive charges, makes for always-satisfying hit-and-roll tactics. Enemy types are pleasantly diverse, bosses are straightforward but challenging in their own right and the best part is that the game had me simultaneously rushing towards the end and not wanting the experience to be over. That’s a pretty impressive feat of its own.

Currently there is only offline co-op play available, which is a big frowny face for those who don’t have the option of having someone to game with in their home, but rumour has it a patch is in the works to remedy this.

All things considered, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I dug the Guardian of Light experience from start to finish; particularly considering how little I’ve cared about past Tomb Raider games. If you’re looking for some value-for-money gaming before the big releases of the year start taking up your entire gaming budget, you’d be doing well to give this game a burl.

9/10

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  • Anonymous

    Sweet! I enjoyed the trial, I shall buy this soon.

  • Anonymous

    I hear the co op is locked until the PSN release…anyone confirm that?

  • Anonymous

    What I read suggests that it’s coming with the PS3/PC release of the game.

  • Shush

    Probably the most fun co-op game i’ve played in ages. It has a fire breathing T-Rex in it man. The end.