By Marty Mulrooney
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is an isometric top down shooter developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. That’s right, in a noticeable departure from the main Tomb Raider series, Guardian of Light is an arcade shooter with multiplayer support! Originally released for Xbox 360, the game was later released for both PlayStation 3 and Steam (PC). Alternative Magazine Online’s review will cover the PC version played with an Xbox 360 Wireless Controller for Windows.
In Guardian of Light, players must take control of either Lara Croft or a 2,000 year old Mayan warrior named Totec. At the beginning of the game, Lara has finally found the ‘mirror of smoke’ she has been searching for, but soon finds it quickly taken away from her by a group of mercenaries. Before long, the evil spirit Xolotl has been released and it is up to Lara and Totec (a stone statue that suddenly comes to life) to foil his evil plans for world annihilation. If the story sounds kind of generic, that’s because it sadly is.
Luckily, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is all about the gameplay. Lara controls superbly from the new top-down perspective and the controls have been kept simple and precise. With the touch of a button, players can lay a bomb (pressing the same button again to detonate), use their grappling hook, roll or jump. The right trigger (when using a gamepad) allows the player to shoot, but only when aiming in a specific direction with the right analogue stick. It is a control system that soon proves surprisingly slick. PC gamers can of course use the keyboard and mouse – indeed, I can attest that this is a control scheme that works just fine – but for the full experience, I would strongly suggest using a gamepad.
The entire game can be played as a single player experience, although the storyline – what little of it there is – does little to explain why Totec is hardly ever present if you choose to do so. I actually found it a real shame that Crystal Dynamics didn’t include an AI companion when playing solo, as this would have offered a much more rounded single player experience overall. Once Totec is thrown into the mix controlled by a second player, the game really comes into its own. There is a strong sense of both competition – killing the most enemies (giant lizards, spiders and trolls), collecting the most items – and teamwork – reaching locations through the use of each character’s unique set of skills.
I must confess, I was forced to play much of Guardian of Light alone. Although the PC version boasts online multiplayer, I have never been able to find any other players online. Whether this is because nobody is playing, or due to a fault with the game’s matchmaking system, I couldn’t honestly say. Whatever the reason, it was a real shame that I had to use Totec’s spear as Lara (otherwise, the game wouldn’t have been possible to complete) and therefore missed out on some of the cooler multiplayer mechanics, such as Totec using his shield to guard Lara, or Lara using her grappling hook to create a tightrope for Totec.
Although the levels are fairly similar throughout, there are plenty of reasons to replay them. There are many collectables and level-specific challenges available throughout. I would often stop playing to read an on-screen challenge, before spending vast amounts of time trying to complete a silly objective, such as blasting a stone ball on top of a column. Much like in a traditional RPG, Lara and Totec can earn and discover artefacts that, when equipped, offer different abilities such as health regeneration or increased damage. A wide variety of weapons can also be discovered, with Lara’s trademark duel pistols soon becoming redundant as her arsenal expands.
The graphics are superb for a downloadable title, with cutscenes showing off an engine that looks great up close as well as zoomed out from above. It is a shame that there wasn’t a little more location variety, but this can be somewhat forgiven due to the strong art design. The music is also quite memorable, although perhaps that is because most of it is recycled from the previous Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider games. Finally, Keeley Hawes returns as Lara Croft with another strong vocal performance. Although the script is limited, she really does sound perfect in the role and I am pretty disappointed this is her last time as Lara. Jim Cummings does a good job as Totec too in an even more limited role than Lara’s.
Overall, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a pleasing downloadable adventure. It is fun, fast paced and its gunplay – the one aspect of the previous Tomb Raider titles that always felt tacked on – feels tight and responsive. The storyline is complete waffle, but the overall experience for the price paid is a real blast. This is a fun arcade shooter that makes good use of the Tomb Raider licence, even if it does sacrifice some of its usual acrobatics and environmental puzzles as a result. Recommended – and if playing with a friend, you should definitely add an additional point to my final score.
8 OUT OF 10