Reviewed: August 21, 2010
Released: August 18, 2010
Lara Croft is back sporting a whole new look, style, and co-op gaming premise, as well as making her digital download debut in the Xbox Summer of Arcade. And what a way to wrap up five weeks of great arcade games as Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is undeniably the best of the batch in this crop of summer arcade downloads. |
I had a chance to play this game at E3 and even then I knew it was going to be a major hit with its gorgeous graphics, unique co-op design, and a fresh perspective on twin-stick shooters. Now, after having finished the co-op adventure and several levels of the solo mode, I can say without reservation, this is one of the best Lara Croft games ever and easily my favorite Xbox Live Arcade game in the entire library.
For 1200 points ($15) you get a 2GB download that will immerse you in a fantastic tale of ancient treasure, evil demons, and horrible monsters. With gameplay that seamlessly blends action and puzzle solving, along with an intuitive cooperative element, plus an isometric camera view, youíve never played a Lara Croft adventure like this. They've even managed to work in an atrribute and upgrade system by using some of those magical relics you'll find along the way.
The story is simple. Lara is searching for the Mirror of Smoke but mercenaries beat her to the treasure, steal the mirror and unwittingly release an ancient evil known as Xolotl. He kills all the mercs and runs off with the mirror to usher in his own apocalypse, leaving Lara to chase after him. But this time she is not alone. Totec, the Guardian of Light, was also awakened when the mirror was disturbed and he has also vowed to stop Xolotl. So as the saying goes Ė the enemy of my enemy is my new co-op partner.
Lara comes with her standard issue set of firearms and her arsenal grows as you unlock new weapons throughout the game. She also has a grapple that she can use to climb, swing, and even construct a crude rope bridge for Totec to tiptoe across. Totec has a shield and a spear. The shield is great for blocking incoming projectiles like arrows and fireballs and Lara can even hide behind it. He can also put the shield over his head proving a makeshift ledge for Lara to jump from. Totec can kill most smaller enemies with a single spear but more important to puzzle solving, he can throw up to three spears at a time and stick them into walls to make a series of jumping ledges for Lara to get across.
Gameplay is simply fantastic, perfectly balanced so you can play alone or with a friend. If you go solo certain story elements shift and Totec will provide Lara with his spear so she can overcome various obstacles. The puzzles are challenging but not terribly difficult and many have multiple solutions. Navigation puzzles are built right into the levels, but there are also special challenge rooms with more sinister puzzles and traps and useful artifacts and rewards that you can use to upgrade and enhance your character.
Lara and Totec have three slots to equip relics, and each relic offers a mix of plus and minus attribute abilities for speed, damage, etc. You also have four weapon slots to equip up to three additional weapons. Totec will ultimately get to use firearms and it is amusing to see a native guy wielding a flamethrower against giant spiders. Both characters have an unlimited supply of remote-triggered bombs that comes in handy for clearing out large groups of enemies. Just press Y to set the bomb and press Y again to detonate. The area of effect circle can be modified with relics allowing you to create a minefield, one mine at a time.
Iíd say the game is about 80% shooting and combat action with the twin sticks controlling moving and direction of fire. The other 20% is pure puzzle solving with only one or two puzzles creating any significant hiccup. By design Guardian of Light encourages numerous replays, not just the entire game, but each level, over and over again. There are numerous challenges for each stage and it is impossible to achieve all the goals in a single pass.
You need to find 10 red skulls in each level as well as hit certain milestones for points as well as other level-specific goals. Points are racked up for kills but your score takes a hit if you die. There are also time limit challenges that require you to race through the level ignoring all treasure and monsters. These are great fun and very challenging. It took me nearly 30 minutes of retries to beat the first level in less than six minutes. Winning each challenge unlocks another relic, weapon, or artifact, making the game that much more diverse for future replays.
One nice design element is that your stats are tracked separately from your partnerís. As long as you play together your achievements and rewards are shared, but if either of you go back and play alone your milestones and rewards wonít carry over to the other player. But anything you unlock is accessible to your character in future replays in either solo or co-op mode. When I started to replay the game alone after finishing the co-op game I had all sorts of weapons available to me in the earlier levels that you donít get the first time through.
When you start a co-op game you can choose to play as Lara or Totec, but you cannot switch mid-game without exiting back to the menu and reloading a chapter. You would think that everyone would want to play as Lara but youíd be surprised just how cool and useful Totec is. The various rules and limitations of each character's tools really complement one another. For instance, Totec canít jump on his own spears, so Lara might have to jump across a gap using those spears then provide a grapple line so Totec can join her.
The puzzles get much more complex than that and the feeling of satisfaction, not only in figuring out the solution, but also working together to solve it is undeniable. As of launch you can only play local co-op but an update will be ready soon so you can play over Xbox Live. Personally, I canít imagine playing this game without the other person sitting in the same room. The level of interaction and cooperation may be a bit beyond voice chat.
Guardian of Light has a surprising number of levels, some really huge and others are short arcade-style chases, and then you have the periodic boss fight including one of the best cooperative final boss fights I can remember. Youíll easily get 8-10 hours from the game and thatís before you start going back to check off those challenges and looking for lost skulls and beating time limits, and thatís before the future DLC even gets here.
Technically, the game is gorgeous with a Diablo-style perspective that looks great from a distance but holds up even when the camera swoops in close. The camera pulls out in co-op play so you are never fighting for control against the edge of the screen. Colors, lighting, textures, and animations are all AAA quality and I love the comic-style story panels for the narrative. The music and sound effects are awesome and the voice acting is great even if the script is a bit corny at times. I loved when the giant Ogre burst through the wall and Lara says, ďOh my!Ē in her proper British accent, like she had spilt some tea.
Bottom line; you wonít find a better game on the Xbox Live Arcade this summer (perhaps ever) and you wonít find a bigger bang for your $15. Crystal Dynamics claims this is just a filler title between the larger 3D Lara Croft adventures but judging from the fun my friends and I have been having, they can make all the future Tomb Raider game just like Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. I highly recommend Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light to anyone who loves action, puzzles, and great times with friends.