Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Review

By Garnett Lee, Aug 24, 2010 11:00am PDT After a meteoric rise to fame in her first two Tomb Raider games, Lara Croft's creators tarnished her reputation as the series stagnated and then turned for the worse. Developer Crystal Dynamics ultimately took over, and in their hands she has enjoyed a renaissance in Tomb Raider Legend, Anniversary, and Underworld. But her latest outing is not a Tomb Raider game. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light puts her renewed star-power to the test in a guns-blazing action game.

Not that it strays completely from Lara's heritage; Tomb Raider games have always included ample gun play. Guardians of Light just tips the balance decidedly more to the side of shoot first and look around later. This approach brings a new perspective to Lara's action-archaeology, literally. Instead of her curvaceous posterior filling center screen, she presents a much smaller on-screen presence, the scale of everything reduced to open up the view and allow the area for her to face hordes of enemies at once.

The result might not have her usual point of view, but it's plenty familiar for action games—and works quite well here for the arcade approach to raiding tombs. Responsive controls complete the package. Lara predictably goes where directed and they stand up to the test when the challenge of navigating crumbling ruins while fending off monsters heats up.

Despite the emphasis on combat, the broader view of the spaces encourages exploration and the designers take good advantage of it. Environments[, from lava caves to classic ruins with elaborate mechanical constructs,] make excellent use of 3D space. Paths run up, over, and around areas but the spatial relationships always make sense. So even as sections grow in complexity—and they do toward the end—getting past them comes down to solving the puzzle without a feeling of fighting the level design.

That's okay because the ample enemies thrown Lara's way leave no room for distraction. In her race to save the world from being plunged into darkness at the hands of an evil god, Lara faces waves and waves of beasts ranging from animated skeletons to hulking warriors and lighting-casting shamen. As usual, she packs her signature twin pistols with unlimited ammo, but that's only the tip of her arsenal. Over the course of the adventure she gains everything from a flamethrower to a Gatling gun, both through discovery and completion of special challenges throughout each level. Between these and the similarly acquired relics and artifacts she equips to boost attributes like speed or defense, Lara can be tweaked to fight in a number of different ways to suit different combinations to suit different play styles and situations.

For all the things Guardian of Light does right, it can not cover up the glaring absence of its intended online co-op multiplayer. The game was clearly designed with the idea that one person would play as Lara, and the other as the Mayan warrior Totec. Granted, there's support now for playing together with a friend on the same machine but there's no denying the sense of this early release on the 360 being unfinished, particularly for a game which by virtue of digital distribution ensures that everyone buying it at least has the basic connectivity to play online.

Eidos promises a free patch to add support for online co-op on September 28 when the PS3 and PC versions arrive (they will include online co-op at release). Coming so long after release, though, it's hard to imagine many people being drawn back to replay Guardians of Light. Therein lies the dilemma; there's plenty of fun to be had with it today, but it comes at the cost of getting a glimpse at how good it could have been had it released in completed form.

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