Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Review

Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light proves that a game does not have to be a huge-budget, high-profile release with the latest cutting-edge technology and a deep storyline in order to be a fundamentally enjoyable and satisfying experience. It also reminds us that local, single-screen cooperative play is far from dead, and that downloadable titles are on the rise now more than ever.

With Guardian of Light, developer Crystal Dynamics has scrapped the familiar template and re-envisioned what a Lara Croft game can (and perhaps should) be. This puzzle-action game adopts an isometric perspective similar to that of traditional dungeon crawlers like Diablo, and uses a twin-stick shooting mechanic infused with a touch of the platforming typically found in Lara’s adventures. The shooting mechanics are not as precise as one might hope, but are not poor, by any stretch. Unlimited remote bombs are a delight.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

Aside from running through levels and clearing out the bad guys, though, Guardian of Light focuses players’ energy on cooperative, environmental puzzle-solving and mechanism manipulation that become more complex and involved as the game progresses. It’s clear that one of the development team’s primary objectives was to deliver a cooperative experience that felt necessarily cooperative, rather than like a shoehorned addition where players simply occupy the same space simultaneously. Using the different skills and equipment available to Lara and her unlikely comrade, Totec, players will have to work in close synergy in order to successfully navigate the game’s 14 levels and complete the puzzles therein.

Things like Lara’s grappling hook, Totec’s shield, and spears that double as stepping stones to out-of-reach places — all of which are used by the two characters in tandem — will also come in handy when players aim to collect the many artifacts, relics, and other power-ups littering the game world. These provide bonuses to character attributes (weapon, defense, bomb, speed) when equipped, and make searching around each level more rewarding than simply trekking from start to finish. Special Reward Challenges build upon the game’s system of incentive, offering additional power-ups for satisfying any of about half a dozen conditions during each level. These are enough to motivate players to more fully explore the game, but not so imperative as to make the tasks feel compulsory; it’s a good balance.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

Lone players can enjoy Guardian of Light, as well, thanks to Crystal Dynamics’ decision to re-work the game for a single character rather than dropping an AI partner in to take the place of an in-the-flesh teammate. Gamers have learned that those types of AI partners are almost always utter failures, so seeing the way the single-player mode works in Guardian of Light will be something of a relief, with Lara fully equipped and capable of surmounting whatever obstacles stand before her. As playable as the single-player mode is, however, the game is most certainly best enjoyed as a cooperative endeavor, as the solo adventure just lacks the extra social element and dynamic play that can only be had with another person sharing the experience.

For now the game’s multiplayer is offline-only, which may disappoint some, but Crystal Dynamics promises a free update on September 28th that will add online co-op, voice chat, and leaderboard support. Five DLC packs are also expected to arrive by the end of the year, offering new environments, puzzles, and "combat experiences," as well as new playable characters.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

Amid all of the play to be enjoyed in what is quite a gamey game, there is some shred of a plot, as well. The Mirror of Smoke, an ancient relic entombing both the evil deity Xolotl and his one-time banisher, Totec, is disturbed, releasing them both. Xolotl steals the mirror and escapes, leaving Lara and Totec to work together to once again find him and seal him away. It’s nominal, generic, and fairly inconsequential, which is to say that it adds nothing to the overall experience, but does not detract from it, either. I suppose this is the best kind of "bad plot" a game can have, even if the dialogue is somewhat laughable.

This is the best Lara Croft game I’ve played in years. Local cooperative play on a tested foundation with modern gaming sensibilities layered on top was absolutely the right way to go. Crystal Dynamics probably didn’t need to use the Lara Croft name to make this little gem, but it’s nice to see this well-known and well-liked character in something great once again. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is an easy recommendation; go play, and bring a friend.

4 out of 5


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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