Support Sid, click to buy via us...
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light emerges from a chequered personal history with a new multiplayer approach to the series that proves it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.
I have to admit to a fair amount of scepticism when Guardian of Light was announced. When I saw the screenshots and read that the much-beloved Tomb Raider was to receive a spin-off title, my immediate response was to think "low budget cash-in". When I heard the phrase "twin-stick co-op shooter," I thought "dumbing down." When I heard that the Tomb Raider name had been dropped in favour of the more well-known Lara Croft trademark/moniker my worst fears had been confirmed.
To be brutally honest, even Tomb Raider's own legacy isn't a trail of beloved landmarks. The first game was good, very good. The Playstation version suffered from a reliance on Save Crystals; given that the major frustration with the game was tricky set-pieces this was a frustration and presumably a limitation. Tomb Raider II is considered by many fans to be the best. The Save function was fixed on Playstation and the game really felt like a good Add-On pack for the original game. However the game began down a path of over-emphasis on combat and vehicle sections.
I've always hated vehicle sections in Tomb Raider. Given the game's penchant for making the player search every nook and cranny for hidden secrets and power-ups, I always felt frustrated that the game forced me to undertake stretches of poor quality driving, with the double ignominy of having to back-track the whole vehicle section on foot to make sure no collectibles were missed.
Most of the puzzles require some careful co-operation between both players.
After Tomb Raider II the series has always swung between moments of unrivalled brilliance and moments of utter frustration and gaming disaster. Legends was something of a return to form, but for me it was really Underworld which convinced me that the Tomb Raider format did still work and wasn't a chapter of a bygone age of gaming.
Arguably (usually by me) Uncharted 2 (PS3) is the evolution of all things that Tomb Raider once promised. But it's an evolution of the combat and the vehicles -- it took all the things that Tomb Raider did very badly and made them work. However, that overlooks what Tomb Raider does really well: allowing the player to explore a big location and solve puzzles and traps.
So, where Underworld had given me hope that Tomb Raider's seemingly unique approach of exploring historical ruins for artefacts, mechanisms and climbing challenges -- Guardian of Light seemed set to break that hope.
To my surprise, I actually found that Guardian of Light delivered much more than it promised. If I consider all the Tomb Raider elements I love -- shooting, environmental puzzle-solving and exploration -- Guardian of Light does them all with aplomb.
The co-op mode is a stand-out for me.
The shooting is fast, intuitive and great fun. There's a real mix of enemy types which require some strategy and experience and once the weapon selection broadens I really had to think carefully about which set of weapons to keep handy.
The puzzles are very well thought out and required me to explore every possibility presented by the tools the game provides.
Additionally the environments are the star of the show. There's a real opportunity to explore dark corners, figure out how to get to seemingly inaccessible places and to become immersed in these exotic locales.
The co-op mode is a stand-out for me. It's great to have a game my other half and I can both enjoy. What's particularly laudable is that the levels are slightly different between co-op and single player. Puzzles previously achieved while solo actually present a different challenge when playing with a partner. Most of the puzzles require some careful co-operation between both players.
Considering that the character of Totec has to be considered in the light of other failed attempts to introduce new characters into Lara's world, he's actually a pretty solid figure and doesn't create any disharmony. My personal favourite element is getting Lara to hook Totec with her climbing line so that either player can experiment with abseiling down walls.
It's great to have a game my other half and I can both enjoy.
Overall I was surprised to find a game which was not only enjoyable, challenging, very re-playable and a gold-mine of co-op thrills -- but it was also a lot better than many of the main Tomb Raider titles from over the years.
I'm still hoping that the series can make another return of the quality of Tomb Raider Underworld. At the same time, however, I'll be playing Lara Croft Guardian of Light for a long while to come and I'll be disappointed if this branch doesn't bear more fruit of its own.
[Chris Jarvis writes the Novel Gamer column where you can read his Lara Croft fiction.]
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: