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Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light 360 is a new direction for the turbulent Tomb Raider franchise. With a reduced scope Guardian of Light focuses on providing an combat action experience interspersed with the traditional Tomb Raider-style puzzles.
With the fixed isometric perspective and still-frame cut-scenes I was initially dismayed at how different Guardian of Light was from the classic Tomb Raiders. The sense of exploration, of grand and ancient structures that crumbled under Lara's hands is gone, replaced by a combat-heavy approach that firmly accentuates the light nature of an arcade download experience. No epic vistas or jet-setting adventures across ancient and craggy history here.
My misgivings were soothed though, by Guardian of Light's excellent co-operative play and the simple challenge of online leader boards. It is, without a doubt, the most entertaining game to feature Lara Croft that I've played. The simple puzzles and repetitive combat evokes the same click to win formula that the Diablo series has traded on so well.
And to its credit the game carries this combat/puzzle approach through to the end. Each level has numerous skulls, relics and artifacts to collect along the way. Although none of these take you off the beaten path and the game replaces an expansive environment with optional puzzle rooms that contain power-ups or collectibles to test your powers of deduction. These challenges were never as complex as others I've struggled to solve with Lara in the past but when in co-op they become entertaining and great fun to work through.
It is, without a doubt, the most entertaining game to feature Lara Croft that I've played.
Co-op is the game's primary focus and playing with a friend gave me the complete experience. With Lara you can use modern weapons to dispatch enemies and scale the walls by means of the grapple hook. Totec meanwhile can throw spears that Lara can stand on to reach inaccessible areas and use his shield to protect himself and Lara from projectiles. These simple tools and the ability to use Totec's shield as an extra platform make progressing through the levels enjoyable and challenging.
Less taxing to the brain was the story and it feels unfair to criticise it too much. Guardian of Light trades exclusively on its combat and puzzle mechanics and the setting is left to be as generic as possible. But what the hell, I would have appreciated some effort in making the tale of Xolotl and the Mirror of Smoke a little more interesting. What passes for narrative or personality is perfunctory and offers nothing like the crazy stupidity of Tomb Raider's past or recent downloadable games like Deathspank.
To have such an impressive visual style with a fixed camera perspective in this fashion helps to build an atmosphere that the story doesn't allow.
These are minor points that I bring up because I enjoy the sense of atmosphere the previous Tomb Raider - Underworld - brought to the High-Def screen. In a visual sense however, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is effective with the portrayal of an underground complex. The impressive stone staircases and lava rivers with bristling heat signatures reminded me instantly of Dragon Age's Deep Roads and the Mines of Moria from the Lord of the Rings films. To have such an impressive visual style with a fixed camera perspective in this fashion helps to build an atmosphere that the story doesn't allow.
It doesn't help that the game is so short in that regard. At only five hours there's not enough time to really tell a convincing tale but it's short enough that the combat mechanics don't overstay their welcome.
At its heart I feel this is a throwaway adventure, a slight diversion that Lara will take every few years outside of her more epic tales in the future. The disposable nature of the title doesn't lessen its quality but Guardian of Light is an Arcade experience first and foremost - living briefly in the memory before thoughts turn to anticipate the next Tomb Raider release. It's a perfect bite-sized adventure, but nothing more.
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