Publisher: Square Enix
Review by Lauren Wainwright
When you’re a fan of a series, it’s a little difficult to accept any major changes it could undergo. Even if it’s because of those changes that it becomes fantastic game. Tomb Raider fans nervously eyed up early screenshots of Guardian of Light debating whether or not Crystal Dynamics had officially gone mad with the brand. I only had one question in mind and it was this: Is this really the direction they wanted to take the franchise in?
Taking a complete departure from the norm, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light drops the Tomb Raider name to become an isometric adventure game. A game that focuses on co-operative play and comic book styled visuals. The gameplay, at its core, is the same: You can run, jump, roll, climb and shoot your way around a variety of tombs. You collect relics, solve puzzles and pick up various weapons along the way. Just, this time, without following Lara’s pixel peaches around.
Levels are split into screens and, like most isometric games, Lara now sports a twin stick shooting style for combat against hordes of creatures. She isn’t alone this time around, should you choose to play the game co-operatively, Lara is joined by the guardian of light, Totec.
While his role is more prominent in the co-op campaign, it was a shame to see him pretty much removed from the single player game, only to be spotted in the odd cut-scene. However, for a title that has advertised itself as a co-op experience, the single player is solid. At no point during my time with the single player did the experience feel like it was missing any core elements. It never felt dumbed down or compromised. In fact, I was worried that when I moved onto co-op, the game would feel like a copy of the single player. It didn’t.
Playing Guardian of Light with a friend changed up the whole dynamics of the game. Before you replied on a variety of weapons and smarts to progress through but the co-op experience feels like each of you are needed to progress. Neither Lara nor Totec felt like the support character and each puzzle gave them a role to play. Both characters use each other to gain access to new areas, some of which only Lara or Totec can enter. It’s brilliantly balanced and it’s difficult to specifically pick out points where one character is doing most of the leg work.
The puzzles are clever, using the games new isometric style to its advantage. The challenge rooms, which offer additional puzzles and prizes, were especially intriguing. It makes you think how the rules really work, what abilities you possess and how to make the most of them. After completing a few of the early puzzle rooms, my play style started to change and I was traversing around the world much more efficiently. You end up taking paths you previously ignored and work out how to get that artefact you didn’t think you could reach before. Rather than holding your hand and guiding you through the game, it teaches you passively and it feels incredibly rewarding when you work it out.
Another major change for the series is upgrades and challenges. Rather than just collecting the odd secret, you can now hunt down artefacts and relics to enhance your abilities. Some increase your weapon damage, others enlarge your bomb radius and there are even items that increase your speed. These are not only general boosters that aid you through your playthrough of the game but also perfect for specific objectives you wish to complete. Each level has a set of objectives to do such as speed runs, score counts, items and tricks. Equipping speed artefacts and relics aid your speed run while damage amplifiers help build your point run. There is even a relic meter to build that, once filled by killing enemies and collecting gems, activates a third power up and score multiplier. All of these elements combine to making Guardian of Light an additive game that you’ll find yourself replaying over and over, if not just to bump up your score on the leaderboard. After finishing the first level, I replayed it just to find any missing items and upgrades I missed out on. It’s incredibly rewarding.
There are fourteen levels, each taking up to thirty minutes to complete, so you are getting a lot of bang for your buck. It’s not only enjoyable game play wise, but visually too. The art style is beautiful and impressive for an arcade game. The music, while slightly borrowed from other Tomb Raider games, fits perfectly in with each level and there were no issues during all three of my playthroughs.
In fact, it’s difficult to find fault with Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light at all. It’s a unique and impressive concept that lives up to what we come to expect from a Lara Croft game. It’s a direction change that Lara comfortably fits in and something I hope we end up seeing more of, alongside Tomb Raider of course.