Writing this is going to make me feel old, but here it goes: Lara Croft has been raiding tombs for some 14 years. In over a decade of adventures she’s seen her highs and she’s seen her lows (Angel of Darkness, anyone?). Over the past few years, developer Crystal Dynamics has done its damnedest to reinvigorate the franchise, with games like Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Underworld gaining generally favorable reviews from gamers and critics alike.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (Xbox Live Arcade [reviewed], PlayStation Network, PC)
Guardian of Light finds Lara on a solo mission where she unearths the Temple of Light, her tomb raiding ways leading her to uncover an ancient artifact called the Mirror of Smoke. When she’s ambushed by a mercenary who steals the mirror, an ancient evil known as Xolotl is released, prompting the relic’s long-dormant protector, Totec, to awaken. The story is told by way of a mixture of in-game cut-scenes and attractive, striking hand drawn comic book style animatics. But mostly, it’s secondary to the real reason for it existence -- to justify the game’s cooperative gameplay, a convoluted excuse to have Lara team with Totec to solve puzzles, hop platforms, and shoot the crap out of a Xolotl and his evil minions to save the world.
It's the games cooperative aspects that lend itself to some astoundingly entertaining gameplay scenarios, with both Lara and Totec bringing something different to the table with unique and notable abilities. Each player can use basic firearms (the ancient Totec picks up on automatic weapons rather quickly, it seems), along with an unlimited supply of bombs that can be placed on the ground and then detonated at a distance. Lara, for instance, is equipped with a grapple line which has various uses, including being able to create “rope bridges” for Totec to walk across or used to catch the ancient warrior before he falls to his death.
While it’s advisable you take on the adventure with a buddy in tow, Guardian of Light’s single-player game shouldn’t be written off. You’ll be exploring the same areas, but the puzzles will be tailored for one explorer, in this case, Lara Croft. Going solo, Lara will have access to Totec’s spears, proving herself as a strong, independent raider of tombs. Everything about cooperative play applies here, from the fun, satisfying combat to the clever puzzle design. It’s so much fun, in fact, that even after completing the game with a friend, it’s likely you’ll go back to explore on your own.
Guardian of Light also looks phenomenal for a downloadable title, running on the same engine that powered Crystal Dynamic’s full retail title, Tomb Raider: Underworld. This means you’ll see all of the fancy particle effects and lighting that you’d expect from any current-gen title, and some of the best in the download space to date. Even more importantly, it's the engine’s physics -- especially with the abundance of rolling balls and crumpling floors -- that enhance that truly enhance the overall gameplay experience.
While much fuss has been made about this late omission, you shouldn’t in any way let it color your purchase decision. If anything, think of it as a reason to call up that friend you haven’t seen in awhile or get your significant other sitting on the couch with you for some single-screen cooperative play. Failing that, Guardian of Light still features six hours of an incredible single-player experience, certainly worth your time and money.]
Score: 9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)