Tomb Raider games have had a long and tumultuous history. I was introduced to the series with Tomb Raider back on the PC and immediately took to the concept. Having played most of the Tomb Raider games on all the major platforms since the mid 90′s, I’ve also watched the series’ fall from grace as it became less about tomb raiding and more about ‘city’ raiding and Hollywood action.
With the release of Underworld in late 2008, you got the feeling that the series was back on the right track, even though it was still a distance away from what made the original entries truly special.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light signifies a ‘series reboot’ for the Tomb Raider franchise and also marks the first digital download only release for the series.
Adopting a new isometric viewpoint (with fixed camera) and co-operative play, it feels very fresh and stylish, while going back to basics with it’s puzzle solving and platforming elements. The departure from a third person viewpoint is not only welcoming here, but it works exceptionally well.
Levels are often very ‘vertical’, so you can see previously traversed areas in the background as you climb – as well as secrets and hidden areas you may have missed before, rewarding backtracking.
In single player, Lara has a pair of new game play mechanics at her disposal. The grapple is a winch device which allows you to attach to specific grapple points around the world. Offering you hidden rewards – or acting simply as the only path of continuing – as you are forced to swing across a chasm, or wall-run along a collapsed pathway.
Additionally, there’s the spear, which can be thrown into most non-stone surfaces in the world, allowing you to reach higher areas that Lara would otherwise be unable to access.
In co-op however, the grapple becomes exclusive to Lara – and the spear becomes exclusive to a new character called Totec. Totec too receives another new game play mechanic in the form of his Shield, which can be used to block incoming projectiles such as cast magics and arrows. Or as a portable elevated platform for Lara.
The levels themselves change physically in co-op to reflect the now dependence on all of these abilities used in conjunction. So puzzles you had previously solved with Lara in single player may now look totally different and have uniquely different solutions in co-op. Lara’s grapple can be used as a sort of ‘tight rope’ for Totec to walk across for example. Where you may have had a wall blocking deadly arrow booby-traps before, you now have to rely on Totec providing cover with his shield as Lara flips a switch.
While the game is thoroughly enjoyable in single player – its true superiority lies with the offline co-op play (as of this review, online co-op hasn’t yet been patched in – but Crystal Dynamics promise it’s coming). In addition to the puzzles being more complex in a number of instances, it’s much more enjoyable having friendly competition in solving the puzzles – as well as competing over kills and item collection.
The puzzles themselves often have a number of possible solutions.
Combat – for a Tomb Raider title – is surprisingly good. They’re easy to pick up and work satisfyingly well. There’s plenty of enemy types to keep you interested and often-times you’ll find yourself absolutely swarmed by hordes of enemy reptiles and arachnids. Thankfully, Lara (and Totec) have a hugely varied arsenal of weapons to despatch these enemies. Everything from Lara’s trademark dual pistols to grenade launchers and high-powered machine guns.
Each level has 10 red skulls to collect as well as countless diamonds which contribute to score. There are a number of challenges for each level, varying from simple “earn 250,000 points” scenarios to speed runs and unique puzzle-specific challenges. All of which promote careful thorough play – and loads of replay.
For a PSN game it’s quite lengthy as well. Counting for puzzle solving and item collection, me and my co-op partner have been running 10-45 minutes per level – and there are about a dozen full levels to play. Additionally, I’ve been going back through single player to mop up challenges and speed runs etc. There’s a lot to do in this one.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a welcome reinvention for the Tomb Raider franchise. There’s some excellent variation in environments, the puzzle solving and platforming is brilliant and throw in the well-oiled co-op game mode and you’ve got a gem of a PSN game. If you have a keen local co-op partner, this one’s a given.