Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
When a well-established franchise tries something different, people often end up confused by the whole affair. Dropping the Tomb Raider name, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a dramatic change to what fans were originally expecting. Sporting an isometric view which means no more backing Lara up into a wall to get the best view of her pointy goods and focusing on a co-op experience, Guardian of Light immediately comes across as an intriguingly different entry to Lara's already bountiful library.
No need to get confused; the game is still quintessentially Tomb Raider. Atmospheric and aesthetic quality is recognisable and fans will feel comfortable from the get go. Keeley Hawes reprises her role as the ever-familiar voice of Lara and Lara's original green top and brown mini-shorts are also back on show. Plus, the game is filled to the brim with puzzles and tombs, just what fans have been waiting for surely?
Well yes, but there are differences. First of all, Guardian of Light is split into two campaigns: single player and co-op. While they both share the same structure, each experience is unique. The puzzles are rejigged, so running through a level in single player doesn't mean you'll easily blitz the co-op campaign. The co-op focuses more on the story between Lara and her new Mayan warrior companion Totec, and the difficulty is ramped up ever to slightly. It's like having two games in one.
Each character has a specific role to play. If you enjoy climbing to higher areas and playing a more evasive game, then Lara is more likely to work out for you, while Totec uses his shield to reflect attacks or aid Lara's climbing. Neither character has any specific weaknesses in combat and complement each other as each challenge s thrown down.
There are numerous combinations of Lara and Totec's abilities which allow you to traverse the area with a multitude of outcomes. Do you use Totec's spear to help Lara climb up or have her jump on his shield? Should Lara swing across first and pull Totec up or vice versa? What would happen if Lara and Totec attach to each other and then raise a platform in between? Each new challenge presented to you becomes a discussion point in co-op and you'll spend a good few minutes walking around, trying new things and working out how to solve the puzzle. It's such an enjoyable process to go through with a co-op partner and something that the Tomb Raider franchise could really bank on in future titles. While the single player experience is solid - and I mean that - playing with a friend makes a massive difference and should be your priority play style.
The platforming is exceptionally well-realised and while there still are a few jumps here and there you will end up getting angry about it wouldn't be Tomb Raider without them it flows fantastically throughout. Chasms, spikes, giant balls, levers and a whole host of other elements blend together seamlessly. The levels seem to continually grow in size as you make your way through Guardian of Light; split into tomb-themed areas, huge sequence based field maps and boss platforms, this new entry is going to be keeping you busy for a while.
Each level hosts a number of puzzles, tasks and challenges as well as points to accumulate and upgrades, weapons, artefacts and relics to find. The challenges range from Score and Speed Runs, doing certain puzzles in specific time frames or by pulling off certain tricks. Many levels also contain Challenge Rooms which contain hidden upgrades. These rooms are usually hidden away and contain a difficult to solve puzzle inside.
Combat is much more enjoyable in this rendition of Lara's adventures, adopting a twin stick shooter style of play. It's easy to be taken out if you're not careful and some enemies require rather specific ways of being taken down. Certain weapons can interact with the environment, like the grenade launcher or spear. You are even given an unlimited amount of bombs that not only aid in some of the more frantic battles but also with a lot of the puzzles. There are just over twenty different types of weapons, most of which are new to Lara's arsenal and locating new weapons eases the challenges from previous levels, so it's worth going back.
The game supports an upgrade system that allowed Lara and Totec to equip relics and weapons that improve their general performance. Early artefacts and relics give Lara a boost in speed or attack damage by reducing her defence or bomb radius and it's in your best interest to find better items that offer only positive effects. You can equip two artefacts which will be your default power ups while the relic is only activated when you have built up your relic meter. A slight blue glow will surround your character of choice and any abilities from the relic will be activated until you next take damage or die. It's a neat addition that really aids those trying to complete the more demanding objectives or those who just want to dominate on the leaderboards.
Spanning fourteen levels which take from five to thirty minutes each, Guardian of Light is a weighty arcade game. The replayability is immense and after spending a whole weekend blasting through both single and co-op campaigns, I still went back to perfect my speed and score runs as well as collect up missing upgrades and items. You can select any level from the menus and replay at any time. You'll find yourself doing everything you can to shave off a few seconds, gain some extra points to bump yourself up on the leaderboard and it's this exact quality that gives the game that one-more go feel that will have you sitting in front of it for hours.While the story isn't anything to write home about and some of the sound is borrowed from previous Tomb Raider games, Guardian of Light is up there amongst the best games on the Arcade market. Polished visuals and addictive gameplay ensure Lara's back in her rightful place at the top. With DLC packs and upcoming online co-op, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is simply a game you cannot afford to miss.