tomb raider

The Croft Bulletin: ‘Guardian of Light’ Review

Xbox Live Arcade/PSN downloadable game Lara Croft & The Guardian of Light was one of my favourite games of last year, and something I still haven’t played enough of. I’ve already written one piece (and a quick one-sentence summary) on it, but here’s something closer resembling a traditional review: Inside every gamer is an addict. That hoarding magpie that wants to grab every shiny trinket and tick every number as far as it’ll go. You might think you’re better than the average World of Warcraft player, Achievement whore or Farmville addict, but everyone has their price. Lara Croft & The Guardian of Light is very possibly the game to teach you that. The set-up is classic Tomb Raider nonsense. One of Miss Croft’s globe-trotting scavenger hunts lands her in a battle between two ancient Mayan spirits, one evil, one good: Lara’s new 2,000 year-old BFF, Totec. It’s inessential, skippable stuff, but it’s only really there to provide the traditional backdrop of tombs, traps and T-Rexes. While the plot might just be the same old, the game itself is anything but. It’s telling that they dropped the Tomb Raider moniker along with the usual up-Lara’s-arse cam. That this is a total reinvention is obvious from the moment you lay eyes on Guardian of Light’s old-school isometric perspective. Along with the addition of a RPG-esque inventory, this gives the game shades of classic PC collect-a-thon Diablo. A feeling complemented by levels of full of glistening collectibles and additional challenges. Most challenges are run-of-the-mill: speed-run times and high scores to be beaten, ten collectible skulls in every level. But better are level-specific goals: cross the river without touching the water, or use mines to get a hole-in-one with the huge stone balls that litter the levels. Combined with sharp replay-inviting levels, inventive gadgets (grappling hooks, remote mines, magic spears that are both weapon and throwable platform) and a brilliant co-op mode (which shares the gadgets between Lara and Totec) every element of Guardian of Light is designed to make sure you come back, again and again. After all, you didn’t quite manage the high score. And all those shiny, shiny trinkets are waiting for you…

Lara Croft and the art of co-op.

Ah, the Tomoe Nage. Just saying it brings back memories. A summer of Splinter Cell : Chaos Theory co-operative mode with your man Dominic Parsons. Chucking each other: wheee, down corridors; whoosh, across impasses; oof, into bad guy’s stomachs. Being thrown, more than occasionally, heard-first into a wall, all the while announcing: Tomoe … NAGE! That move kept us playing, and kept us giggling while we did. It’s the reason I’ve finally bought Conviction for next time me and Dom have got a chunk of time to kill together. This is what co-op games live and die on. Halo co-op is alright, yeah, but there’s very little that changes on account of there being two of you. It’s essentially two people playing two different synched-up games on the same screen. Shouldn’t a co-op game have a little more … cooperation? It’s this impulse which dissolves every session of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World into me telling everyone hold x! now! NOW! We’ll do some awesome team attack… WHY THE HELL AREN’T YOU HOLDING IT? Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light has tons of cool stuff you can only do with two players. It achieves this by splitting the single-player character (Lara) and her skillset into two: Lara gets the grappling hook, while the the game-defining magic spears (which act as both weapon and throwable platform) go to her 2000-year-old Mayan buddy Totec. The lucky fella also gets a cheeky shield that can block projectiles or give Lara a leg-up, and a truly unconvincing accent. All this adds up to a lot of helping each other over ledges, across crevasses, and through various scrapes. The grappling hook can be used to absail Totec down cliff-faces, or as a tightrope across the traditional Tomb Raider abysses. The shield protects Lara from a rain of arrows as she plants a mine to blow up the traps. Guardian of Light is basically a buddy film. Not in the plot – though it’s certainly in there, with the classic ‘odd couple’ dynamic between the iconic lady adventurer and her reanimated male escort – but in the living room, between you and the bumbling idiot you’re playing with. Because all those cool moves mean you’re relying on someone. When the level’s final big trap comes down on you, and your mate is pulling you up by grappling rope? That’s thrilling. When they forget you have to hold the trigger to keep it extended, and you fall to the bottom? The resulting string of swearwords will cause any Daily Mail readers in a three-mile radius to start twitching involuntarily. But eventually, once you’ve punched their arm into a fitting deadness, you’ll just about squeeze through the traps and trials and tribulations. And as both your scores tick up in front of you (ha! I totally thrashed you!) you’ll bask in shared glory. And, looking back as you laugh and share a couple of post-exploratory cigars, it all suddenly seems like a character-building bonding session. Hey, this rookie ain’t so bad after all.