Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a unique step for Lara and the Tomb Raider devs over at Crystal Dynamics. Not only is this a downloadable-only title, but it takes the camera from behind the Lara and puts it in an isometric viewpoint. Should Lara fans (and non Lara fans) take notice?

The viewpoint is the first thing you’ll definitely notice. Sure, not being able to watch Lara’s butt move is disappointing, but it’s a much needed sacrifice so you can actually see where you’re jumping too. Past Tomb Raider games have caused players to die many times because of shoddy camerawork and generally poor platforming for a game which fits into the platforming genre; Guardian of Light gives you a view which is easier to figure out jumps and angles. You’ll also notice Guardian of Light’s more arcade-like approach to how you play the game, borrowing the shooting scheme made famous in Geometry Wars, providing more action then the common Tomb Raider title and leaderboards. Guardian of Light doesn’t venture too far away from its roots, as puzzles and platforming are still here; it just wouldn’t be a Lara Croft game without puzzles. The puzzles are not over-challenging exactly and won’t bend your mind like Limbo does, but they do their job of changing the pace of the game.

Lara & Totec agree. It's time to run.

The game’s artifact/relic/weapon system is actually impressive for a Lara Croft-led game. You collect artifacts by completing challenges, which with maximum 2 equipped, can increase any of Lara’s main attributes (weapon, bomb, defense and speed). You can also equip relics to give Lara a boost when her meter hits full. They can cause health and ammo regeneration, power bombs, etc. Think of it like Link’s sword when you have all your hearts, and with the right weapons, Lara is almost unstoppable. And there are more than 20 weapons to choose from, including golden shotguns and rocket launchers. This element is something I really hope is on the table for the next traditional Tomb Raider title. Actually, a lot of things from this game I’d like to see in the future.

The presentation in Guardian of Light is a mixed bag. It’s a great looking arcade title and definitely the best of the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade lineup. Where it does not do great on is story and voice acting. While it is only an arcade title, it’s a story you’re not gonna care about once you finally have control of Ms. Croft and you’ll be skipping cut scenes where Lara or Xololt are talking. And speaking of him, Xololt is a snooze of a bad guy. He has cheesy lines and he’s incredibly easy to beat at the end; his bark is certainly worse than his bite.

A flamethrower and a chain gun. Sure beats the bottom of my shoe.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light can last in the 5-6 hour range on your first playthrough, but it has great replayability. One reason is for the level-specific challenges. In addition to score challenges, level challenges can be from opening the Spider Tomb in five minutes or less, jumping on all of the spider platforms and many other challenges. They’re fun side things to do, and it’s refreshing that the challenges stay unique through the game. Their rewards are actually of good value, whether they supply you with health/ammo powerups or artifacts to equip. You can replay the levels at any time to retry the challenges. The unlockable content for Guardian of Light are merely costumes for Lara. It’d be great if this were Underworld, but what fun can be had dressing up Lara when the camera is far away from her?

Online Co-Op?

As I mentioned on Episode 51 of the podcast, for people that are playing this now on Xbox Live, they do not yet have online co-op functionality, thus I will not yet comment on it. It does have local co-op; it’s just that the netcode wasn’t going to make it in time for the August 18th release. I’m hoping my friend and yours, steev-sensei, gets the game and plays some co-op. Hopefully by that time, we’ll have a new post up with impressions of the cooperative aspect of the game.

Wrapping Things Up

Buy this. Not a Tomb Raider fan? Buy this. Yes, even considering this being a game starring Lara Croft, the arcade aspect of this title is really good and the isometric view helps avoid those frustrating missed jumps because of shoddy camera angling. I can only assume the online co-op will be fun and will be a somewhat different experience than the single player mode.