Since its release back in 1996, the Tomb Raider series has introduced gamers to Lara Croft, a sexy British archaeologist whose daring exploits have intrigued adventure fans everywhere. This August, Crystal Dynamics has partnered with Square Enix to create a new chapter in the series just in time for inclusion in the lineup of Xbox 360’s Summer Of Arcade. Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light is a new direction in the franchise that offers simple, but repetitive gameplay. Here are a few reasons why this game will be loved by some and hated by others.
Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light is a third person action-adventure game that focuses on our main character while keeping the integrity of the Tomb Raider Universe as a reference. The story focuses on an internal conflict between Totec, an ancient Mayan Warrior and the Guardian of Light, and Xolotl, a demonic force of darkness, set two thousand years prior. After Totec wins the battle, he traps Xolotl in the Temple of Light alongside an ancient artifact called the Mirror of Smoke. Fast forwarding to present day, Lara attempts to capture the special artifact but is trailed and immediately forced to let her enemies collect the prize. Unfortunately by exposing the Mirror of Light, Xolotl is able to break free from his prison and wreak havoc on the world around him. As a result of all these events, now Lara must team up with Totec to take down Xolotl and all his forces of evil. Overall this plot is nothing different from that of most feature films but with the added depth of presentation.
The creative team’s decision to make this a third person game generates a fixed camera that provides a view of the characters and the colossal world that surrounds them. Traditionally, one of the entertaining aspects about the classic Tomb Raider titles was in how the camera was positioned to suggest compromising shots of Lara’s body. This game doesn’t provide those angles but rather attempts to really express environments and interactivity.
While this may appear to be a good idea, the actual camera system can at times be seen as either a gift or a curse. For example when trying to solve a puzzle, you’ll notice right away the extensive benefits you have in surveying all the possible scenarios to aid you in getting past traps. Graphically, the game’s icons and cast of characters aren’t perfect but are distinguishable enough for you to recognize them. However, by that same token as your traveling through levels you’ll notice that because of the scale of the world it’s often easy to get lost or skip over key areas where powerups are available on each map. This may not necessarily be the worst thing in the world, but if your someone who is trying to collect every item that the game has to offer then you almost certainly are recommended to playthrough multiple times.
As far as the experience that a player can gain from this title, I can say that if you’re a fan of Tomb Raider there are plenty of reasons for you to pick this up. The control and combat schemes used are similar to past games in the sense that you have evasive maneuvers like rolling and jumping and are able to use an array of weapons including spears, bombs, and guns. You’ll be able to use grappling hooks to reach high mountaintops and jump from one location to the next. Another cool aspect to combat is that your able to use traps that were originally setup for you, against your adversaries. To successfully pull this off though would require good timing and finesse in certain situations. When being crowded by large hordes of enemies, using bombs are most effective towards eliminating any and all threats.
Another nice touch to each level is that there are special areas you can access that contain artifacts, like weapon and health boosts. Artifacts are essentially the bread and butter of combat because they are capable of boosting or decreasing your abilities based upon which combinations you use together during battle. The only catch to gaining these special powerups is that there usually is either a mini-puzzle, or group battles that you have to complete before being able to access them. On the upside though, if your able to beat a group of enemies without taking damage then you’ll gradually be able to build up your meter and use your upgraded abilities more often then not. There are also health relics stationed throughout each mission in the event that you can’t find these special areas and have taken severe damage in the process.
The enemy A.I. isn’t very challenging when one-on-one, but when surrounded by adversaries things can reach a whole new playing field. Luckily there is a multiplayer feature build in for these types of situations that better utilize and promote teamwork. Unfortunately, as of the writing of this review I was unable to try out the Multiplayer feature but given the context of the cutscenes I can guess how the mode would play out. The second player would assume the role of Totec, who I’m sure also has some unique powers and abilities that set him apart from Lara in almost every category.
There are a total of 14 missions each spanning from 20- 30 minutes in length based upon your skill level. Each mission also has rewarding skill tasks that are granted for completing certain objectives, like obtaining high scores or collecting key artifacts. You also have the option to replay missions afterward in chances of bettering your score and achieving high leaderboard status among your friends who also own the game.
While all these strong aspects of gameplay are compelling for a long-time fan, the high level of redundancy starts to dull the overall experience. Solving puzzles becomes less rewarding when a majority of them involve finding a workaround to access a door to another area. I can completely understand the need to keep puzzles original but the frequency in which they lack variation could have been improved upon. Also, getting swarmed by groups of enemies happens way too much and makes this more or a process rather then being a fun action title. If you die while in combat then when you restart from the checkpoint your score starts to decline dramatically. The end result is that this now makes it harder for you to reach your reward skill task for that level. All of these points illustrate weaknesses in the title, but surely won’t be enough to rattle a fan of the Tomb Raider genre.
Lara Croft and the Guardian Of Light is a middle-of-the road title that establishes a studio venture into exploring the female heroine in a deeper light. While it offers a reasonable promise of what’s possible with the series, I would say that the overall execution could have been better thought out. Still with this being a $15 Xbox Live title, there is actually more in here then most games that start out at the $60 pricepoint. If you absolutely are a die-hard fan of the franchise and not bothered by the camera then you can’t go wrong with this title.