Video game pin-up Lara Croft is a shadow of her former self in the PSN’s latest platform-hopping adventure Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light. Not only has developer Crystal Dynamics traded her sparkling and curvaceous HD figure, last seen in Tomb Raider: Underworld, for a Thumbelina-sized interpretation of the big screen heroine but they’ve also toned down those agile flips and acrobatics in favour of a more aggressive, combat-centric adventurer.
Lara’s latest venture pits her against the evil spirit Xolotl in a game that spans across 14 bite-sized levels. This is a much more straightforward and linear adventure than we’re used to seeing from the Tomb Raider stable, one that’s immediately accessible and enjoyably fast-paced. Though it still bears some of the franchises recognisable hallmarks, such as treasure hunting and puzzle solving, The Guardian of Light is a breath of fresh air compared to Lara games of old and a welcome change in pace and structure to the long-running series.
The storyline is The Guardian Of Light's biggest failing. In fact there isn't really story at all. You get a fairly lengthy introduction to the evil spirit Xolotl and Lara’s sidekick (and co-op partner) Totec and the reasoning why they want to kick Xolotl’s butt. You also get the brief on why they're on the search for the Mirror of Smoke. But, that’s it. There are a few very brief cut-scenes throughout the 14 levels, but nothing that engages you in the story, or builds on it in any way. This is the first Lara Croft title that is all about the gameplay… so it’s a good job it makes up for its lack of narrative.
The Guardian Of Light takes the form of an isometric shooter/platform game with a top-down viewpoint over the action and an arcade-style pace. You control Lara through caves, water and over fiery pits defeating Xolotl’s minions while grabbing as much treasure as you can along the way. The left analog stick controls Lara's movement and you can rotate her 360 degrees with the right analog stick to fire weapons.
In terms of the overall look that's been achieved it mostly resembles the likes of Conan, another isometric platformer that appeared on PS3 in 2007. In terms of gameplay, however, it offers a lot more than just simple hack 'n slash combat. There are score challenges and reward challenges to complete, numerous relics and artefacts that you can unlock along the way to improve Lara’s chances as things get tougher, and of course there are plenty of environmental challenges to help kick your brain into gear and an offline co-op mode so a friend can join in the action.
Though there is a linear path to follow to the end of each level, there are opportunities to stray away from the beaten track briefly to hunt for collectibles and attempt the puzzle-orientated Challenge Tombs, which deliver some brilliant and fun-to-play scenarios - usually involving balls, pressure-sensitive platforms and impact switches that change the environment around you.
A typical level involves running across multi-tiered environments, leaping from platform to platform and using the grapple hook to swing across gaping chasms guarded by spike pits. There’s also a lot of fighting too against an impressive bestiary, and a range of puzzles to get embroiled in that often task you with rolling stone balls onto pressure pads in order to unlock gates. Boss battles also feature, including a fiercely fought contest against a stampeding T-Rex and the final intense battle against the mighty Xolotl himself. Though the missions are fairly short, clocking in at approximately 5-15 minutes each, there’s plenty of other stuff to get involved in that gives the game some added replay value and prolongs the time that you'll want to spend completing each level.
The gameplay in The Guardian of Light is very addictive, partly because you're rewarded well for everything that you do. Aside from just getting from ‘A’ to ‘B, you can collect gems to complete score challenges, search for the ten red skulls on each level, or complete side tasks such as having to cross a river without touching the water. These extra objectives all provide entertainment and challenge away from the combat. For completing a lot of these challenges you also get better weapons, gain artefacts and get to use some of the precious relics that you find for completing the tougher objectives. Each of these items can be equipped from your inventory, and the better the weapons and relics you unlock the more invaluable in battle they become in the latter stages.
There’s an excellent range of weaponry and you're actively encourage to experiment due to the various enemy types thrown at you that are susceptible to damage from different weapons. There’s the likes of the flame-thrower, which can easily and swiftly burn through a cluster of spiders, and the grenade launcher that can take down the defense of a shield demon instantly. There are Shotguns for close combat and bombs that can take out skeletons. Artefacts, such as a Gold Lizard, increase the impact of a bomb while relics, such as the Headdres of Ehecatl, increase your speed. There's a good blend of worthwhile upgrades and collecting and using these soon becomes a big part of the game's appeal.
Combat itself is exciting and varied. Lara moves well in battle and there’s a decent range of enemies to fight against from giant ogres to regenerating skeletons. The game does well to keep you on your toes throughout and as a result remains exciting and largely unpredictable. With two of you playing, not to mention the upcoming patch which will add online co-op, there is plenty of scope for tactical fighting and watching each other's back especially when you're taking on the larger bosses.
The Guardian Of Light is fairly predictable in one area though; puzzle solving. This is mainly because most puzzles generally involve three things: triggering impact switches, rolling balls onto pressure platforms, or chucking your spear into walls and stone columns. Despite most puzzles using just these three staple ingredients, there's still a great variety in the puzzle types and quite a few moments where you're inevitably left scratching your head trying to work out a solution.
Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light blends exploration, combat and puzzles seamlessly and captures that old school gaming vibe with some style. The clever level and puzzle design, silky smooth game mechanics, compelling combat and interesting bestiary all help to provide an all-round entertaining gaming experience. There's no doubt about it: Lara Croft And The Guardian of Light is one of the top platformers on PSN. We've gone full circle on our thoughts on Lara in recent years. We were quite bored of doing the same old things in Tomb Raider Anniversary, but after completing The Guardian Of Light we're already dying to see more from the video game legend. Lara has really changed, but it is all for the better.
-The Final Word-
With its fast paced combat, addictive platforming and thoughtful puzzles, The Guardian Of Light is a must-buy for any fan of the famous adventurer.