Lara Croft: The Guardian of the Light is an interesting take on the Tomb Raider series.
Although it includes the usual puzzle solving, platforming, and shooting action typical of the series, the action is viewed from an isometric perspective. This creates a unique atmosphere and allows for some fiendish puzzle design. The puzzles are very interesting and many later in the game will test your intellect. However, for the most part, they aren’t too difficult.
The story involves one of Lara’s rivals awakening an ancient evil that she, and an ancient guardian, have to stop. And that’s about it. While other Tomb Raider games have interesting stories, Guardian of the Light’s narrative is very shallow, and, at times, laughable.
Lara, and the Guardian, if you’re playing in co-op mode, has to traverse the tombs and levels while staying alive, and killing any enemies, who range from soldiers to undead creatures. Again, it’s very standard Tomb Raider fare, but it’s also very enjoyable.
Each tomb has optional objectives to complete, such as collecting all ten red skulls, completing the level within a short limit, and other level-specific objectives. Completing each earns the player with a reward – usually a new weapon. There are also ammo and health upgrades to be uncovered in each level. These objectives give the game more of an arcade feeling, which heightens the game’s intensity, even if players don’t set out to complete all of them.
Levels also include ‘puzzle rooms’ in which Lara has to solve a visual-spacial puzzle in order to obtain a powerup. These challenges range from overly simple, to frustratingly hard.
This leads to one of the game’s flaws – the difficulty curve is erratic. While early levels are well balanced, later ones range from easy to difficult with no real middle ground. Further, although early levels are filled with interesting puzzle designs, later levels rely on impossible-to-kill enemies to ramp up the difficulty, ruining the puzzle-shooting balance.
Still, the controls are unique, using the triggers to fire weapons, the d-pad to change between weapons, the face buttons for different skills – bombs, jumping, running, and actions – and the second analogue pad to aim your weapon. This seems odd at first, but soon becomes second nature and is quite intuitive.
Lara is gifted with a throwing spear from the Guardian of the Light at the beginning of the game, which becomes the default weapon when you run out of ammo. It is also used to overcome some puzzles in intuitive ways. Other weapons range from Lara’s standard pistols, to heavy machine guns, and grenade launchers, most of which need to be located or earned and all are dependent on finding ammo packs around the levels, which work on a one-serves-all basis.
Players can also earn or locate several artefacts to enhance of lessen in some cases, Lara’s abilities. Finally, Lara has a grappling rope she can swing on, which is useful for solving puzzles and collecting hard-to-reach items. However, this is mostly forgotten in later levels.
Each level features mostly ambient music that enhances the atmosphere, with a few more upbeat tunes for a few levels, like the swamp, which add to the intensity. Sound effects are standard Tomb Raider fare, while the dialogue is well-voiced despite some laughable lines.
Levels are an interesting mix of tombs, caverns, and outdoor areas, although towards the end the lava-filled caverns become monotonous. Graphically, the game is beautiful to look at, and although a few of the later levels feature some minimal slowdown due to the intensity of the graphical effects and on-screen action, it’s never enough to spoil the game or effect gameplay.
Overall, Lara Croft and the Guardian of the Light is a unique Tomb Raider experience that offers more of the same but from a unique perspective. While it won’t win any awards for story or level balance, it’s is a well-presented package for a bargain price, with plenty of puzzles to test you brain, lots of shooting action to test your reflexes, and a good challenge. Tomb Raider fans should enjoy it and I encourage other gamers to give it a go unless you detest this style of gameplay. With currently two downloadable level packs, this game could potentially offers players with a lengthy challenge. It comes highly recommended.