Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
When Crystal Dynamics started working on its next Tomb Raider title, the team decided that it was time for Ms. Croft to have an adventure of a different kind. The developer took the engine it had used to create the last few Tomb Raider titles, and set to work on a downloadable action adventure game that Lara could share with a friend. We saw the game earlier this year at GDC, but now that we’ve actually had the chance to get our hands on the game we can honestly say we’re more excited than ever for Lara’s next archeological dig.
The game opens with Lara in the middle of one of her classic adventures. Deep within the jungles of Central America, she stumbles upon an artifact called the Mirror of Smoke. Legend surrounding the artifact holds that it once banished an evil entity by the name of Xolotl. But if Tomb Raider has taught us anything, it’s that nothing stays banished forever. As soon as a group of mercenaries steals the mirror, Xolotl is resurrected. Fortunately, an ancient guardian of light by the name of Totec also arrives to help Lara retrieve the mirror and prevent the world from plunging into eternal darkness.
Our time with the game had us exploring the inner workings of a cavern called the Spider Tomb. A large Shelob-like boss awaits players at the end of these tunnels, but we had plenty of smaller foes and puzzles to solve before we got that far. The whole game is played via a top-down perspective, which gives this Lara Croft adventure a distinctive feel (hence the lack of Tomb Raider in the title). We found ourselves checking out the game’s map quite a bit, which is handy since certain sections of the game are not linear, but will require you to explore different parts of a larger tomb to solve puzzles and collect artifacts. Bonus puzzle-like challenge tombs are also scattered around the environment, which encourages deep exploration for all the junior archeologists out there.
In co-op, the second player controls Lara’s newly acquainted magical ally, Totec, but he’s far from a carbon copy of Lara. For one, both characters have different load outs. Lara is equipped with a set of quick-fire pistols, while Totec will be able to throw a limitless supply of spears. Totec’s fire rate may be slower, but he’s also equiped with a shield to block incoming attacks. Heavier weapons, which will require special ammunition, vary between the two characters as well. For example, Lara might gain a hefty M4 machine gun, but Totec will be carting around a less accurate, more bullet-laden Gatling gun. Crystal Dynamics isn’t ready to talk about the weapon upgrade system yet, but we do know that players will be able to attach relics to their weapons in order to augment their arsenal’s capabilities.
Fans of the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance or the Balder’s Gate series will feel at home with Guardian of Light’s controls. The action feels similar to most modern dual-stick shooters, and enemies poor out of the woodwork in hordes. One thing that particularly impressed us about Guardian of Light was its controls. Player movement picks up the longer you hold down the analog stick, and both characters end up moving so fast that they’re able to weave between enemies with relative ease. Of course, when you’re overwhelmed by giant spiders, the action still feels frantic.
Platforming feels great, which is impressive for a game where you’re looking down on your characters from a bird’s eye perspective the whole time. What’s more, players will often have to work together to navigate through the environment or solve many of the game’s puzzles. Lara is equipped with a grappling hook, which she can attach to any surface in the game, allowing Totec to tightrope across large gaps. In return, Totec can lift his shield over his head, creating a makeshift platform for Lara to stand on. Alternatively, he can throw his spears into walls, giving Lara a perch to cross deadly chasms. Some of the game’s more creative puzzles will require both players to work together inventively. For example, one room had us walking across a pressure-plated floor that caused spikes to shoot up out of the floor. Both players had to walk through this maze and activate all the plates while avoiding the spikes. If either of the players chose the wrong path, then the door to the next area wouldn’t unlock.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is slated to launch later this summer for Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, and PC. The screenshots don’t do the game justice; excellent animation and lighting really bring the game to life once it is in motion. Beyond appearances, it’s also a lot of fun to play with a friend. Crystal Dynamics has hinted that it wants to do other titles in this style if Guardian of Light proves popular. Based on our hands on time with the title, we hope the studio gets that chance.