Overview Title: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Release Date: 18th August 2010 Developer / Publisher: Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix Genre: Isometric Platform, Action The first thing you’ll notice about this game is the title. Despite the game starring Lara Croft (as you can most likely guess from the title) there is no Tomb Raider name attached to this XBLA release. The Tomb Raider name doesn’t have the recognition it once deserved due to some below average releases under that brand in the past decade; although Crystal Dynamics have made a decent attempt at reviving the franchise to its former glory. The character of Lara Croft, on the other hand, has always been an iconic name in and outside the gaming industry. Have Lara in something and it’s still guaranteed to sell well, even to those that aren’t lonely men who spend their time trying to angle the camera just right in order to get the perfect shot of Lara’s rear end. Unfortunately for those types this game has a fixed – and isometric – camera, so if you’re looking to ogle at Lara then you’re out of luck. For the rest of us we’ll just do what we came here to do and see if the game is actually any good. Storyline Generic is probably the right word to use here, as Lara is tasked with defeating an ancient demon that wants to ‘drown the world in blood’. This comes about when Lara finally discovers the elusive Mirror of Smoke, only to have the mercenary Vasco come along and unwittingly release the demon Xolotl that is trapped inside. After dispatching the mercs Xoltl is about to finish Lara off when a statue comes alive. This is the mirror’s guardian, Totec, who trapped Xoltl in the mirror originally and has woken up in order to put him back. He’ll also be your companion, although it’s worth noting that he’s not actually playable in singleplayer and will only appear a few times throughout the storyline (in which he goes another way to try and stop Xolotl reaching his stronghold, only to have Lara consistently run across the demon instead. Some guardian eh?) Gameplay Right, so you’ve probably figured out from the screenshots by now that this isn’t going to play like a Tomb Raider game. In fact it’s more of an arcade shooter that meets Diablo, with the locale being enormous underground tombs. You control a tiny Lara – or Toto when playing co-op – tiny as in the sense that the camera is zoomed out and the levels are built in an isometric style. At first it can seem strange not having control of the camera, but it’s worth remembering that Tomb Raider games are famed for their terrible unwieldy cameras. It makes a fresh change not having to keep control of the camera while also trying to actually play the game. Anyway, Lara seems a bit more athletic than usual. Of course, she’s always been incredibly athletic and flexible, but she seems to run and leap around like she’s hyper. This only adds to the frantic pace of some of the battles with the various enemies, and a particular favourite move of mine was to constantly leap around firing the automatic shotgun whilst in the air. Using the vast array of weapons is pretty simple. Lara is controlled with the left stick, whilst the right stick has her pull out her weapons with the right trigger firing. This method means that you can rotate the right stick and make Lara spray a circle of bullets around her. Thankfully you don’t have to bother reloading your weapons in the heat of battle (as usual Lara’s default pistols have infinite ammo, which makes you wonder what this secret magic spell is that she knows) as each weapon shares ammo in the form of an ammo bar, with more powerful weapons tending to consume more of the bar. Once depleted you have to find blue ammo boxes or ammo dumps to refill your metres. The weapons themselves range from an automatic shotgun and high powered automatic rifle, to a chain gun and a rocket launcher. You can equip three at a time (accessible via the d-pad), although switching weapon slots is simply a case of going into the inventory screen. Lara also has an infinite amount of bombs, although only one can be placed at a time, which can be used to destroy objects or take out large groups of enemies. One final weapon to mention is the spear. Totec gives you this ‘magical spear’ early on in the game, and it will come in great use to you. The spear can be used to kill enemies, but its real use is to help Lara reach previously inaccessible spaces. Throwing the spear into a wall creates a platform so you can leap further up, and you often have to use it when you’re figuring out how to get to that seemingly impossible location. In co-op your friend, as Totec, can use it for you. Non-weapon wise there’s a grapple hook, which can be fired at gold handholds around the game and help Lara abseil, or to run across a wall when confronted with a gap too big to jump. Health and ammo can be upgraded, as can Lara to some degree. There are also artefacts and relics to pick up, all of which have their own unique benefits. Artefacts upgrade your stats, such as making your weapons and bombs more effective or increasing speed. Relics give more recognisable benefits, such as slowly regenerating your health and ammo. Getting to either usually requires solving some sort of puzzle, but, bar a few, they’re pretty simple and you won’t have your brain tested to the max by this game. Considering how tough some of the puzzles were in the Tomb Raider games this is either going to be a god send or an annoyance depending on how much of a fan you are. Thought it’s worth remembering that this isn’t supposed to be Tomb Raider. Xoltl has unleashed a whole horde of monsters to impede you in your race to catch up with him. It’s hard to describe some of them, so I’m not going to bother, but let’s just say that most of them can leap around and take you by surprise. Some of them are pure cannon fodder, such as the lizard like creatures, but come in massive waves that eat up your ammo. There are also giant beasts that sporadically appear, taking a lot more ammo to take down while they’re charging towards you. There’s a good variety here, and while the bigger ones take some tactical planning to take down they’re pretty easy once you figure them out (and you will, as they’re repeated a lot). The hard part of defeating them is that they usually come in packs, so you have to make constant use of Lara’s rolling and leaping abilities in order to stay alive. Bosses? Yup, there’s some here. Obviously they’re a lot tougher than your regular beast, and they’re usually accompanied by other enemies too. Dinosaurs make their return, including a fire breathing one, and there’s even a boss that literally eats the entire level. It just adds to a game that is brimming with variety, even if the regular enemy fights can get somewhat repetitive. Be prepared to dodge a lot of giant rolling balls, Indiana Jones style, as well as the obligatory arrows and ground spears. Whoever built these temples clearly had a lot of time on their hands, with a malevolent streak thrown in there. Finally there’s co-op, which is slightly different to the experience you’ll have in singleplayer as it has some different puzzles designed for two players. Totec can use his spear to help Lara jump to higher ledges which, to be fair, you can already do in singleplayer. However, Totec also has a shield that Lara can stand on when he holds it above his head. The shield can also be used as intended, providing a mobile shield for Lara as she sprays bullets around the crumbling tombs. As with singleplayer there are scores totted up at the end of each level, except this time there’s some competitiveness as you strive to beat your friend. Co-op is available as local or online, although online play won’t become enabled until 28th September. Graphics Don’t let the fact that this is an isometric game put you off as there is some stunning scenery here. Some of the tombs are gigantic, crumbling and collapsing around you into the depths. That platform you see far below you is going to be reachable at some point in your travels, which gives them a massive sense of scale. There are also some impressive lighting effects and real-time shadows that combine to make the locales of the game extremely alluring. Parts of the environments are destructible, showering the levels with debris as things heat up. Stone columns will regularly collapse due to the actions of Lara and her enemies, and giant stone balls will roll around or fire into the air upon contact with one of Lara’s bombs – and this is something you’ll be using to your advantage when it comes to puzzles. All this is accomplished due to the game using Tomb Raider: Underworld’s engine, so you’ve got some impressive physics on show here from a full retail game. Audio There’s nothing much to say about the audio, as it’s your regular spurting gunfire sounds and monster roars. If I was deep inside a tomb in Central America the music would be perfectly capable of creating the right atmosphere, until I started to wonder just where the hell music was coming from. The next thing I know I’d have a dart in my neck, which was fired from some tribal types who just so happened to be banging on some drums. Well, that and they’re pretty bad at voice acting. Overall This is not a Tomb Raider game. It may have Lara Croft raiding tombs, plus puzzles to solve and wonky platforms to negotiate, but it’s providing filler for when Crystal Dynamics releases the next fully fledged game in the Tomb Raider franchise. Don’t go thinking that’s a bad thing, because this is damn good filler and deserves to be recognised as a great game in its own right. I actually found that I’ve enjoyed it more than any Tomb Raider game I’ve ever played, but that’s mostly because there are few head scratching moments that lead to an utter stall in any progress. It could be said that the game is far too easy at times, with puzzles that you’ll rarely get stuck on, but this way it’s all balanced neatly to make the game an exciting rollercoaster ride. Most players will get around seven or eight hours worth of gameplay (In one play through), but for 1200MS points you can’t really go wrong if you want an enjoyable fast paced arcade game, with puzzles on the side, that just so happens to star gaming’s signature girl.