If you were given the opportunity to redefine the Lara Croft franchise what would you do? Would you keep the same 3rd-person perspective and focus more on fighting? Would you almost completely rid of fighting and switch it to more of an Uncharted/Uncharted 2 type of game? Or would you keep the core concepts of the franchise but completely change nearly everything we as gamers are familiar with? Well, regardless of what you may do with this choice, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics chose the latter, and it’s about as perfect as one could ever hope for.
In Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, you play as the infamous treasure hunter Lara Croft (naturally). You break into the area where the Smoke Mirror is resting, only to realize that you were followed by mercenaries. Before Lara can do anything about it, the mercenaries take the artifact from it’s resting place and unleash the badass evil god Xolotl and his no-nonsense evil army. Upon his release, Totec, the Mayan guardian who has been watching over the Smoke Mirror for thousands of years, is awakened. He and Lara set off on a quest to retrieve the Smoke Mirror from Xolotl and restore peace to the world.
The first thing you need to do is throw away everything you know about Lara Croft. Gone are the days of 3rd-person perspective and shotty controls. No more random wolf attacks and awkward underwater levels. Puzzles are no longer simply time consuming and redundant, but actually involve using your brain and have a purpose. The view has now been zoomed out (reminiscent of Diablo), with the controls being very similar to games such as Zombie Apocalypse and iDracula. You use the left analog stick to move around, and the right analog stick to aim/fire your weapon. In other words, if you aim the right analog stick to the upper right, Lara will fire that direction. All the other controls are fairly standard with the ability to jump, run, and switch weapons on the fly to name a few.
The biggest change to Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is the ability to play cooperatively. Right now the release only allows for same screen/same system cooperative play, with online support being released September 28th. While I can see how people may complain about this, sitting directly next to the person you are playing with makes this game so much more enjoyable. If you play cooperatively the second player will control Totec. His main weapon is a Spear which you can throw against walls, allowing Lara to jump onto them and cross certain areas. Along with that Totec can lift his shield above his head so that Lara can jump on top of it to reach higher areas. Lara is equipped with a grappling hook that she can launch out for Totec to grab, or walk across, so that he too can cross distant areas. Watching Totec jump blindly across a 30 foot gap, knowing that the only way he will survive is by Lara launching her grappling hook leads to some heart-stopping, and sometimes hilarious, situations. For instance, did your co-op partner blow you up with a grenade? Looks like it’s now your turn to “forget” to engage your grappling hook. Messing with your partner is just as much as fun as actually playing nicely.
The one thing that truly amazed me about this game is how all 14 levels are built differently depending on if you are playing single or cooperatively. Each puzzle is constructed according to how you are playing, allowing 100 percent completion regardless of how you play. I look at it as if it’s two completely separate games, with new puzzles to conquer. The one glaring moment I can remember is a puzzle where I had to shoot my grappling hook across a gap to a golden ring. Once it was attached, I walked around the outer edge until I came a full 360 degrees and the grappling hook cable was now wrapped around a large spiked pole in the middle of the room. Once this was attached, Totec was then able to walk across said cable and grab the hidden artifact. In single player, the pole was taken out and the solution to said puzzle involved Lara repelling and jumping to get the prize.
Each level is also built with a ton of side objectives to complete. Whether it’s completing a level in less than 8 minutes, collecting all 10 red skulls, blowing up every truck, or reaching a certain Score goal, each completed objective comes with it’s own unique prize. I highly recommend achieving as many goals as you possibly can (even if it means replaying certain levels) because the artifacts and relics you will be rewarded with will make you much stronger. Take your time playing this game and thoroughly enjoy how intricate and detailed each level is, it’s truly amazing for a digital download.
At the end of the day Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is the best game I have every played for $15.00. I would even go so far as to say it’s the best Lara Croft game I have ever played. The cooperative puzzles are both fun and challenging, enemies are varying and fun to kill, and each level is incredibly detailed and full of goodies. I honestly couldn’t believe the price tag on this game, and it still confuses me. I’ve played $60 games that don’t pack as big a punch as this one. Absolutely incredible. Absolutely game-changing. The world of digital downloads just crowned it’s new Heavyweight Champion, and it’s going to take a monster of a game to dethrone it.