As such, Lara Croft and the Guardian Of Light ditches Tomb Raider's traditional third-person platforming puzzles, and replaces them with an action-led isometric dual-joystick shooter. That's not to say the Guardian Of Light is without the hallmarks of the Tomb Raider series — on the contrary, there are still giant spherical platforms to push and switches to press. It's just more focused and designed with speed-running in mind.
Lara Croft and the Guardian Of Light's main campaign takes around 5 hours to complete, but leaderboards and local multiplayer add to the replayability. Crystal Dynamics also claim a free online muliplayer patch is in the works, though this wasn't available at the time of review.
Lara Croft and the Guardian Of Light is still all about tombs and mythological beasts. It still features a healthy dose of platforming. It even boasts massive spiders and other ridiculous creatures. It's a Tomb Raider game - but it's not. Let's be honest, though Crystal Dynamics did an awesome job bringing the franchise back to form with Underworld, the formula has got tired. Franchises such as Uncharted have succeeded Lara and made her look old. But in Guardian Of Light, she's back to her youthful self. That's mainly because of the direction that the game takes. It's still got all the key elements of Tomb Raider, but it's more focused and the gameplay's much better paced. There's a speed to it. It completely rejuvenates the franchise. The setting has never been Tomb Raider's problem, it's the gameplay that's got in the way: huge rooms with thousands of switches and no obvious solution. The Guardian Of Light keeps those scenarios in tact, but it makes them more managable by condensing them. It's a design choice we hope will shape the next retail Tomb Raider release.
For a downloadable game, Lara Croft and the Guardian Of Light is unbelievably pretty. Everything is rendered with a startling clarity, be it rocky areas or poisonous shrubbery. With the isometric viewpoint, Crystal Dynamics frame the action in extremely smart ways. For example, they show hidden areas of the stage you may not have reached yet - pitching them far away in the distance, but sub-consciously providing a clue about where to head next. It's clever use of visual design. If we've got any real criticism, it's that the game can be a bit bleak at times. Yes, we know it's essentially still Tomb Raider — but it would have been nice to see a few more lush environments. As it happens, much of the campaign is bleak and brown.
While there are similarities to the original Tomb Raider games, the Guardian Of Light is mostly an arcade game. The crux of the title revolves around high-scores, something that's delightful when played in local co-operative multiplayer. Killing enemies and picking up treasure earn points - and this can become really competitive in multiplayer. "What do you mean that was my treasure?" The scores are all wrapped up nicely in a leaderboard system too, something that will have you pushing for the best times (yup, each level is timed) as well as the high scores. What's awesome is that virtually every challenge within the game rewards you with a number of items and weapons. Relics can be attached to your character as part of a Call Of Duty-esque perk system; and weapons, well, they're self explanatory. You can unlock more items by visiting challenge rooms. These are focused little challenges that require you to complete one or two puzzles to collect the reward. It all becomes stupidly addictive.
One of the cool things about the Guardian Of Light's visual style, is just how physics heavy it all is. Everything feels like it has a weight, and that gives the combat (which ultimately results in lots of exploding rocks, pots and towers) a real visceral quality.
One thing Crystal Dynamics still got to perfect is Tomb Raider's control scheme. Despite the more focused design, the Guardian Of Light is still a disaster to control. It settles in eventually, but holding the R2 trigger and moving the right analogue stick to fire is an uncomfortable control set-up; as is the way weapon switches are controlled. It could be better streamlined.
There are a dozen great set-pieces dotted throughout the Guardian Of Light's campaign (and they are great), but they're unfortunately let down by some technical issues in the game's engine. The frame-rate can chug during these encounters making them less of the spectacle they should be.
Lara Croft and the Guardian Of Light offers enough fresh gameplay to feel new and exciting, while also representing the staples of the Tomb Raider franchise in an endearing manner. As such, it's a must-play for fans and newcomers alike.