Unusually for a game featuring Lara Croft, the first thing you’ll notice about the Guardian of Light isn’t her chest, but the obvious change to a distant, isometric camera view. In recent years, under the auspices of Crystal Dynamics Lara has regained some of her former credibility and while it’s not intended to be “the next Tomb Raider” this brave departure from the norm may help us wipe memories of the risible Angel of Darkness from our psyches once and for all.
Many gamers will recognise that this camera viewpoint has been used in several games before, most memorably in games like Diablo and the Baldur’s Gate series. The game engine is a bit more advanced that those though, so you’ll see lower sections you completed earlier in the distance below, and sections you want to get to up above. The pristine graphics and attention to detail are excellent, and the whole look and ethos of the game is totally faithful to the source material and classic Tomb Raider settings.
The plot goes something like this; evil god Xolotl (pronounced ‘Zolote’) was encapsulated in a mystical Mirror of Smoke by Mayan native warrior Totec many years ago, and now local crime lord has found the mirror by following Lara into a tomb. Unfortunately this goon and his men don’t believe in the curse and when they move the mirror Xolotl and Totec are released. Lara makes an unlikely alliance with Totec and over 14 levels they must chase and find Xolotl, battle his various minions and re-imprison him in the Smoky Mirror.
Guardian of Light (GoL) moves and plays as smooth as Lara's legs with movement controlled by the left stick, while the right stick draws and aims weapons, meaning you can easily and accurately move in any direction while aiming in another. The game can be played solo as you just control Lara, this simplifies some of the puzzles that had us head scratching on occasion when playing the game as a same-screen 2-player co-op game. There are lots of "ooh how clever" moments as the second player takes control of noble warrior Totec, and you help each other to progress through the levels with Lost Vikings-style unique abilities (Lara has her grapple line and Totec has a spear and a shield.) Lara can fire her grapple line to fasten to certain rings, and then wall run or clamber up. Totec can wire walk along Lara's taut grapple line to get to areas otherwise inaccessible to him. He can also throw his spear into walls to give Lara something to stand on, or use his shield as a platform so she can get a boost up to higher ledges. The level designers came up with some cunning puzzles that use all of these abilities and combinations to the limit.
A good deal of the co-op gameplay involves fighting off the plentiful creepy-crawlies and whatnot that want to kill you, and in co-op you can also heal each other if either of you gets knocked down by what are impressive, numerous and sometimes massive enemies. The fixed isometric view does throw up the same old "I can't quite see what I wanna see" moments and screen-sharing problems (you don't wanna stray too far apart) but it does look undeniably great as the screen is often full of action.
The game is slickly presented too, with cut-scenes loading seamlessly and looking just like the game engine - so why can some developers make games load instantly, spool constantly or cue up in the background while others leave you sitting staring at a crappy loading screen-or even in some cases of late, a black screen without even so much as a loading bar? Eh? Tell Me!
GoL is kind of short (6 or 7 hours), a definite Tomb Raider “Light” if you will, but 1200 MS points seems decent value for money for such a polished game, and stacks of collectables (that unlock things like avatar items and new outfits) will mean a replay or two for most. Guardian of Light won’t keep all the Lara fans who are used to getting up-close-and-personal with her happy, but with its refreshingly different slant on classic Tomb Raider gameplay this is one hard game to ignore.