Monday, August 23, 2010

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Review

I am all for taking established characters and bending their genre a little bit, especially a character that has seen as much abuse as Lara Croft. Her more recent adventures have actually been pretty good, but she went through years and years of terrible games since her PSX debut. I was a little surprised when I found out that her newest outing was going to be an isometric action game and downloadable only. Would her signature game style of running, jumping, climbing and shooting work from a viewpoint more associated with Diablo and Baldurs Gate? In short, no, and Crystal Dynamics was wise to not force a virtual square peg into a round hole. There are still plenty of puzzles to be had, many of which are heavy on physics and momentum, and not a one of them feels hampered by the static camera and viewing distance. It is still a Tomb Raider game, but just barely, and it is a better game for it.

Every since Microsoft lifted the size limit on XBLA games we have been treated to downloadable titles that are right on par with games afforded the extra space of the a physical disc. The Guardian of Light does not disappoint, with varied environments containing more than enough detail to keep graphics mongers happy. Lara herself did not fair as well, and along with her enemies and the oddly named co-hero they lose something when the camera zooms in. This really only happens for cut scenes, and I understand that corners have to be cut to keep the download size down. Even without ultra high res models the game clocks in at a hefty 2 gig. The only real casualty of the de-facto size limit is the soundtrack, which gets repetitive quickly. I could be wrong; it could have nothing to do with bandwidth considerations, but it was certainly the weakest link.

The last two Tomb Raider games were very narrative heavy, focusing on Lara searching for her missing father and all sorts of other things that I don't remember (you can see how much of an impact they had on me). The Guardian of Light is very light on story, with events that just barely manage to string the levels together. This would be unforgivable in the big games, but things are never slow enough here for me to care. Every level jumps from puzzle solving to action that is about as close to Shadowgrounds as we have gotten on a console so quickly that worrying about little things like 'who is that and why is he trying to take over the world' is just not important. Even in long, action heavy sections there is enough variety thanks to a good variety of weapons  and swappable items that I was always left wanting more. What's even better is that the game was kind enough to give it to me.

There is no lack of content here, a rarity for XBLA titles. Yes, I was able to play from beginning to end in around five hours, but unlike the five hours I spend with Limbo it is not the the last time I am going to touch the game. Every level is packed with hidden areas and objectives, many of which I simply walked past the first time through because I was too busy staying alive to notice them. Weapons found near the end of the game solve this, including the comically overpowered golden shotgun, so return trips can be spent exploring instead of fighting for your life. I have yet to try the co-op game, and unlike most online offering this one has a good shot of pulling me back in.

Guardian of Light succeeds by not resting on its main characters laurels. I like Lara Croft as much as the next guy; she is a gaming icon on the level of Mario and Snake. It is good to see her in a different genre that actually makes sense, instead of racing in go karts or stumbling into an odd turn based strategy game. This is not just a good downloadable title, it is a game that blurs the imaginary line between disc based media and everything else, and it really helps that they picked the right ambassador.

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