Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Preview
Sometimes, when a franchise begins to show its age and other titles begin to grab the reigns in the same genre, it’s best to offer fans a new-look option. There was a time when Tomb Raider was among the elite action/adventure titles out there but since that time, names like Uncharted and God of War have reigned supreme, and therefore, Crystal Dynamics has been forced to reevaluate the legendary tomb raiding series. The result is a downloadable adventure that, for the first time, eliminates “Tomb Raider” from the title and provides players with a slightly different perspective. For some old-school followers of Lara, this is a little disheartening as it’s clearly not your standard big-budget Tomb Raider release, and we have to think those days are long gone. But at the same time, shouldn’t we appreciate the effort to reenergize the ailing franchise? And we’ll get a classic story, too: an artifact known as the Mirror of Smoke has caused a clash of gods and the “good god,” Totec, eventually defeats his nemesis, Xolotl, and buries himself in the mirror in question.
Of course, Lara has to go and find it 2000 years later, bringing with her the expected band of mercenaries intent on stealing the artifact from her grasp. It wakes up both Totec and Xolotl and the battle begins anew. The cool part is that Totec will act as a teammate for Lara, so we’ll play with a partner, ala Prince of Persia when the main character always had the assistance of Elika. Obviously, this implies that while the game can be played by yourself – with AI controlling Totec – it will likely be better experienced with two players. You’ll throw down with the human thieves and Xolotl’s bizarre hordes, and you’ll also have to work together to solve a variety of puzzles and bypass certain environmental obstacles. Now, because it’s a smaller, downloadable title, you’re not looking at a complete, roving 3D experience. Instead, we get a classic top-down view that will remind you of old-fashioned games like Gauntlet or Diablo. You gain points for kills and for snagging any treasure you can find, and Lara will wield either dual pistols or a rifle, and she’ll also have a grappling hook.
That grappling hook will be used to deal with certain parts of your surroundings; she’ll use it to fling herself across gaps and launch herself to new heights, and she’ll also assist Totec as well. He can’t use that tool but he has the ability to actually balance on the rope attached to the grappling hook, so that will add more diversity to the gameplay. And because this is a buddy-buddy situation, Totec has some unique benefits of his own: his shield is not only helpful in combat, for instance, but he can also hold it over his head as a makeshift platform for Lara. He can also fire spears into walls for Lara to take advantage of; her acrobatic ability will allow her to flip her way around the environment with the help of such handles. Just so you’re aware, the levels will be altered a bit when you play single-player, presumably to accommodate the AI. Obviously, with two humans controlling Lara and Totec, things might go more smoothly, you know? Tomb Raider has always featured plenty of puzzles and with all sorts of timed elements, blocks to move around and arrange, pressure plates, and more, this new adventure will test your problem-solving skills.
Totec will have a rifle of his own for dealing with enemies, and both partners will have a ready supply of explosives that can either bring foes to their knees or reveal pathways in the levels. And although the game will be straightforward and mostly linear, Crystal Dynamics says we can expect some optional challenges and quests, too. While we might miss the larger scope of a full-scale Tomb Raider, we sorta like this new angle; we’ve seen lots of great downloadable games this generation that have turned out to be very successful. This may feel a lot more like a traditional dungeon crawler, with plenty of enemies to bash and items to find, along with lots of puzzles and a helpful overhead map that will help you keep your bearings. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there? Besides, past Lara efforts really haven’t been up to snuff so maybe this is best. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light will launch on the PSN and XBLA this summer for $14.99, and we’ll be anxious to give it a try when it arrives.
3/13/2010 Ben Dutka