Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Review
Lara Croft is an icon of the industry but she has been mostly non-existent this generation. It seems Crystal Dynamics is working on a full-fledged installment for release some time next year – yet to be confirmed – but in the meantime, we’ve got a downloadable iteration of Lara’s latest. The busty vixen has adopted a top-down three-quarter view for Lara Croft: Guardian of Light, and it focuses on standard dungeon crawling elements- lots of enemies, puzzles, traps, and platforming. It may not sound all that interesting but trust me, this is one of the most complete, rewarding downloadable games available. Everything comes together beautifully and with the exception of a few small drawbacks, the addictive nature and longevity of this great new digital adventure is undeniable. This isn’t my favorite type of gaming but after starting play, I didn’t once look at the clock for two straight hours…that rarely happens; a game really has to hook me for that to happen. You gotta try this one.
Downloadable productions have come an awfully long way over the past couple of years. Back in 2007, I never would’ve imagined something like this could be delivered via simple Internet download; it may clock in at a hefty 2400MB (or somewhere around there) but the time spent is warranted. The level design is fantastic, the visuals are smooth and clean, there’s plenty of enemy and environmental variety, the animations don’t fail, and the effects are pretty and effective. It’s a very solid, stable presentation throughout, with only a few collision detection issues that impact both the graphics and gameplay. Much like Shank, the developers opt to tell the story through static cut-scenes, where one only sees comic book-like drawings and hears the narrator (Lara herself). I don’t mind this approach, though, as it places the focus squarely on the impressive visuals seen during your dangerous travels. It works out very, very well.
The sound is a definite highlight, too, as the effects pull you in and keep you there; the designers even went so far as to add nice ambient effects one normally doesn’t hear in smaller digital titles. Lara’s equipment jingles when she moves, the growls and roars of enemies are clear and intimidating, skittering freakish critters emit accurate and consistent effects, and even the voiceovers are good. I’m not sure who voices Lara but she has an English accent and put in a nice performance. The soundtrack is fitting but doesn’t quite reach the level of the effects in my eyes, and the latter often overrides the music in pressure-packed encounters. However, the soundtrack isn’t as repetitive as one might expect and the crisp, often explosive effects – along with the aforementioned ambient sounds – put an exclamation point at the end of Lara’s fun quest. Overall, in terms of technicals, the game doesn’t disappoint at all.
No, we don’t have the 3D action/adventure blockbuster we’ve come to expect over the years, but we do have a game that looks and feels every bit like a fully realized production. You know, Lara Croft: The Guardian of Light reminded me of a game but for the longest time, I couldn’t quite place it…but eventually, I hit it: Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance. Square-Enix’s new game is hardly an RPG but it looks a lot like Dark Alliance with the exception of larger areas to explore. Toss in a dose of Gauntlet on top of that, and you get an accessible dungeon crawler featuring all sorts of challenges, ranging from puzzles, platforming, and straight-up gunplay. This is a classic format because the game follows a once-traditional formula and style: most anyone can pick it up and play with little difficulty, but it’ll take some definite time and practice to really master every aspect of Lara’s skill set. This is the main reason why the game is so rewarding.
There’s a lot more to do and think about than you might presume. Lara can equip up to four different weapons at once, easily selected by holding L2 and hitting the corresponding directional button, and she can even find and equip a Relic and a couple other Artifacts that have a direct impact on her offense and defense, and can even offer special abilities. There are a bunch of goals to hit for each level, some of which come with valuable prizes; for instance, hitting the max point total will usually result in a new weapon, while there may also be level-specific challenges (i.e., take down a specific enemy, defeat a puzzle within a certain time limit, etc.). This gives you plenty of incentive to go back through any given level, especially because the location of some Red Skulls and the time restrictions can be pretty damn tough. Good luck.
Lara jumps with X, rolls with Square, utilizing her grappling hook with R1, aims the equipped weapon with the right analog, and fires with R2. This last control aspect is the only reservation I have concerning the gameplay because I think the aiming is a little too sensitive. Sometimes, I found it difficult to aim accurately while dodge-rolling and running all over the place, and this caused some battles to become super annoying. I did get better as time went on, though, and I imagine some gamers would fare better with this system from the get-go. The only other notable problem involves the camera and your typical line of sight. I just don’t see enough along the edges of the screen at times, and the more fast-moving enemies can often come out of nowhere if you aren’t careful. I also found dropping down to hang on a ledge to be iffy and unreliable; you have to press Circle to do so because it won’t automatically happen.
But besides this, I have very few complaints, if any. Each level feels different, offers its own set of distinct challenges, and with 14 levels in all – and plenty of reason to replay each – you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. The puzzles are meticulously crafted and force you to think in a variety of different ways, the diverse enemies force you to reevaluate your weapon selection, and there are plenty of cool things to equip that will alter Lara’s abilities. Once a certain meter fills, you can utilize the skill attached to the Relic you have equipped, and this can be most anything. I personally liked the ability that allowed my bullets to spray out wide and hit multiple enemies. Control is always responsive, you always find yourself wanting to push through the next obstacle, puzzle or barrage of enemies, and you will earn great satisfaction from completing the challenges. Menu interface is simple and easy and we even get a handy-dandy map, although it’s not entirely necessary.
Lara Croft: Guardian of Light offers a ton of nicely polished entertainment. It’s one of the most accomplished downloadable games we’ve seen to date, and it goes beyond the appealing graphics, on-point sound, and relatively long length. It features much of the professional refinement we just don’t normally see in the digital universe; such a clean production reminds me of Joe Danger’s sharp palette. The multiplayer suffers from similar problems but again, they’re minor, and it’s always fun to play with others. There are a few issues involving the camera, hit detection, and looseness or sensitivity of control and aiming but each of those drawbacks are minor. Those who are looking for a flashy 3D Tomb Raider adventure will have to wait but if you desire an old-school dungeon crawler with a modern sheen, this one is for you.
10/4/2010 Ben Dutka