Well folks, the days are getting shorter and the weather is getting colder which can only mean one thing: summer, and with that, the Summer of Arcade, is coming to an end. Although there have been some ups (Limbo) and downs (Harmony of Despair) in the 5-week long promotion, Microsoft's offerings have, by and large been successful, well executed, games. In order to cap off the summer, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix are bringing back an old favorite: Lara Croft. Luckily for fans of the Tomb Raider, her latest adventure, Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light, is a good, albeit not great way to cap off a summer of Xbox Live arcade fun.
The British archaelogist's latest adventure takes her to South America, where a group of mercenaries have unleashed an evil Aztec god in the quest for money. It is up to Lara, along with Totec, the god who created the mirror of smoke, to recapture Xoltol before the sun rises and he is free to unleash his wrath on the world. The story isn't deep, but it at the very least gives you a reason for being in your environments
Gameplay in Guardian of Light is classic Tomb Raider. You will battle through waves of evil demons, scaly lizard things, Aztec warriors, and more, all while solving small puzzles in order to finish the stage. Puzzling is done in small increments and isn't incredibly challenging, although it does force you to think a bit. Similarly, the action is broken down into small engagements, but at times intense, engagements where you will need to either clear a room or kill a bunch of guys in order to continue. Gameplay is paced well throughout and you'll never feel like there's a level where you are only running and gunning or only pulling levers and pushing around stones, both of them weave together naturally.
In order to ensure that gamers who were more action-oriented didn't get bogged down in the minutiae that can be puzzle solving, Crystal Dynamics made the main levels relatively straightforward and linear in their design. However, they have also sprinkled in additional, and completely optional, puzzle rooms throughout each stage. By keeping the toughest puzzles optional, the game moves along briskly and you almost never get stuck on account of a situation being too difficult to figure out. The additional, rooms, which are clearly marked with red skulls, will reward gamers for their puzzle solving skills with ammo (more on that in a bit) increases, health increases, weapons, artifacts, or relics.
He's mean and ugly, so you know he's the bad guy
The last two are slightly different items, both of which have similar effects. Artifacts are items which increase, and at times also decrease, one (or more) of four stats: attack, defense, bomb (mines that you can set and remotely detonate), or speed, permanently so long as they're equipped. Relics are similar in that they boost certain stats. However, relics are different in that they provide a very large boost, but only when your relic meter is filled. This bar, displayed right under your health, fills up as you accumulate points via picking up gems and killing enemies. Once filled, you will gain the benefits of your chosen relic, anything from increased speed to health regeneration and scatter shot until your are dealt some damage, and which point the bar goes back to zero. Since there are 30+ different artifacts and 20+ relics, the choice of exactly which ones to equip does add some depth to the game. In order to acquire these stat-boosters you will need to do one of two things: find them lying about the level or complete mission objectives
Each level will have a certain number of secondary tasks to complete. Some of them, such as completing a stage in a given amount of time, finding all 10 skulls in a stage, or achieving a high score, are present in every level. Additionally, each level has some objectives which are unique to it. Each of these goals will unlock something which will help you out along your quest, be it weapons, powerups, relics or artifacts. Although these challenges are not super deep, some are actually remarkably deep and tough to accomplish. Also, because they are individualized to each level, the challenges are not overwhelming and actually make you want to play through the chapters multiple times so as to finish the secondary objectives.
By completing the highest tier (there are three tiers) of the score challenge on any level you will unlock a new weapon for use by Lara/Totec. Up to four weapons weapons out of your sizable arsenal can be equipped and quickly accessed either by the pressing a directional button on the d-pad or holding the left trigger and pressing a face button. All of these weapons, with the exception of the pistol and spear, will use up the same supply of ammunition (denoted by a little blue bar below your health) at different rates. Once the bar runs out, you have to either grab a blue crate to resupply the ammo meter or switch to your spear/pistols in order to defeat enemies.
This is a good idea in theory, as it keeps you from just mowing through enemies with uber-weapons. However, the ammo bar is small and in the bottom left hand corner, while most of the action is happening in the center of the screen. Because of this placement it becomes very easy to lose track of how much ammunition you have left, especially during intense fighting. As a result, you'll find yourself chucking useless spears at the baddest of enemies, all because you couldn't keep track of your store of ammo and stay alive simultaneously . That being said, this problem, while frustrating, doesn't occur terribly often; by and large the weapon system functions well and forces you to balance between using your best weaponry and old school pistols.
Some portions of the game have a nice cel-shaded look about them
What does become an issue throughout the game is the targeting system. All targeting is handled by the right thumbstick, with the right trigger used to fre your weapon of choice. The system works well when there are a bunch of enemies coming at you, as is often the case, but it fails when you need to have precise shooting in order to activate a far-away target for a puzzle or hit an individual enemy.
Similarly problematic is the camera. For the first time in Lara Croft's history, you will be playing with an isometric (zoomed out and not adjustable) camera. More often than not the camera works well, following your character(s) through the vast, multi-level expanses that are some of the levels. Every now and again though, you'll be thrust into a situation where the camera lets you down. It doesn't happen frequently, but every now and then Lara will be obscured by a massive wall behind her or you will be firing blind at an enemy you know is somewhere off screen. Neither the flaws in the targetting nor the camera system are back-breaking, but they do become a nuisance on occasion.
In terms of what that camera actually shows you, the graphics on the levels are pretty good. The cutscenes in particular are high quality and show a lot of polish. In-game, the character models show good detail and bring to life some of the evil aztec enemies. The level design is a bit of a mixed bag; the designs are technically appealing, however, they begin to get just a little bit repetitive as the game comes to a close. The sound, with its bad voice acting
What does help the game is the inclusion of co-op multiplayer. In multiplayer, you and a friend will play as Totec and Lara respectively (you'll only play as Lara in the single player) and work together in order to take down Xoltol. The unlockables and challenges are identical in both the solo and co-op modes and any objectives you complete, and the loot they yield, will carry over onto your single player character.
Indoor levels have a great sense of scale
Gameplay in co-op is very similar to single player, with the only real difference being the way in which the levels are designed. The stages still look very similar, however, some of the key features, such as grappling hook rings and pressure plates, have been moved slightly in order to facilitate Totec and Lara actually working together. Additionally, some abilities which are granted to Lara in the solo portion of the game are given to Totec in order to force players to work as a team. Finally, should your partner fall low on health, you can go over and revive them simply by tapping B.
Overall, multiplayer feels like it flows naturally, as the small changes made to puzzles do make a difference in how it plays and really encourage players to . That being said, I didn't really feel a desire to go back and replay the same environments that I had already visited, and felt like most of my time spent in co-op was less about experiencing something new and more about grabbing unlockables I couldn't get solo. As of right now multiplayer is only local, however, that will change come September 28th, when a patch is released which will support online co-op, full leaderboard support, and voice chat. There will also be a set of 5 DLC packs released throughout October-December which will grant new levels and additional playable characters.
Overall, Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light is a good action puzzler to polish off the Summer of Arcade with. It is a game with a little something for everyone, but one that doesn't shine exceptionally brightly in any department. The puzzles are challenging at times, but they are often too small to really get a great sense of accomplishment out of solving any one of them. Similarly, the action can be intense and challenging, with some interesting mechanics, but it is tripped up by a weak targetting system and a camera which makes the problems worse by not giving you a full sense of what is going on at times. Lastly, the multiplayer flows well with two people, but doesn't have a whole lot that makes you want to keep coming back for more. Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light probably won't be the subject of watercooler talk, but it is at least worth a look for most gamers and will provide fans of the genre with 7+ hours of brisk fun, which certainly isn't bad for the $15.00 price tag.
[Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light]-1200 MSP or $15.00