Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Review

December 15, 2010

From a particularly sceptical point of view it’s easy to dismiss Lara Croft as an embarrassing relic of the 1990s; as culturally relevant today as Pamela Anderson or Steps. A series of bland sequels, half-baked reboots and lukewarm remakes have made the chances of critical success for any new game starring this improbably proportioned female as slim as her pinched waistline.

With the odds mounted against it, Crystal Dynamics stepped into the fray to fix this ailing franchise. The end result is Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, a co-op friendly XLA romp which is more about grinding dungeons and earning experience than riffing on the traditional ‘Indiana Jones wearing infringement-avoiding hotpants’ scenario. What makes this achievement so impressive is that many of the classic elements from its Tomb Raider heritage are retained without detracting from fresh nature of this adventure.

You can take on LCGL on your own in single player, but this is an experience that is designed for two. Co-op gaming seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance since Left 4 Dead and its sequel reminded everyone just how rewarding it is to work with another human. Crystal Dynamics brings this ethos to a world of platforming, puzzling and endless enemy pulverisation.

Lara can work alone, but with Mayan beefcake Totec* in tow an array of alternative abilities are available to bulk out the gameplay. There is a slight learning curve when it comes to controlling the aim of your arsenal, but you will never feel cheated into unfair deaths as a result of imprecise controls.

The gameplay mixes action with exploration in a well pitched combination that never overemphasises either element to excess. Points are earned for kills and accomplishing side goals and main objectives, with bonus relics granting new and improved abilities with a regularity designed to maintain the player’s interest.

Where LCGL falls flat on its beautifully rendered face is the story. The fact that Lara is working with an ancient Mayan warrior to combat wise-cracking undead abominations is neither silly enough to be fun nor well written enough to be interesting. Co-op can come to the rescue again as teamwork builds bonds, but flying solo will make the story elements seem incidental, unnecessary and hollow.

The presentation of LCGL is generally excellent, with the engine pushing glorious lighting effects and throwing satisfying physics puzzles at the player involving objects which have the illusion of substance. The library of sounds is drawn from previous Tomb Raider games in a successful attempt to please fans and draw this title closer to its forbears and the voice actors make the best of a bad situation.

What Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light really offers is value, with 10 hours of gameplay and plenty of reasons to return to repeat challenges and hoover up collectibles stuffed into a package that costs barely more than a cinema ticket.

*Sounding like an extra from ageing FPS Prey

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