With Square Enix having an almost monopoly on awesome titles being released this year it came as no surprise then to find that the award-winning studio’s have done it again in the digital download area too. Ladies and gentlemen we give you, Lara Croft and the guardian of Light.
For those of you who have spent the last ten years perfecting Himalayan Yak Milking Techniques whilst being simultaneously perched on a mountainside somewhere in the foot hills around Mt.Everest, you alone may be forgiven for not knowing that the buxom First Lady of Gaming has had another title released recently. For the rest of you out there who have never picked up a controller and enjoyed the lithe gymnastic abilities of the long-legged brunette, then Shame on You! What the hell have you been doing for the past decade? It’s all very interesting that you are now a ‘level 70 Magi in the AssCrackium of Humding’, or some other such dungeon dwelling goblin-botherer title but per-leaze! This is Lara Croft we are talking about here, not some pointy eared crone cackling on about ‘Verily, I do spy an ogre across yonder meadow.‘ You have one last chance to redeem yourself before the next disc based outing for the ravishing archaeologist and that comes in the form of the recently released downloadable title from Square Enix, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.
Quite possibly this title may well be the best tenner that you will have spent since you bought the Staff of MannPhatte for your battle hobbit. Oh, alright, I’ll leave you guys alone now. But you have to admit, if you are going to spend any time at all hanging around dungeons and going on quests then who would you rather be accompanied by? The svelte Lara Croft or Colin the Cackhanded of Biffins Bridginium? Exactly, go for the shapely investigator every time!
We’ll begin this review by telling you that we have been playing a lot of Arcade titles through Xbox Live Marketplace this year. The vast majority have been rather excellent games too…just check out some of the belters in our review section. But at no point did we ever expect that this rendition of Lara Croft was to be anything other than a filler whilst the next disc-based title was in development. How wrong we were. What we got was not just a surprise, but in fact the most pleasant and enjoyable drop of the jaw that we have undergone for many a gaming session.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, if it were released by any other studio, would be getting the lavish launch treatment of a AAA title, but it just demonstrates the strength in-depth that is available to the development teams over at Square Enix when they can release a game with this amount of quality gaming running right throughout the entire title from start to finish.
Right from the opening sequence as you run through the game’s opening tutorial level you soon realise that you are in for something a little bit special when you notice that all the weapons, items, tricks and attributes that are available to Lara in a full-blown blockbuster release are still on offer to you in Guardian of Light. So don’t worry about missing out on a single detail of what you would normally hope to see in any one of the other Lara Croft and Tomb Raider titles as everything that you want to see in a Lara title is in here. From her twin hand-cannon’s to her grappling iron it’s all here for you to enjoy, and enjoy them you will as Ms Croft’s digital download is no half-baked offering just to placate fan’s and subdue the demands of Croft-ites everywhere. This is a title worthy of the high praise that we are lording on it and make no mistake. But let’s get back to that opening with your native South American Aztec guide, Totec and the game shall we?
The story of the game see’s Lara back in deepest darkest South America, with her guide Totec as companion, as the two go in search of Xolotl. He being the ‘bad guy’ of the piece who has been freed by a band of ne’er-do-well’s from his magical prison inside a mythical mirror. Xolotl has to be stopped before he can use a mystical object of unspeakable power. What he plans to do with this power once unleashed is not clear but we are pretty sure that he is not going to use it to clean the graffiti off the toilet walls. Totec, your companion and guide, is actually the Guardian of the Light of which the game takes its title, and you must assist your chum in his mission to put an end to the planned terror of Xolotl before the fiendish one can put his demonic plan into practice.
This is your story, your mission, your duty. It is up to you to help put a stop to the madness, so strap on your pistol holsters and grab a shotgun as its hunting time for Ms Croft once again.
The beauty of the game is that although this is a knockdown priced digital download, Square Enix have ensured that none of the charisma and quality of the franchise has been lost in this title, and if anything, we can genuinely say that we have enjoyed playing through this version of a Lara Croft game more than we have the last couple of disc based outings. That is not to say that the disc based games were poor titles, far from it. They were fantastic. Its just that we have honestly enjoyed this one more. Right from the off we got the hang of the easy to pick up controls, and just ran off into the Aztec settings and location’s to take on whatever was in front of us. Be it gigantic ogres and mythical lizards or enormous sprawling puzzles and enigma’s, just like the ones that you would expect to find in one of Lara‘s other ‘bigger’ titles. This game just has everything, and with everything it has, it also has the added bonus of it being good fun. It’s not just repetitious twaddle that gets you more and more irate with every attempt at that challenging jump, or taxing puzzle.
Moving through the single player story mode see’s you looking at the game from that comfortable top down, side on mode that is easy on the eyes and beneficial in the gameplay. It gives you a wide area of vision meaning that you can spot enemies from afar, and even better you can also spot hidden collectibles and/or side mission objectives and challenges. The gaming zones themselves are vast and far superior to most disc releases. The graphics are a true credit to the developers, as they appear as you picture the scene to be and not as some poorly rendered digital nightmare of garish colours that leave you seeking the nearest Specsavers after a couple of hours gaming.
The NPC‘s are all well presented with fine detail and good AI that will keep you on your toes, as they get progressively more difficult as your adventure gets more involved. The storyline works well in that it does not get in the way of the gameplay by trying to be too complicated and convoluted. You know what you are there for, now your mission is to get to the end of the game in one piece. There are some cracking side challenges, all with differing difficulty and tasks, and some of the side rooms offering hidden bonuses that would go previously unseen save for an inquisitive eye. All in all the single player offers up around 7-10 hours of real top quality gaming. This is dependant on your level and commitment to the title, naturally. But the true jewel in the Guardian of Light crown has to be the first-rate Co-oP campaign mode that is available as a local or online option. Whereas this mode offered my wife and myself some cracking gaming chuckles and enjoyment it is possible to have the same amount of fun with a stranger online. The online Co-oP is just that good. With the typical attention to detail that is stereotypical of the kind of effort that is put into all of their titles, Square Enix have retouched all of the levels and puzzles of the single player campaign so that they are compatible with the Co-oP format. And it works with fantastic success. Even the RPG style of the upgrade system in the pause menu’s see’s the two Co-oP characters being able to combine their powers and talents so that they can best accompany those of their partners. This is one area of the game that will see you and your friends or loved ones returning to again and again for the undoubted quality in the title shines through in the Co-oP section of the game like a beacon.
So for all of you gamers out there who, like me, yearn for when Lara was leaping around in her shorts and T-Shirt as Tomb Raider, this is a must have the title for you as it see’s a true return to the classic gaming form for one of gaming’s favourite stalwarts and the First Lady of the Cyber Generation.
Graphics: Quite simply stunning. Every scene, every location and character are created with such a loving and caring eye for detail that you will soon forget that this is a digital title. 9
Gameplay: Just immense. A real powerhouse when it comes down to it. Guardian of Light is probably the strongest of all the Lara Croft titles of late and its in its gameplay that it show its muscles and gaming brawn. Great action, great puzzles and everything that you could ever possibly want in a Lara title. 9
RePlay Value: One of the games true strong points. We received the code just a mere four days ago and it has been played non stop in the office and at home. Cracking! 9
Presentation: What more can we say? Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is one of the finest title that you will play all year, disc or digital. The quality runs throughout the game from start to finish and with this much gameplay for only a tenner if it was any better you would be getting charged with theft! 10