What’s in a name? Well, probably not much. Somewhere along the development schedule, Crystal Dynamics decided to remove Tomb Raider from the game’s title. So instead of being called Tomb Raider it was now titled Lara Croft. They had their reasons for it and I can understand why, but in hindsight, they needn’t have bothered. It might look nothing like a Tomb Raider game, but half an hour in you will realise that this is as Tomb Raider as a game can get.
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Played from an isometric view point, the immediate impression you get is that the game is similar to Alien Breed or Alien Swarm or any other isometric twin stick shooter, and it does look gorgeous like those games, with some great attention to details. But stick around and you’ll discover that it’s so, so much more. So it might not be carrying the Tomb Raider moniker, but the core gameplay still consists of the usual TR staple of dodging, rolling, jumping, exploring and solving puzzles that is now almost a trademark of the series. Oh and did I mention it’s got a bit of Diablo in its blood too?
The game features a ton of collectibles; everything from weapons to items that boost your stats (like speed, damage, defence, etc). Some of the collectibles require you to explore and solve puzzles, while some of them require you to complete objectives within a level. Both of those aspects are handled brilliantly. The puzzles are smart. In fact, a lot of them are very Portal-like in that they require some out-of-the-box thinking, and while the sub-objectives are hard, they are balanced in such a way that they almost always seem doable if you try just one more time. Combine both of them and you have probably the most replayable game of the year.
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The campaign itself can be played in single player or co-op. In single player, you play as Lara and in co-op a new character named Totec is added. While in co-op, both characters have their own unique abilities (for example, Totec can throw a spear on which Lara can balance and climb, and Lara can throw her grapple to help Totec navigate over and around spaces), in single player, Lara is given the spear and all the puzzles are altered slightly to reflect the lack of a partner. Normally, this would have resulted in a diluted single-player experience, but it’s handled surprisingly well here, mostly because the puzzles that are readjusted are still quite clever and the difficulty curve is nice and gentle.
As good as it is solo, in co-op, the game becomes a true Game of the Year contender. Some of the puzzles that are merely interesting in single player, become absolutely sublime in co-op, and therein lies the true genius of the game. There is always a spirit of competition in co-op games and good games nurture that while still maintaining dependence upon your partner. While in other games, the competition usually boils down to who can handle a controller better, in Guardian of Light, it often comes down to who can think fast and (very often) outside the box. There are these moments of pure brilliance where you and your buddy will walk into a room, look at the puzzle there and it instantly becomes a race to see who can figure it out first. Working together is always to your benefit since weapons, upgrades and relics you find are awarded to both the players instead of a ‘finders keepers’ philosophy.
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Like other Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider games, this, in both single player and co-op, has one of the best checkpoint implementations ever. If you die or quit and restart, you will almost never replay any section for more than a few seconds. It’s almost like someone is standing by you jamming the quick save key every 20 seconds. Crystal Dynamics games get a bit of flack for being short, but what most people forget is that the checkpoint system is so sublime that you are almost never repeating yourself for more than a few seconds. Speaking of length, this one should last you close to six hours on single-player; probably a little less in co-op. However, the replayabilty is off the charts.
While the combat is great fun thanks to the number of weapons and slick controls, the game could have used a few more boss fights. As if to compensate for this, the last boss fight goes on for too long. Also, the writing, story and voiceovers are terrible. The story is the usual mumbo jumbo of ancient evil that lay dormant rising up again and some of the dialogue is overly cliched and delivered in almost cringe-worthy voice acting. Lastly, the camera can be a bit of a bother in co-op. Since it doesn’t use split-screen, if you and your partner move too far away, the camera gets zoomed out and some stairs, switches, etc can get blocked out of view, forcing you to regroup with your team mate. It’s not game-breaking and online co-op should solve that problem, but that wont be patched in for another two weeks.
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It’s usually a good sign if at the end of a review, I am struggling to think of things that I can throw up in the negatives column. And rest assured, there is very little to not like about Guardian of Light. It’s everything a great Tomb Raider game should be. It’s everything a great adventure game should be. It’s everything a great co-op game should be. In fact, in equal parts rewarding, challenging, fun and addictive, it is everything a great game should be.