So XBox Live Arcade brings the latest Tomb Raid— Oops. Still getting used to the title change. Let’s try again. During Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade, the XBox received a five week exclusivity deal for Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. A completely different take on the traditional gameplay Lara is used to from the Tomb Raider series, this downloadable only title gives an overhead perspective mixed with two stick gunplay and puzzle solving.
The control scheme of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light seems simple enough. One analog stick moves, the other aims and the buttons help Lara dodge, jump, set explosives or grab objects. The game also attempts to assist players with certain jumps like leaping from the edge of a platform to one of Lara’s golden spears that can be used as an extra step.
Unfortunately due to the 45 degree angle of the camera and the lack of feedback of hitting those perfect 45 degree angles from the XBox’s controller, some tasks become unnecessarily difficult. They aren’t challenging on purpose but because they are hindered by the game’s control scheme. Sometimes the auto-assist on the jumps sends Lara off in a direction you didn’t intend to take her.
Gunplay is easily the most exciting part of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Similar to the style of Geometry Wars, players are forced to run and strafe their way around waves of oncoming enemies, each with different powers, weaknesses and styles of offense. The ability to simultaneously dodge and plant bombs in mid-roll is a great strategy for players who get backed into the corner and need to make a hasty escape.
Throughout the game, new guns are added to Lara’s inventory each level which makes for increasing levels of strategy. At first, Lara is equipped with unlimited bullets for her two handguns and spears. Once she finds stronger weapons, Lara must use them sparingly as they will deplete her ammunition.
Cooperative gameplay is one of the places the game truly shines. Going through the levels with a friend is what makes Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light exciting. Similar in ways to the classic side scrolling beat ’em ups, the game can be played single player but becomes a more fulfilling experience bashing in baddies with a compatriot. Sadly, the XBox 360 version currently only has local co-op. Upon the PS3 and PC release of the game in September, the game will be patched for online co-op. Sadly, since the game is short enough that it won’t take most players over a month to beat it, this feature will likely go to waste on the XBox audience.
Story and Presentation:
Starting off with a somewhat comic book-like style, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light quickly moves to in engine cut scenes. These tell the story of an ancient evil that a group of fellow treasure hunters have unwittingly awakened. Unlike Lara who apparently had a way of obtaining the mystical totem without bringing forth an Armageddon scenario, the treasure hunters pop it out incorrectly and are quickly slain for their troubles. The rest of the story entails Lara chasing down this ancient spirit before it retains its full unstoppable power levels with the help of Totec, the warrior who originally imprisoned it.
The story of this game comes across as very basic. Not to say that it doesn’t tell the story well but it feels like this game had nothing defining about it that made it a Lara Croft story. No risks were taken as it felt like just another event in the life of Lara instead of being something new and special. The story they do tell does what it sets out to do though and sets up fun gameplay scenarios and puzzles for Lara to solve on her way to the final confrontation.
It is getting hard to believe how fantastic games that are no longer being sold from retail stores can look. Thankfully with Microsoft ending the band on maximum file sizes, games like Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light are not forced into looking like old arcade ports. They are instead given awesome levels of polish, not just in the cut scenes but in the real gameplay as well. These fully 3D animated models rival some disc only retail releases in both their appearance and their animation.
As with many titles that have featured Lara in the past (all of the Tomb Raider series), the sound design is a little lacking. Lara is only ever really heard in cut scenes. During levels, her grunting is all that is heard. And while some people might be into that kind of thing, it doesn’t really do much to help develop her as a character. Instead, she remains a hot body with guns without much to say. The rest of the game is fairly basic sound design with repetitious gunfire and explosive noises.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a great addition to the XBox Live Arcade although it is disappointing that it is a Live Arcade game that doesn’t yet utilize Live. It feels like this feature was left out in an effort to make it into the Summer of Arcade. While this may have helped the overall sales of the title, it does feel like it was a great hindrance on the potential overall experience for early buyers of the game.
The rest of the game, however, plays solidly and looks great at the same time. Looking better than most titles of the previous generation, it’s amazing to believe this game is a downloadable title. As always, it is a great game to check out the demo for if you are unsure of a purchase which is a feature on all XBLA releases. This is a very different gameplay experience than what previous Tomb Raider titles have given but it does capture a lot of the same key notes in the style of telling the story. If you have been a fan of past Tomb Raider games or even casual titles like Geometry Wars, this would be a great game for you to check out.
XBox Live Arcade (Also coming soon on PlayStation 3 and PC via Steam)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
1200 Microsoft Points, $14.99 on PlayStation Network, PC