Lara's got a new look.
This is not a Tomb Raider game. It's a Lara Croft game, which I suppose is different. I don't know if this means that Crystal Dynamics or anyone else is holding off on the Tomb Raider name, or if the main minx is getting too big for her Daisy Dukes, but it is a bit of a different look for the franchise. Same explorer, new view… and not just of her ass in them khaki shorts.
[image1]Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light tells of a guardian that Lara awakens from stone, which awakens another stone warrior, which starts a conflict between the two that had been resting for centuries (in case you didn’t see that coming). To be honest, that's about as much as I got out of the actual storyline. Beyond that, it's a round of cat and mouse with the big evil statue who keeps running a few steps ahead of you, setting up the events that block your path. You’ll see the rumbling villain constantly harassing you, blocking one path and leaving it to you to find another, but he always leaves a fairly direct, linear out.
The whole package plays a lot like how Gauntlet felt in the arcade, with more techniques and multiple weapons to choose from. The single-camera view is done well here, with grass and broken walls dotting the landscape to help hide little gems and skulls all around. And even better, you really can see every enemy pretty clearly on the screen… every gross pixel of the mutated poison-beasts and what look like giant lizards. The bigger the baddie, the greater the detail, and the prettier they really are.
Along with them, the environments are well-detailed, with all the little cracks and crannies one would expect from some dilapidated ruins overrun by what look like mutant poison monsters, anthropomorphic bobcats, and giant trolls with tattoos.
[image2]Speaking of pretty, at least Lara looks healthy now instead of the caricature that she started as. It's really surprising just how much she's changed since her first adventure debuted on the Saturn/PSOne/PC. What started out as the ill-proportioned, top-heavy male dream has grown into a normal-sized, sophisticated, crazy-in-shape woman in her prime. She still looks a little odd to me, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but thankfully she’s now an attractive woman instead of like her back should snap from the recoil of the first time she pulls the trigger.
Maybe the comic book motif throughout is what helps her out, but whatever it is, it’s fitting the bill (even though she still looks like the clothes are a size or two too small to fit properly). And if you’ve got a friend to play with, you can spend time as the guardian in charge of the fight against evil and darkness… by following her around and watching her, ahem, back in battle. It’s not deep multiplayer – just one other person can join in and it’s only playing through the main mode, but it’s the same kind of fun you expect from a game like Gauntlet, which is an amusing one to fall back on.
She has a nice arsenal of weapons at her disposal here, and it’s easy to swap between them at will. She can only have four equipped at once and you can only assign three of them – the magical spear is the default, since it costs no ammunition to use and can be used for reaching new areas/solving puzzles throughout. This is on top of the one button dedicated to the mines that she can lay down wherever she runs. The mines are great for puzzles (until I found the grenade launcher), but they become more and more useful when the area you bounce around in fills up with the scaly and fuzzy masses.
[image3]Combat would have been better if there was some clear hand-to-hand weapon, as some of the enemies get a little too close for comfort – a quick “jump-in/stab/jump-out” option would be nice in some situations. Nearly every weapon has decent range, but there isn’t enough variety between guns to really adjust tactics around a certain equipment set or anything. They’re a bit too arcade-y for that.
And on that same topic, this is a very linear experience. Unlike previous TR games there’s very little “exploration” here; just a collection of optional puzzles in caves slightly off the beaten path but are still close enough that they’re blatantly obvious. There is usually only one correct direction, except that in some spots when there are multiple correct paths. The puzzles are just as straightforward, especially when they’re combined with the debut of a new weapon: the grenade launcher, once again, is as blunt as possible. The variety of puzzles are nice, as there are multiple tactics needed to get through them, but when they repeat and combine it’s more repetitive than I would have liked.
All in all, though, if you need a dungeon-crawling fix with the supernatural, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light isn’t a bad way to spend a few hours. Lara’s back in a form, with solid controls, a look that works and environments the way we think about them when associated with the pretty spelunker. It might not be a Diablo-killer – it’s not nearly deep enough on any front or with the scope of Hell to fight through – but what’s here is entertaining and worth a play-through.