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Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light

Microsoft certainly did some weird stuff for the summer of arcade this year.  I’ve previously hit on Limbo and how different it was from your normal platforming game.  While Lara Croft (or Guardian of Light, GoL, which I’ll use from now on because I’m very lazy) isn’t quite that strange overall, it definitely is a different perspective, literally and figuratively, then any previous Tomb Raider game.  A designed co-op top down shooter for Lara?  What?  Much to the credit for developer Crystal Dynamics, they have crafted one of the more enjoyable XBLA games in recent memory that makes the new look and feel of Lara Croft one definitely worth visiting.  Of course, it has been a LONG time to get there, which is why I’m reviewing a SUMMER of arcade game in freaking NOVEMBER.  It is a tale of woe and sadness for me and Tophat, read on to feel our pain.

So yeah, before I got to the game proper, indulge me (and Tophat, vicariously) in a rant.  When we first heard about GoL we were intrigued.  A top down shooter that was designed for two players sounded like something we’d be interested in.  As soon as the game starts Lara meets an ancient Aztec guardian named Totec who ends up working with her to defeat the evil Aztec demigod Xototl.  Lara and Totec work together with some interesting mechanics, which I will get to in a second.  So, prior to release, Crystal Dynamics announced that the game would not be released with online co-op, only local.  However it would soon be patched to include online, about a month after release.  I grabbed the game at launch to get my partial refund for buying three summer of arcade games, then had it on sit on my hard drive, untouched, until online co-op would arrive and Tophat and I could raid tombs together.

GoL was released on August 18th.  Online functionality was not patched in until October 27th.  NOT GOOD TIMES.  While Crystal Dynamics just released vague messages of “coming soon!” I felt kind of robbed of my Microsoft points.  Now, the patch did eventually arrive, so this is not a total freak out, but some information about the process seems kind of sad.  Apparently while developing the game, Crystal Dynamics only designed for local co-op play.  Only when they were a good chunk of the way through the game did somebody realize, “Hey!  This would be pretty awesome to play over Xbox Live!  We should do that!”  I believe Tophat summed it up best in his response when I told him that, “REALLY?”  I agree, friend hat.  Dear developers:  In an age where online gaming is enormous and an age where most video game players are out of college and probably don’t live next door to their friends anymore, online play should not be an afterthought.  To be fair to Crystal Dynamics, this is the first game they ever coded online functionality for, so I’m sure they ran into some hiccups.  But the mere fact that they never thought to include that from the start is disheartening.  According to Enosh and Tophat, the Scott Pilgrim XBLA game is excellent, but only supports local play.  I would have loved to download that and play it with my friends, but they lost a sale because I have no interest in playing it by myself.  So, to end this rant, if your making a game that features any kind of multiplayer, co-op or competitive, it NEEDS to have online.  It’s the god damn future.

ANYWAY, how about the freakin game, right?  So, as I said, the game features iconic hero Lara Croft and her new Aztec guardian buddy Totec fighting hordes of beasties and demons.  Visually, the game is a top down Diablo style view of the action with attacks mapped to one of the thumbsticks.  When I first started playing I actually picked up a Smash TV vibe.  Lara has dual pistols with infinite ammo, while Totec has an unlimited supply of sweet Aztec throwing spears.  (This game is probably not historically accurate.)  Throughout the game, the duo acquire MANY more weapons, but all of those deplete an ammo meter so must be used in moderation (kind of, eventually Tophat and I were basically using chain guns and rocket launchers the whole time.)

Those weapons are earned by what is probably GoL’s biggest strength, which is the secondary goals of each level.  Items are unlocked by reaching a point threshold.  Or collecting all the red skulls in one level.  Or doing a level specific challenge, such as finding hidden floor tiles.  Or even stranger things, such as rolling a large Indiana Jones style boulder over a health fountain.  Yes, that is what “heal the ball” means.  My point is, these objectives are fun, clearly defined, and provide good motivation to not only explore thoroughly on the first playthrough, but to come back to each stage to find all the stuff you missed as well.

For a downloadable title, GoL has some impressive visuals.  The backgrounds especially are impressive, with lava, waterfalls, or ancient Aztec temples all coming to life beautifully.  Lara, Totec, and all the evil mans animate very well, with some impressive explosion effects throughout as bombs are detonated, or you accidentally shoot a truck with a chain gun until it explodes while your friend Tophat is standing right next to it.  Sorry buddy!

While the combat is fun, Lara and Totec also use their unique abilities to solve some well designed puzzles.  Totec has a shield, which aside from deflecting enemy attacks, he can also hold over his head and have Lara stand on top it to reach otherwise unreachable heights.  His throwing spears can also serve as footholds for Lara, while they won’t support his weight.  Alternatively, Lara’s grappling hook can be used to create walkways for Totec, as he runs up and down the rope with apparently no difficulty using his magical Aztec powers of balance.  (Again, history, eat one.)  While none of the puzzles will require a TON of brainpower, there were definitely times where Tophat and I had to stop and take a moment to think about how exactly we’d use the aforementioned character abilities to get both of us from one end of a room to the other.  The pacing between puzzles and combat is good as well, so neither game element never wears out its welcome.

Adventurers! I bring minor discomfort and corny dialogue to this doomed world! MUAHAHAHA!

While all of the above are very good things, the forgettable part of GoL is the story.  The game opens with a narration about some artifact called the Mirror of Smoke.  Lara and some evil mercenaries are racing to find it, it gets disturbed, evil demigod released.  Xolotl, said evil demigod, then says he is going to rule the world, but really spends most of the game yelling snide remarks at you from high platforms and causing mischief.  The voice acting, for the most part, is terrible.  Lara herself fares the best by being totally forgettable.  She says her mediocre lines and moves on.  Totec on the other hand, is awful.  The writing is bad and as Tophat pointed out to me, he in no way sounds Aztec.  Why doe she know English?  Why does Xolotl know English?  How come they both sound like hipster white dudes?  The world may never know.

Honestly though, nobody is playing this game for the story.  GoL, especially now with the freakin online patch finally rolled out, is worth it for the actual game play.  Also, in a nice nod, Crystal Dynamics released the first batch of DLC for the game, which is four challenge rooms that you try to earn the best time in solving, for FREE.  So that is another hour or so of content at no cost, on top of what is already probably a game that is about six hours in length.  If this game fell through the cracks for you and something small to bide your time for that big holiday release sounds good, give Guardian of Light a try.  You may not understand the story, but a FUN game is universal.

Everybody knows giant spiders hate chain guns.


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