A symphony of bullet-y things
Combat, on its own, is ever-present and consistently pleasing. Through a dual analog stick approach, Lara (or Totec) has an easy, accessible way of aiming and shooting. “Shooting” is an understatement; most of the weaponry in Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light unleashes a Contra-level of hot fury, only limited by a slowly depleting ammo gauge. Lara (or Totec) also totes some sort of infinitely-regenerating golden spear that can be used to attack or serve as a stepping perch when thrown into a wall.
There are plenty unlockable weapons in this supposed pint-size adventure, which all act as slightly varied delivery system for spraying bullets to and fro. Given that you’ll be facing wave after wave of similarly fashioned weird demons and lizard-types, one may be quick to label Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light as a Smash TV makeover with a little crypt-diving spliced in between. And while that may be partially true, each step is thrilling in ways that you wouldn’t expect.
Combat sequences, especially later in the game, are wildly entertaining and tend to invoke an almost trance-like state where the symphony of spray-bullets will satisfy most demon-slaying urges with the utmost level of efficiency. The invocation of such a childlike gaming trance through the refinement of an age-old shooting mechanic is a rare and certainly difficult feat in modern game design.
Both the combat and platforming experiences are fluid and intuitive, with each leap, swing, or roll transitioning seamlessly into the next action. Aside from the larger-than-life arsenal, Lara is equipped with a functional grappling hook that usually works like you’d like it should. The rolling mechanic, however, is drastically overpowered and covers more ground than it should, allowing the player to snake around obstacles in a very un-humanlike manner.
Yeah, we actually are raiding tombs here
Each environment that Lara visits in her latest adventure seems to hark back to the Tomb Raider aesthetic. Complete with Indiana Jones-style crypts, lost civilizations, and creature-laden forgotten swamps, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light captures of the feel of Lara’s previous adventures with a focus on well-crafted, atmospheric level design. Even when pulled back to the isometric view, the environs have a distinct look and feel to them that become just as integral to the experience as the gameplay itself.
Though progression doesn’t require an incredibly high level of patience or thoughtful problem solving, the puzzles in Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light rarely degrade themselves to standard fare button-pressing and box-pushing. Implementing an interesting and fresh puzzle solving aspect into a game is often difficult, especially without conceding to the usage of a forced mini-game or iterative block-pushing teasers. Crystal Dynamics doesn’t completely avoid this – you’ll still be rolling boulders and lifting gates – but their strong attempt at masking any potential derivative feeling mostly succeeds. From time to time, a head-scratching puzzle sequence occurs that takes an interesting and fresh approach to solve.
By the nature of the crisp and streamlined game flow, the game seems to guide the player through sensible level design that efficiently balances combat, puzzle solving, and platforming. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light doesn’t need an out-of-place mini-map or obtrusive player-guiding arrow. The fluid level design regulates the pace and passively guides the player so effectively that Lara rarely finds herself wandering aimlessly or unnecessarily backtracking. Further, the level design is ripe for co-op play; the exclusion of online multiplayer is a glaring scar on an otherwise gleaming gem of a game.
Arcade in mind
On top of its sensible level design mechanics, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light oozes with a unique arcade feel. The usage of point bonuses and achievement-style challenges grants the player access to extra health upgrades and upgraded weaponry. The inclusion of point bonuses and numbers popping up around the field of play had the potential to create an unsettling dissonance. However, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light pulls it off nicely, with the Reward Challenges adding a significant amount of replayability and value to the experience. The challenges are forthright and clear: do them, get cooler stuff. The key is, it never takes itself too seriously, and Crystal Dynamics doesn’t seem to mind to take a departure from immersion-based gameplay featured in previous titles starring Lara Croft in favor of a gameplay-centric experience.
Even with the arcade feel in mind, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light still finds it necessary to force a narrative, and puts forth a goofy premise, complete with a manically laughing, awkwardly antagonizing, prototypical plague-god of yesteryear who’s got some destructive artifact that Lara and the naked Indian from Wayne’s World 2 (Totec) are trying to snag. This fiction does little to enhance the overall experience, and a more minimalist approach to a story and premise would have been more effective.