Lara Croft has been around for a long time. She has created and defined genres, dominated sales, been played by Angelina Jolie, had her breasts criticised, and recently been in a number of games firmly entrenched towards the mediocre end of the gaming spectrum. But those have all been under the Tomb Raider banner. Now, from developers Crystal Dynamics, we get the first Lara Croft game. A polished title, available on the PSN for $24.90, that may just breathe some life back into the scrappy Brit explorer.
Unsurprisingly, Lara’s raiding tombs again. This time, in her search for the legendary Mirror of Smoke she has awakened Xolotl, the Keeper of Darkness. But luckily for all of us, when Xolotl wakes up and starts killing, his arch nemesis Totec, the Guardian of Light wakes up too. Xolotl escapes into some ancient Mayan temples leaving Lara and Totec the task of fighting their way through his legions of beasts, demons and dinosaurs to retrieve the mirror and save the world.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is an old style, isometric view, puzzle/platformer. After the story is established, with a few pictures and a Lara Croft voice over, you can play through the game’s fourteen levels of temples, tombs, swamps and strongholds in either single player or two player co-op.
In single player, Totec takes off after Xolotl and you are left controlling Miss Croft. And she’s the same Lara we’ve been so familiar with for so long. She has the same accent, the same shorts, the same pistols and the same grappling hook. The only small addition, at least in the beginning, is her unlimited supply of mines that can be dropped and detonated at anytime with the triangle button. Also different is the basic control system. You move Lara around with the left stick while moving the right stick draws and aims her guns. To fire you use the right trigger. It makes for a bit of a departure from the old ‘move with the left stick, look with the right’ control set-up, but it works very well especially later on in the game when you are continually surrounded by enemies.
In two player co-op you and a friend play as Lara and Totec. Both characters have slightly different abilities. While Lara still has her grappling hook and guns, Totec has a shield and an unlimited number of throwing spears. Totec can put his shield over his head for Lara to climb on to reach a platform. Or he can throw his spears into the wall for her to climb. Totec is too heavy to for the spears to hold his weight so he relies on Lara’s grappling hook to either pull him up or form a tightrope for him to walk across. The two basic kits work very well together when moving around the great looking, and beautifully planned levels. Levels that are filled with collectables that take plenty of thought, ingenuity and teamwork to get to.
Every level has powerups that add to your health bar and ammo capacity. There are Artefacts that modify your attributes such as speed or defence. There are also plenty of Relics. Relics give you special abilities, like heath regeneration or scatter shots, that activate when you collect gems or chain kills. But the collectables don’t just end with upgrades; they also include almost thirty different kinds of pistols, flamethrowers, grenade launches, shotguns, magnums and rifles. For a PSN game there are a remarkable amount of weapons and upgrades, all of which add to the replayability of the game.
It is good that there is reason to play the game more than once because it is pretty short and simple. While puzzles in these games have never been that difficult, Tomb Raider games have always had very tricky climbing and platform sections. Here the control system is very friendly, with both Lara and Totec climbing, swinging and balancing with ease. Even the end level bosses, and their accompanying hordes, aren’t much of a challenge. The focus is finding all the upgrades and collectables so you can beat the point and time challenges to get all the rest of the unlockable upgrades and collectables.
But collecting stuff is what Lara Croft does. And when it looks and plays as well as this, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had. Although the game, quite rightly, spends very little time on the lightweight and fairly absurd story (evil god comes to life; good guardian comes to life; “let’s go get him,” says Lara Croft) the level design is fantastic. While not enormous, every section is tight and complex and brings back a lot of good Tomb Raider memories. Swinging across spike filled pits, rolling big balls around, collapsing bridges, all the while wearing short shorts and a really tight singlet, never really gets old, does it?
Welcome back Lara.