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Delayed Reactions: Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light (XBOX360)

Let’s start things off nice and confrontational – I don’t like the Tomb Raider series. I was all of fourteen years old when the first one hit my lowly Sega Saturn (no, my parents did not love me. Thank you for your concern. Dick.) One could not peruse a Gamepro or soft-core adult erotica magazine without being bombarded  by this Lara Croft gal. The hype was something that can only be compared to ingesting a heroic dose of hallucinogenics in the middle of Times Square. ACTION! DANGER! SUSPENSE! BRIGHT PRIMARY COLORS! BETTER THAN MARIO 64! BOOBS! BUY IT!!!!

And I did. And it sucked underwhelmed me.

Where I was promised thrills on par with Indiana Jones and Batman slaying zombies with flaming chainsaws, I got jumping. Lots of jumping. For good measure, I also got poorly realized combat mechanics, sadistic puzzles, and sad attempts to arouse me with an unrealistically proportioned vixen named Lara. It was the first time the disconnect between advertising and product became apparent to me. If there’s anything that will turn one off to a series, it is being forced to have thoughts this substantial at the age of fourteen.

CUT TO:

2010. Oh, hello Ms. Croft. We meet again. You and I have a sordid past together – those types of things are hard to forget. What’s this? You say you’ve changed? No….I can’t. I just can’t. The hurt is….too deep.

Wait…what? Unlimited supply of explosives? Go on. I’m listening.

Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light kicks some life into the ol’ gal in the best possible way. It is seemingly a game built to reach out to gamers like me in addition to the devoted. The fine folks at Crystal Dynamics have seen fit to outfit Lara in old-school clothing – a trend we’ve been seeing a lot of lately (see also: Bionic Commando, Matt Hazard, Dark Void). As opposed to a standard third-person camera, Lara goes all Diablo on us with that 3/4 isometric stuff that makes PC gamers purr like kittens.

During our recent Q&A with the guys from Team Meat, I asked the guys why they thought “old-school” game models simply wouldn’t die. Their answer was a refreshing as one could expect from guys obviously devoted to 2d aesthetics – to so many of us, these mechanics are what  make a game. When someone asks you about what you’re playing, you’ll often preface it with the type of game it is. I.E, “Yeah I’m playing this  Space-Marines-In-WWII-FPS called blah blah blah”. When you are playing a 2d platformer, you simply say “I’m playing a game”. I would go as far to say that we should expand this all-encompassing label to include 3/4 isometric games. Within minutes of booting up Guardian Of Light, I felt a joy that I don’t get too often these days. I was just playing a game, man.

The storyline concerns Lara getting involved in a war between two ancient Gods, Totec and Xolotl. Totec good. Xolotl bad. Lara’s out and about just straight-up-Tomb Raiding when she gets between these two and blah blah blah and then the bad God is released and blah blah blah, let the adventure begin. I’ve never been one to overly concern myself with the storylines in Tomb Raider titles, and this is no different. It’s straightforward in a way that games like this need to be. It is practically begging you to not pay attention to it and focus on the gameplay, and it’s all the better for it.

Single player or co-op, you’re in for a hell of a good time. I only played through the single player – Rob will add his thoughts on co-op after me. Those only attempting single-player should not worry about being at a disadvantage, as Square Enix have thoughtfully altered the gameplay and puzzles in minor ways to suit those with no friends (serial killers, people who smell like corpses, me).

The action takes place in the aforementioned 3/4 view. Your arsenal is simple/awesome – guns, a spear, and bombs. Unlimited bombs. Yes. Add on a nice selection of relics (power-ups), and there’s a fair amount of room to roll into battle with your preferred arsenal. The action is controlled via the analog sticks, with the left controlling movement and the right controlling the direction of your attacks. It works beautifully, as simple control schemes like this tend to. Consider it the anti-Prototype. The best compliment I can give GOL’s controls is that I never blamed any of my idiotic deaths on the control scheme. Huzzah!

Combat is the name of the game here, and it’s a great change from past iterations. I’ve always conflated Tomb Raider with boring, slow combat wherein I may get to shoot a whopping 3 enemies in an hour if I’m lucky. Guardian Of Light takes a far less subtle approach – it simply piles the enemy encounters on. Spiders, giant spiders, tribesmen, giant hulk……things. It’s great, and it’s’ something that should have been done a lot sooner. Platforming has also become far less obnoxious, with the spear becoming your best friend. Throw that sucker into the walls and climb to victory. This is an element which simply needs to be in Tomb Raider games from here on in – it works that well. Puzzles tend to take the standard “how do I get this object over there?” route without ever becoming too annoying. I even found myself looking forward to some of these mini-challenges, as they’re spread out far enough to be a welcome break from the carnage/platforming.

Graphically, this is a stunning downloadable game. The environments don’t vary all that often (spoiler alert – tombs), but they’re all of a consistent quality. When it comes to a game’s visuals, I tend not to get bogged down in polygon counts and technobabble, and I won’t bother here. I’ll just say that I found GOL’s look to be very pleasing to my eye. It’s art style is a way-more-extreme take on Tomb Raider’s past, along with a little something that seemed to be missing from the series up until now – atmosphere. Quite frankly, the whole thing feels like a big, dumb B-movie, and it had me smiling almost the whole time.

The main quest took me about 11 hours to get through, while time trials and red skulls (the game’s main collectible) you may have missed might give some players reason to go back. I usually have no interest in time trials or gathering missing loot, but it’s certainly there for those who want it. Combine that with the ability to run through with a friend, and you’ll probably feel like brandishing a firearm and putting on a ski-mask while you order this game. The amount of value you’re getting for your $15 simply pimp-slaps many $60 titles in the face. And ass. Come on back home, Tomb Raider fans – this old broad isn’t ready to retire yet.

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