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Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (Xbox 360) artwork

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (Xbox 360) review

"Besides puzzles, the game also offers a nearly perfect combat system. As Lara explores the fourteen stages in which her adventure unfolds, she'll do battle with all manner of monsters: gators, spiders, magicians, demons, skeletons and dinosaurs. She carries around a giant spear that she can toss repeatedly at her foes, her signature handguns and a whole arsenal of special weapons that she can acquire along the way."

You wouldn't think that a mirror would cause so much trouble. Yet as Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light begins, intrepid explorer and tomb raider Lara Croft finds herself--at gunpoint--lifting a mystical mirror from a pedestal in South America. Barely a moment has passed before bullets are flying through the air and a mystical deity (or is it a demon?) has appeared from some sort of mystical portal. Chaos reigns. People die. In the end, the only two humans who remain standing are Lara and Totec.

Totec is a warrior with a spear and shield. He is familiar with the evil that Lara has been forced to unleash, a terrible being known as Xolotl who will surely plunge the world around him into darkness if he can complete a terrible ceremony by sunrise. Though they can't come to an agreement on much of anything else, Lara and Totec jointly decide that it's in everyone's best interest if Xolotl is cast into his prison once more, rather than allowed to roam free and subjugate mankind. You know... typical video game stuff.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a pretty typical game, when you get right down to it, which sounds like a criticism but isn't really for one simple reason: it's also an astonishingly good game. The Tomb Raider brand has been hobbling along the path that leads to complete gamer apathy for quite some time now, but if this new effort from Crystal Dynamics is any indication, she of the heaving bosom could be on her way to a comeback.

Gameplay is clearly the focus here, and not the flashy sort that looks super swell on the back of a box on a shelf next to Gears of War, Uncharted or Halo. The approach that the developers took more closely resembles something that you might find to expect on the Dreamcast. Action is viewed from an isometric perspective, with fixed camera angles. There's no fiddling with the camera because that's neither necessary nor possible. Simple but detailed environs don't get in the way of the action. All that the player has to worry about is killing enemies, solving puzzles and exploring.

The puzzles on offer here are refreshingly non-irritating. When Lara comes across a treasure chamber, there's usually some sort of trap that involves spikes or pressure plates or wide gaps that it doesn't seem like she should be able to clear. The tools that the player has at his disposal are always out in the open, so all that remains is to play around with them and see what impact stepping on a plate might have, or how the environment changes when a grenade is detonated in front of a metal ball. Solving puzzles rarely takes more than a minute or two. They're just difficult enough that there's a sense of accomplishment once Lara finally is able to reach the ledge where one hidden artifact or another rests, yet not so difficult that you'll be tempted to consult a FAQ or a guide at the first sign of trouble.

Besides puzzles, the game also offers a nearly perfect combat system. As Lara explores the fourteen stages in which her adventure unfolds, she'll do battle with all manner of monsters: gators, spiders, magicians, demons, skeletons and dinosaurs. She carries around a giant spear that she can toss repeatedly at her foes, her signature handguns and a whole arsenal of special weapons that she can acquire along the way. The supplementary gear is easily mapped to the four points on the d-pad, ensuring that you needn't dive into a menu in the heat of battle unless you really want to, and all weapons are aimed using the right analog stick so that you can strafe around like the jet in Geometry Wars. It all feels very familiar, which is good because you're left getting caught up in the moment rather than fussing with the controls.

Though Lara's adventure feels lengthy enough to justify its price tag as a downloadable title, it must be noted that gamers interested in a speed run can likely tear through the whole thing in less than two hours. What's surprising is just how tempted you'll probably be to join them in the effort. The game provides target times so that you can challenge yourself to do better on a subsequent visit, plus there's a scoring system that rewards you for racking up a higher score in each environment. The developers have also included a slew of other objectives that you can tend to along the way. You might rush through a chamber on one visit because you're worried about just finding the end of the stage or you want to do so in a hurry for speed run purposes, but on a subsequent visit you should really see about activating all of the spike traps in the tomb at once... or pushing a boulder around a maze and onto a fire geyser in 15 seconds or less... or blasting a boulder so that it sails through the air and lands on a high stone pedestal... or, well, you get the idea. If you find yourself enjoying the game, you'll likely go through every stage multiple times. That suddenly stacks up to a lot of gameplay.

Collectible gear is completely optional, but there's plenty of it to find if you're into that sort of thing. Not everyone will care to find every artifact, relic, red skull or weapon, but there are literally hundreds of those items and finding every last one requires that you do more than simply explore every nook and cranny; you have to actually get good at the game. Really good, in some cases.

Fortunately, you don't have to do everything alone. The game includes a cooperative mode so that you can play through with a chum. Online play isn't possible at the time of this writing, but a patch is said to be coming in time for the release of the PlayStation Network version of the game, currently scheduled for release in a few weeks.

Lara Croft has had more than her fair share of adventures, and some would argue that she's appeared in more than her fair share of games. Not all of those games were successful. There are many of them that most gamers would be perfectly content to forget. Yet there is something about Lara Croft that draws players in, release after release. Here in Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, the developers remind everyone what that something is. By producing a polished and enjoyable game that knows what it wants to do and does it well from beginning to end, the people responsible for this effort have renewed hope that Lara Croft can claw her way to the top of the adventure heap once more. It'll be interesting to see what she does next.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (December 22, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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zippdementia posted December 22, 2011:

Hot damn, a good Lara Croft game. I'm not surprised; this game looked genuinely good from the first few videos SE posted of it a year ago. That they were posting gameplay videos more than cinematics was a really good sign.

Lot of Ventereviews this week!

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