Cooperative gameplay in Guardian of Light mainly comes from the fact that Totec and Lara have different abilities and weaknesses, although all of them are puzzle-orientated rather than combat. After the first level is done with then both members of the duo can wield a full arsenal with equal, ludicrous aplomb.
Despite Totec’s hilarious ability to intuit how a flamethrower works though, he’ll still rely on Lara for navigating most of the levels. He needs Lara’s grappling hook to create tightropes across chasms or to scale big walls, while Lara needs his spears and shield to get about. This physically focused co-operation, with Totec throwing spears into walls for Lara to clamber over, gives Guardian a Trine-like edge at times, even though both characters can hold their own in combat.
One of the things we like most about Guardian of Light is that there’s a fairly obvious divide between the brainteasing and skullbashing. The most direct path through most levels is usually quite obvious and progression rarely takes long; there are simple puzzles, but the biggest obstacles are the hordes of monsters.
Again with the giant balls!
Most of the big conundrums are instead relegated to side areas; challenge rooms containing rewards for curious adventurers. Ammo and health upgrades are the most common boons for those who venture into such things, but there are Relics and Artefacts too which provide more interesting benefits. Artefacts bestow mixed blessings on users, such as beefing defence at the cost of movement speed, and can be equipped two at a time. Relics, on the other hand, enable more conventional power-ups, like health regen, but can only be equipped one at a time and require you to power them through combos before they can be used.
Piled on top of all this and really cementing Lara’s arcade feel is the addition of player challenges, which are added to every level and are used to roll out various awards. Most of them are predictably banal – score 300,000 to unlock a new relic, for example, but others are more specific to certain levels and bring greater bonuses. Being challenged to cross rivers without touching the water or navigate a trapped hallway on the first attempt are especially fun, and are just a few of the places where Lara encourages player creativity.
The result of all this arcade emphasis is a title that retains all the agility and splendour of previous Tomb Raider games, but which improves on itself by weaving in plenty of replay value and the option to play with friends. It’s the best of both worlds in many ways.
It isn't all perfect, though, and there are two flaws that can easily be levelled at the experience – specifically, it's repetitive at times and arguably over too quickly as well. To some players, the arcade challenges will be needless, unattractive fillers, and they’ll be able to storm through the not inconsiderable number of levels in speed. The counter to that is, of course, that Lara isn’t a full AAA game in either price or scope. There’s less meat here than Tomb Raider fans might be used to, but it’s perfectly reasonable given the price – especially if you play it in co-op mode, as intended.
That the adventure tends to become rather repetitive after a while is, unfortunately, a real problem for Lara and one to which there isn’t an easy counter. Still, as long as you don’t sit down determined to play the whole game in one or two sittings then it isn't likely to be too much of a problem. In fact, you’ll probably be more bothered by the occasionally uninformative interface – for example, it never details precisely what effects some items have beyond “+Ammo, -Speed”.
Whether Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light represents a new direction for the franchise or not, there’s little doubt that this is a fun game that will provide much enjoyment to both newcomers and series stalwarts. It doesn’t bring much innovation or brilliance to the top-down shooter genre, but it’s remarkably polished and we can easily recommend spending a few nights with Lara.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light - Recommended