26th August 2010 - Rounding out the Winter of Arcade Hits on XBLA, Tomb Raiders` own leading lady; Lara Croft makes an entrance in her technical ninth outing. We say “technical” because the ninth game in the series is still to come next year, with The Guardian of Light filling the gap nicely. Is this rehash of previous title Underworld worth the wait, or does it simply reuse everything in a dash for cash? AAG has the answers, with the largest number of Pro Tips yet...
With a globe-trotting resume a mile long and considerable 'assets' to her name, including a mansion and two massive...pistols, to stick in your face, one would think that Ms Croft is as real as any Indiana Jones. Alas this last point is not quite true and as such she has only ever resided in digital form save for a couple of movie. This most recent outing sees a shift in perspective as the game takes a more action, isometric, co-op view from above.
Treasure hunters looking for a sexy Diablo mash-up can actually look elsewhere as Guardian of Light, by Square Enix and Eidos; is more akin to last years underrated Marvel Ultimate Alliance mixed with Resident Evil 5. There is little to no levelling up and instead a long list of better and better weapons can be found and unlocked in a slew of macro achievements and mini challenges. A quarter of the levels offered are actually now massive Boss Battles, which are epic if not just padding and every level is a detailed intricate set piece of winding puzzles and physics. Although weighing in at a heft 2GB, the game is actually as short as any other arcade title, with the level graphics making up the bulk of the size. Cut-scenes are sparse and there are not enough, 2D comic panels to fully flesh out the story.
Pro Tip: Using two different artefacts together that are the same will double the effect e.g.: +1 Speed X 2 will make Lara run really fast.
South of the Border
Square has done a number of things right and a number of things wrong with this Lara Croft title, that may or may not influence just how much you enjoy it. On the one hand, the concept is excellent for newbs to the franchise or for those looking to get their co-op fix of action and Tomb Raiding. For those fans of Lara though, who played the last game, everything is immediately familiar and all too easy. The puzzles can be achieved with your eyes closed and all the secrets are laid out in plain view. In theory, the fan-boy service is here, with well conceived puzzles that work on many levels and the inclusion of physics and fire- but, by reusing all the assets and models from the previous game, it feels almost like an expansion or more of the same. And it never, ever changes location.
The last game; Underworld, spent a fair chunk of time in South America, and this game does entirely. In point, the story starts off right in the middle: Lara has already found her treasure, released some ancient evil Aztec, awoken a sleeping guardian co-op partner and then the chase is on, to stop the Boss and the ensuing Aztec/Incan Apocalypse. Because the first ever Tomb raider Game had T-Rex dinosaurs, Eidos and Square have taken a liberty and brought them back, twice over- not to mention the giant prehistoric piranha chase scene. The creatures and enemy are, to be fair, all new to the franchise and are well adapted from popular South American design. The number and strength of said bad guys’ increases as the levels go on, but never so much that better guns and better armour can't stop them.
Pro Tip: Use height to your advantage. Throw spears from higher steps and ledges then also from the ground to create 'platforms' upwards.
Fire and Brimstone
After about the 3rd or 4th level though, the game does slide into a predictability and sameness that shows that maybe, the developers are starting to run out of ideas. As you head deeper into the tombs of the enemy; Xolotl following your partner Totec, it becomes all too familiar with: “the swamp level”, “The acid exploding plant level” and about four “Uber fire levels”. This is certainly classic Tomb Raider at its best, if not a little cliché`.
The waves and waves of enemy are mixed nicely with the complex level design, which although shows a lot of creativity is completely linear and exploitable. If you miss the days when Lara was all about jumping, puzzles and flexible acrobatics, fear not because with added physics, destructible environments and a wider camera angle, all the platforming, spike traps and ball rolling are back multiplied over and again.
Pro Tip: Different enemy require different weapons: Skeletons will only die from bombs/grenades, explode them while the skeleton is re spawning to maximise effectiveness.
Playing in local cooperation, is really where the game shines as more options open up for a defensive/aggressive stance it really becomes very similar to Resident Evil 5s co-op mini maps where timed trials mixed with frantic scoring and health loots. Even in single, every single level has swag of macro achievements from time trials to number of kills, unlocking artefacts and health and armour upgrades. The problem? There is absolutely no point to any of it.
Square and Eidos have made a game that is so accessible and entry level, that one high powered gun is the same as the next, and there is little difference to +1armor or +1weapons. The aim of the game here, really is in speed and replay as buffing weapons allows “faster” weapons, bombs deal more damage quickly and Lara can run faster.
So fast in fact, that the longest you will spend on a level is 15 minutes, if that. Usually 6 minutes or less. Bosses can, in theory be killed in under 2 minutes. Replaying means buffing armour and speed and ignoring enemies, simply running through all parts of the level as fast as possible.
Pro Tip: The size and shape of the Tyrannosaurus Rex has changed to include a more modern interpretation since the original game in 1994, that the Dinosaur was in fact smaller, fatter and with shorter arms.
The South American local ads to the feeling from playing Resident evil 5, if not the last Tomb Raider game Underworld. Although Square and Eidos have tried hard to balance all aspects: shooting, timing, puzzles and level design, it comes off too easy with no reward for playing on a harder difficulty.
While initial screenshots made people think 'Diablo', the levels are smaller but just as dark and raining without all the 'tombs'. Each level has 2 bonus dungeons for more achievements and puzzles, but apart from that once a level loads that is it and what you see is what you get.
Saving happens on the fly, and death results in an instant re-spawn minus some money. Graphically, the game looks much better than last year’s entry Shadow Complex, but less good than previous game Underworld. Using a lot of the same environmental pieces, plants, fires costumes etc, but without some of the special effects. Clearly some effort has been made to lower the size of the file, by not using pre-rendered movie, and preferring 2D comic cut outs instead of cut-scenes. Animation runs smooth enough, even with some ridiculous level consuming bosses.
T to the RX
If you thought a giant flaming lava living T-Rex was bad enough, think again as The Guardian of Light throws at you some of the biggest boss battles since Batman. The far-away camera really works a treat to showcase the immense size of a prehistoric piranha out for lunch. Fire balls will literally fall from the sky and spikes are now twice the human height. Concrete balls are too big for realism, but with a birds eye view it is possible now to have some really big inspired monsters that are a joy to kill. In any other view Lara would have to be lying on the ground just to see them.
Everything you need is in clear and plain sight, with no camera issues and/or with jumping. It makes solving puzzles and finding secrets a tad easy but otherwise makes the game feel 'fresh'.
Pro Tip: Finally Lara Croft has a proper and clear map to use. This is the first game to have a detailed and proper inventory and the second game to be entirely in one location. (The last game featured a horrible sonar mapping system)
Although completely motion-captured (for the last game anyway), corners are very jarringly cut when you never ever see a characters face/mouth, and they talk through the back of their heads and turn away from the camera. So the sound is the weakest point of this adventure but props to Eidos for knowing when to cut corners properly.
The voice over is current and former “Keeley Hawes” who reprises her role (not to be confused with the Lara Croft model), but in a phoned in sort of way. Dialogue is pretty laughable and the two actors of Lara and Totec were probably not even in the same room. The same actor actually does both voices for the Boss Xolotl and Totec, in other words, talks to himself sometimes, but this is an arcade title...
Music is as good as any prior game, and even though it has been amped up and remixed, is starting to sound recycled. The issues with the sounds are the same that plague the whole game: The never escaping feeling that corners have been cut, for the sake of making this an 'arcade' title and that too many things have been recycled. Again, if you never played a Tomb Raider game, you might actually be better off trying one of the earlier entries first and then if that bores you, going in for this
Pro Tip: Lara Croft actually died, at the end of the 4th game, before flashbacks in 5 and then being found alive in the 6th game but framed for murder.
For those very familiar with the tank top wearing heroine, this game may just seem like a poor mans Tomb Raider. For 1200MSP though and the last of the Winter classics, it is well worth the coin. Online co-op will be arriving in about a month when the PSN network finally get the game [MS snagged the game early over the Playstation Network got Scott Pilgram first].
Despite some flaws, it is good clean fun in a fast and frantic pace that demands replay. As the levels progress they do get harder in part and it becomes a challenge to actually complete them within a time limit.
New physics, like giant balls, flames, lava, plants and explodable environments add to the fun and mayhem while unlimited bombs and the grapple and spear tool add a new dimension to gameplay. In fact the spear is the most unique aspect of the game, creating a new way to approach puzzles, create ledges and generally jump around.
5 expansion packs are due, which is excellent support for a seemingly simple arcade title, but one is the free online co-op and two are 'character packs' which are essentially useless really...so you decide.
A remade, recycled Lara Croft game is still better than no game at all, and it takes the edge off waiting for the next rebooted installation. Square Enix and Eidos are obviously trying something new here with an almost 'full bodied' title tucked into a tight arcade package. The only thing better than playing with Lara Croft alone, is sharing her with someone else...
Pro Tip: When Lara Croft was re boobted in 2006, they had to decrease the size of her chest to fit the new model and number of polygons, compared to the previous titles where it increased.
AAG SCORE: 8.75/10
- Lara Croft
- Designed specifically for co-op
- Good looking graphics and set design
- Re-cycled assets
- Too easy, no real challenge
- Voice acting and sounds
Reviewed and Written By Ian Crane