Diablo II. X-Men Legends. Tomb Raider. Metroid. Crusader. Crystal Dynamics had a very specific vision for Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, and it shows in that it draws inspiration from a very specific range of games.
The end result feels like — wait for it — a fun platforming isometric action-RPG with puzzle elements thrown in. If that sounds intimidating, don’t worry. It works. This is the beauty of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.
While it borrows the best elements from a variety of genres, Guardian of Light is careful not to explore any of them in more depth than necessary. You’re never going to find yourself dealing with a long list of skill trees like in Diablo or X-Men Legends, for instance. Neither are you going to find yourself spending hours finding your way around like in an oldschool Metroid game.
Instead, what you will find is the fast-paced combat from Diablo and X-Men Legends melded together with the delightful concept of poking around in hidden corners and navigating to out-of-view platforms to acquire power-ups. It takes about 20 minutes to figure out that Guardian of Light is about fast-paced fun.
Being a Crystal Dynamics game, naturally it also pays homage to Lara’s past adventures. The Tomb Raider style of platforming is present and accounted for, although, once again, it’s meant to complement the action rather than serve an exploratory purpose. Similarly, the puzzles scattered throughout are relatively simple and are in place to break up the action and make you feel like you earned that awesome relic that just powered up your weapons.
But none of this textual mumbo-jumbo actually conveys what a blast Guardian of Light is. This game does something that not many other games do: it speaks to you, as a gamer. It’s as if Crystal Dynamics wrote a love-letter to gamers the only way they knew how — in C++.
Remember how you would set yourself these meta-challenges while playing the older Tomb Raider games? “I’m going to vault across all these platforms without a single misstep!” Or “I’m going to take all these tigers out without letting them so much as touch me!” Guardian of Light takes those meta-challenges and makes them an actual part of the game, complete with rewards for completing them.
“Blow up all the trucks!” it might tell you at one point. “Cross the river without entering the water!” it might say at another. And all of this within the context of the main game. No navigating to external menus or entering challenge rooms (although, those exist as well). It all happens on the fly, while you’re gunning down giant demon lizards and picking up loot.
In fact, finding and gunning down a giant demon lizard was actually one of the random challenges the game threw at me while I was looking around for some ammo. It’s beautiful.
As a result, Guardian of Light has something going for it that’s rather hard to describe in words: it constantly feels good to play, which is something that you certainly can’t say about every game.
Planting a bomb under a truck and watching it blow sky high with a satisfying “KABOOM!!” as the ground trembles and a shower of shrapnel pours down feels good. Running gracefully across a horizontal wall with the aid of your grappling hook with a deadly spiked trap underneath you feels good. Even the simple act of firing your pistols as the sounds of empty shells hitting the ground fill your ears feels good.
While the game’s first stage starts out relatively weaker, Guardian of Light keeps escalating and throws delightful little challenges at you at every turn. Crystal Dynamics weren’t kidding when they said this wasn’t a Tomb Raider game. Despite knowing about it for months, I was still surprised by Guardian of Light’s genre-blending when I finally got to play it for myself.
The only fault I could really find with Guardian of Light is that playing it on the PC — we played the Steam version — will require you to own a gamepad if you don’t want the keyboard controls putting a bit of a damper on your fun. It won’t kill the game, but, cursor-targeting aside, a mouse and keyboard aren’t the best way to play it.
It’s also a pity that the PC and PlayStation Network versions of the game don’t have an online co-op mode at launch, although Crystal Dynamics have promised to patch it in soon. The single-player game, which is what we played, however, is fantastic by itself.
Food for thought:
Lara has always been a pop-culture icon of sorts, although maybe not to the same extent as, say, Mario. With Guardian of Light, however, Crystal Dynamics have managed to turn her into a very “Nintendo-like” character that you’ll find doesn’t necessarily need to have a very deep story or be in a a specific kind of game to prove enjoyable.