This game, you guys, this game. It’s really great. You may have completely ignored it because “Lara Croft” has become synonymous with “really mediocre didn’t they stop releasing them 90’s platformer polygonal boobs”. That’s not what you want out of a game at all, that’s just stream-of-consciousness. Your brain is so tired of Lara Croft it didn’t even bother to insert articles.
I freely admit that the primary reason I bought it was that it was one of the very few local co-op options available on the X-Box 360. Online co-op is nifty and all, but I do actually know people willing to sit down with me. I went in expecting a half-decent co-op platformer, and I was shocked to receive one of the better games of 2010.
Guardian of Light is actually a top-down shooter with a little bit of light platforming, puzzle-solving, and exploration. It’s a simple formula, but strange to see placed on Lara Croft. First of all, the graphics are surprisingly pretty for a download-only game. The incredibly minor story involves trying to re-trap an evil being, Xolotl, who was trapped by the Incans because they weren’t fans of the world being destroyed. Single-player follows Lara putting the genie back in the bottle.
If you play co-op, an ancient Incan who was placed in stasis via magic named Totec helps you out with his magic infinitely-respawning spear and invincible shield. Spectacularly, puzzles and combat change in both style and difficultly when someone is playing with you. It makes the game a lot more interesting when playing through alone doesn’t give away the co-op experience.
Playing with a friend is definitely where the game shines, giving you the opportunity to work together toward a common goal, and adding some minor cooperative gameplay changes, including the very important ability to shout “THROW ME THE ROOOOOPE”, that create a sense of camaraderie that is stronger than in most co-op games in which you’re able to progress without your partner and might even feel like they’re just holding you back. At no point in the co-op game for Guardian of Light could you possibly make it past the death-traps without your trusty adventuring companion. The importance of keeping each other alive is reinforced over and over, and you’re easily able to resurrect so long as your partner is still alive, making you very dependent on one another.
The game is presented as a series of levels that present obstacles in the form of either waves of evil Incan monster-things that you must dispatch with guns that appear to fire bullets roughly the size of your palm, or solve puzzles that take a bit of thinking. The combat is quick and fun, and enhanced by a system of weapon types and bonuses of surprisingly complexity that you accrue over the course of the game by either being granted them at significant moments or as a reward for straying from the beaten path a bit. Xolotl shows up to taunt you at regular intervals because like all recently-released evil beings, he’s congenitally incapable of just leaving the area quickly and quietly to plan the end of the planet while the heroes negotiate airfare.
Each level comes with bonus objectives and rewards for their completion, the biggest ones being the equal and opposite ones of “score X points” and “complete the level in Y time”. It allows for a minimum of a couple of playthroughs in different styles if you’re into being a bit of a completionist. I found myself doing a speedy run of 4-5 minutes per level, and a “Kill everything/Find Everything” run where I got all the little bonus objectives during my playing of the single-player mode.
There are a couple of DLC packs out, the first of which was free for people who purchased the game last year, and they all seem pretty solid if unremarkable. They add minor challenges for scoring super-high or completing something very fast.
If you don’t have anyone to play with, try the demo on Steam or X-Box Live, if you do have a friend, split it 50/50 and buy it today. It’s really one of my favorite gaming experiences of 2010, mostly because of the spectacular co-op.