It's about a week before Microsoft kicks off its third annual Summer of Arcade promotion, an event that highlights some of the best games that the downloadable service has to offer. Luckily for Eidos and Square Enix, this means that the release of their Tomb Raider title, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, is just around the corner. It also means one last chance to demo the game for the press before the public at large has a chance to get their hands on it. At E3 we took one last look at the game and while we were told that this wasn't the release candidate build we were looking at, it is pretty close to final.
For this demo session, the producer wanted to show us three specific elements for Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. The first is the co-op play, which is brand-new to the series. One player controls Lara Croft while the other controls Totec, the titular guardian of light. As expected, each character has unique abilities that complement the other rather well. Totec, for example, has a shield that he can use to defend himself from attacks as well as spears from which Lara can jump. Lara, on the other hand, has better jumping abilities and a grapple line that she can use to swing over gaps, pull Totec up ledges, or lower him safely. Both characters can equip themselves with and use various guns to attack enemies, ensuring some type of balance when fighting. The game doesn't feature any drop-in/drop-out co-op, which has been a popular feature lately, mostly because the single-player experience will not come with an AI partner. Instead, the single-player game will come with slightly modified levels and puzzles, making the single- and multiplayer games slightly different experiences.
The second element he wanted to show off was what he dubbed "verticality." The game may be presented from an isometric viewpoint, but that doesn't mean that the action is linear in nature. There are a good number of levels where the end goal is located above or below the player, and in some cases, the exit can easily be seen from the player's vantage point. While this provides a new perspective on how to approach isometric adventure games, it also points out another aspect that becomes essential in co-op: trust. In the level that was demoed, a platform leading down could not be reached through normal jumping methods, but it had a rung for Lara's grappling line. Totec, however, has no such device. In order to make the jump, players controlling Totec had to jump anyway and hope that the player controlling Lara would use her grappling line in time to catch Totec and pull him to safety. The producer assured us that there were going to be more trust puzzles like this, though he wasn't ready to give us any examples just yet.
The final element was how non-traditional boss fights were going to be. In the demo, the producer showed us a fight against a giant mudskipper fish that was chasing the heroes down a corridor full of chasms and traps. Both players are charged with running forward, avoiding the traps, and making sure that they don't fall too far behind and get eaten by the fish. There were also a few minions off to the side sapping away at their health, significantly adding to the difficulty level. At the end of the hallway, they reached a gate and a few co-op switches which, when activated, destroyed the fish with a large spiked grinder. The producer stated that we would likely run into more boss fights with indirect fighting as opposed to ones where players pelt the enemy with as many bullets and spears as possible.
Another element that was briefly touched upon was the game's use of relics, which are items you can equip to each character to augment their abilities. These augmentations include increased health bars, regenerating ammo bars, and increased attack strength. While some relics can be found while exploring the game, others can be obtained by fulfilling secondary quests in each level or reaching certain score thresholds by the end of the level, ensuring that players will play through the game multiple times to unlock every relic the game has to offer.
It never ceases to amaze when a downloadable title can stand toe-to-toe against its disc-based counterparts from a technical standpoint, and this is certainly no exception. Graphically, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is about the same as any of the recent disc-based Tomb Raider titles, and it sports some of the advanced particle effects that you've come to expect from the series. Animations are fluid, and little graphical details really impress, like the foliage being brushed aside when you pass by. The same thing can be said for the sound; the score sounds as engaging as before, and the effects and voices come off clearly. Due to the perspective, the controls are fairly different and act more like a dual-stick shooter than your traditional Tomb Raider game. The only difference is that the trigger is used for firing, and the right analog stick is used for aiming.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light looks like it is ready to show off why it was picked among an elite group of games to download for the summer. The co-op aspect makes for a more enjoyable experience in the universe while the technical aspects make it stand out as a top-notch effort. The level structure provides a good balance between combat and puzzles, and the game certainly encourages multiple playthroughs for leaderboard standings and better idols to augment the experience. Look for the full game in the next few weeks on the Xbox 360 and, barring any exclusivity agreements, the PS3 as well.
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