The latest game from the Tomb Raider franchise may not have “Tomb Raider” in the title or have a publicly designated platform yet, but it will be called “Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.” Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix made the title officially.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light may not be what you expected for an adventure starring one of gaming’s most recognizable figures. Crystal Dynamics is building it for release on the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and to PCs, offering a different kind of game. So does different mean good? Based on the demo shown off at GDC ’10 in San Francisco, in this case I’d say it could definitely be a cool experience.
First, the story setup. It seems in the past there was a clash between gods over an artifact called the Mirror of Smoke. The bad guy, Xolotl, is eventually defeated by the good guy, Totec, and all’s right with the world as Totec buries himself in the mirror in a temple. That is, at least, until Lara finds it 2000 years later and some mercenaries that had been tailing her swipe it, bringing Xolotl tearing back onto the scene.
Thankfully, Totec wakes up as well, and to prevent evil from ruining everything, he teams up with Lara to squash Xolotl’s minions. While this game can be played solo, it’s also being designed as a co-operative experience. When playing with two, one player takes control of Lara and the other Totec. Taking advantage of their unique arsenals, the two will slaughter hordes of minions and conquer environmental puzzles on their way to saving the world.
The whole game takes place from a fixed overhead camera angle, a perspective that should be familiar to any fan of Diablo. As Lara and Totec run around onscreen, they’ll gain points for scoring kills and grabbing shiny baubles scattered around the game’s environments. To fight, Lara can take advantage of dual pistols and a rifle. She’ll also have a grappling hook, which factors into a lot of the game’s puzzles.
For instance, if there’s a large hole in the ground and notch in the wall, Lara can hook into the wall and skirt the gap. Once she’s across, she can then toss the hook over to Totec, who can grab on and use it as a support line to jump into the hole and climb out the other side to safety. In a neat twist, Totec can also walk on top of the grappling line, adding another layer to the process of finding puzzle solutions.
Sometimes it’s not a gap that needs to be crossed, but a high ledge that needs to be accessed. Totec has a shield that’s useful in these situations, as he can ready it over his head, creating a platform for Lara to jump onto. If Totec then jumps while Lara’s got her feet planted on the shield, Lara can take off at the jump’s apex, effectively creating a sort of double jump. For situations where that won’t work, Totec can launch spears into walls that then serve as platforms for Lara to hop up onto. If launched from multiple levels into a wall, Lara can climb up even higher as she leaps from spear to spear.
While this all sounds great for co-operative play, especially if Crystal Dynamics comes up with some creative ways to test your spatial reasoning, what about if you just want to play by yourself? In that case you can, and the story accommodates for it. You’ll just play as Lara, Totec goes off in another direction, but not before handing you his spear, letting you complete otherwise impossible challenges. The levels will also be altered to a degree in single-player play, and additional items will by lying around to make it possible for you to get through.
The rest of the puzzles look like they’ll involve timed elements, pressure plates, movable blocks, and elaborate, multi-part solutions. During the demo an underground temple area was shown where multiple levels of the stage could be seen. While Lara and Totec ran across a stone pathway, you were treated to a few far below to a large stone floor, teasing you of areas you’ll travel to next, complementing the already impressive visuals with a nice sense of scale.
When it comes to combat, Totec can fire off rifle shots beside Lara, and both have an unlimited supply of explosives that can splinter boxes in the environments, crumble stone archways, and blow up your foes. Figuring out where to go is made easier through an overhead map that marks your position and objectives, though there’s more to see than simply the main quest stuff. Crystal Dynamics showed off one optional dungeon that featured a single puzzle that, when completed, gave Lara access to a special item, the function of which isn’t yet being discussed. Apparently there’ll be quite a few of these optional challenges throughout the game, adding to a gameplay experience I’m told is already quite a bit over six hours long.
Should Lara or Totec be hit too often by Xolotl’s zombie-like minions and run out of health, a the other can come over and sacrifice health for a revive. Or, should that not be possible, the downed companion will respawn at the cost of points.
Sounds pretty good, right? Assuming everything goes well, it’ll be ready for this summer.