As far as sweeping proclamations go, the claim that Lara Croft practically invented the modern action-platformer is pretty low on the controversy scale. It's hard to argue against the idea that recent hits like Uncharted and Assassin's Creed owe a large debt of gratitude to Ms. Croft's Tomb Raider series for helping to usher in today's era of jumping, climbing, and shimmying across three dimensions. So when you hear about the next game bearing her likeness, it's entirely understandable that you may let out a guffaw or two. But here it is: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, due for release as a digital download this summer, is an arcade-inspired action romp with a fixed isometric camera and a focus on high scores and replay value. Though the genre is something out of left field, this latest Lara Croft adventure looks to maintain much of the feeling of earlier games (tombs, booby-trap puzzles, and so on) with a framework designed around cooperative adventuring.
On a story level, Guardian of Light is a buddy adventure starring Lara Croft and Totec, a Mayan tribesman. The plot is lighthearted Hollywood fare and tells of the Mirror of Smoke, an artifact whose ancientness is matched only by its mysterious powers. And as people tend to do with mysteriously powerful artifacts, a number of folks are fighting over this thing. The odd couple of Lara and Totec find themselves in a battle against Xoxolt, an evil spirit released from the Mirror who has the distinct advantage of controlling all manner of spirits to do his bidding. Expect to be going up against undead tribesmen, giant salamanders, and from the looks of it, everything in between.
But for this downloadable game, the focus falls less on story and more on uncomplicated gameplay. As the point totals erupting from dead enemies suggest, this is a game with one foot in the 1980s. Beyond that, there's also the fixed isometric camera angle. Moving through Central American jungles and temples, you'll always see the action from the same semi-top-down perspective. This keeps the focus squarely on the torrent of enemies capable of swarming you at any given moment. It's a set-up that leads fast-paced yet simple combat: point your weapons at the things you want to die, shoot, and repeat. It's hard to draw any clear comparisons due to the fact that we weren't able to play the game, but the combat definitely gave off a retro, where-did-I-put-that-quarter kind of a feel.
Each playable character has unique weapons and skills for maneuvering through those Central American jungle ruins. Lara's got her iconic dual handguns (which, befitting of the retro style, have infinite ammo), and Totec hurls deadly spears. But these weapons aren't used purely for combat. For example, the spear works both against enemies and as a tool for traversing past obstacles: Totec can throw a spear into a wall to allow Lara to get up to an otherwise unreachable ledge. Lara, on the other hand, has a grapple hook to make it across seemingly impossible gaps, and Totec often must place his life in her hands with assisted jumps. Other co-op tricks include Lara's ability to jump on top of Totec's shield when he holds it above his head and Totec's tightrope walk across a gap using Lara's grapple rope.
You'll also encounter a number of tombs to explore. These indoor caverns offer up the chance to take a break from the frenetic combat to do some old-fashioned puzzle solving. Think booby traps that can only be overcome with two people working as a team, and you've got a good idea for how these puzzles will function. This co-op system will work both online and locally, featuring a drop-in system for adding a second player on the fly. The whole game can be played using a single player, as well.
Contrasting the old-school game design are Guardian of Light's modern visuals. Vegetation sways in the wind and reacts when you walk through it, while the environments have a nice sense of scale when the camera shows you at the top of a platforming sequence that's meant to spiral downward toward a point far below. Those looks, along with the co-op stuff, are some of the big points working in the game's favor. At this point, the big question remaining is how the game plays. Expect to see some hands-on coverage leading up to Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light's summer release.