There's something different about world-renowned video game tomb raider Lara Croft in her latest adventure, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. This downloadable side story to the Tomb Raider series draws the camera back to an isometric perspective, giving you a new view of Lara as she ventures into ancient ruins on a quest to retrieve an artifact. The artifact--known as the Mirror of Smoke--once imprisoned a very evil being named Xoxolt, and at some point, everything goes horribly wrong. Thanks to some fumbling mercenaries, Xoxolt breaks loose from his cage, but as it turns out, he wasn't the only one trapped. An ancient warrior named Totec, who was responsible for trapping Xoxolt inside the Mirror of Smoke, is also freed and joins Lara Croft to hunt down Xoxolt.
While Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light can be played in single-player mode, we spent our hands-on time in a cooperative mode where two players can assume the role of either Lara or Totec and work together to fend off hordes of enemies. The control setup is fairly straightforward: You use the left analog stick to move and the right analog stick to aim weapons. It's not unlike the control scheme found in most dual-stick shooters, only you still have to press a separate button to fire either Lara or Totec's weapon. Speaking of weapons, Lara and Totec have access to dual pistols, as well as a spear-and-shield combination at the start of the adventure, but as you progress through the game, there are opportunities to unlock additional weapons for both characters. These include assault rifles, flame throwers, and powerful grenade launchers. With the exception of the default items, all weapons have a fixed amount of ammunition, but ammo deposits seem to be plentiful.
That ammo comes in handy because much of the game's focus is on blasting through throngs of giant spiders and other nasty creatures--even more so when you consider that both players are in a race to get the most points. However, there's also a strong cooperative puzzle element. These aren't quite the in-depth affairs normally found in the traditional Tomb Raider games; you won't necessarily spend hours trying to take an ancient artifact to a hidden temple. Rather, they all seem to be self-contained, brain teasers that make extensive use of Lara and Totec's unique abilities when playing in the cooperative mode. One puzzle might require Totec to throw a series of spears into the wall, providing Lara with a makeshift ladder that she can use to scale and retrieve an extra bit of treasure. You might see slight variations of this where Totec creates the ladder, but Lara first has to jump onto and then off of Totec's shield to reach it. Other puzzles revolve around Lara's grappling hook. In some situations, Lara has to use her grapple hook to create a makeshift bridge for Totec, who can then walk across it.
Of course, many of those aforementioned puzzles are action based, but some are a bit more methodical. One of the early puzzles requires Totec and Lara to stand on two pressure pads, which cause the hands of a statue to move away from a wall, revealing an opening. When either character moves off the pad, the hands slam shut. We won't spoil how to solve this particular puzzle, but it does involve using another one of Lara and Totec's weapons: the remote bomb. In a different kind of puzzle--and one that's completely optional--Lara and Totec have to run across a series of pads with spikes that rise as you move from one pad to the next. The trick is to find a proper line so that you can make all the spikes rise without trapping yourself in a corner and getting impaled.
Whether it's blasting through enemies with an assortment of weapons or continually jumping to save your life as a bridge collapses from beneath your feet, there's no question that Guardian of Light is a more fast-paced and action-packed rendition of the Tomb Raider universe. The controls are simple and the puzzles seem to offer just the right amount of downtime from the action. Plus, the cooperative elements of the game create a fun dynamic where players are continually competing but also trying to work together in fun and interesting ways to solve puzzles. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is scheduled for release on Xbox Live, PC, and PlayStation Network this summer.