Thursday, July 5, 2012

#5: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light - You Got Your Twin Stick Shooter In My Tomb Raider!

I believe I picked up Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light during one of the major Steam sales (Summer Sale or Christmas Sale) for $3.74, but I can't be positive. The base price is $14.99, so that sounds about right.

That's some pretty cool box art even if you have no idea who the guy behind Lara is.

I began the game with zero prior knowledge and no idea of what to expect.

Okay, well, not entirely true. When I was much, much younger, I remember playing a training level for a Tomb Raider game on PS1. If it tells you anything, I do not recall finishing the training level. I do recall having a great deal of difficulty with the concept of character movement in water, and watching my brother struggle to get past a spike trap puzzle. The game seemed like a snore fest.

This is Tomb Raider 1 for the PS1, don't worry. It can be easy to forget how far graphics have come until you go back and look at "classics" sometimes.

I'll cut young me some slack because that was probably one of my first games with three axis of movement. My early gaming years were defined by a Super Nintendo, after all.

Since Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (a title in desperate need of an acronym) was so distant from the original Tomb Raider in time and development, I expected something different and hopefully better now that game developers have had time to figure out how to make decent 3D games. What I did not expect, however, was a complete game genre shift.

The game controls like a twin-stick shooter from an isometric perspective. For those of you at home who don't know what that means: you control your character's movement in any direction with the left control stick, and you determine what direction they fire their weapon with the right control stick. Thus, twin-stick shooter. Examples include Geometry Wars, Super Stardust HD, Dead Nation, Beat Hazard, and roughly half of all Indie games ever made. Just offer an indie developer a place to live and some sandwiches and they'll probably make a new one for you in two weeks.

The isometric perspective simply means the camera is tilted downward somewhat from an overhead perspective, giving depth to your surroundings while still giving you a view of everything. I only mention this because twin stick shooters tend to be directly overhead, not isometric.

So basically, I spent a few minutes wondering when the camera would pan back down to behind Lara's shoulder somewhere, since that's the type of game I thought I was playing.

Me: "Man, did the camera glitch and not zoom in to 3rd person perspective? What the heck. Do I need to restart the game?"

The game itself is basically a well-paced series of fights with enemies that appear out of thin air and simple co-op puzzles. Lara has a spear given to her by the Guardian of Light, Totec. While it's pretty mediocre as a weapon, up to three spears at a time will stick in a wall and allow Lara to jump on them. You'll end up using this trick a lot, so don't forget it. She can also lay a bomb and then detonate it remotely as well as having a grappling hook that can latch onto oddly specific surfaces. Between these three devices and the ability to push things, you have most of the puzzles in the game. Surprisingly, they stay fresh even toward the end.

One strange thing about LCGL is that dodge rolling is actually faster than running at all times. I'm guessing that, because gamers have been dodge rolling in games insisting that "It's faster than running!" since the beginning of time, they decided to just go with it and make it actually true. Who knows.

Up until this point in my description, I would have considered LCGL to be a fun game worthy of $3.74, but not much else. It's the addition of your partner in crime, Totec, that makes it memorable.

2000 year old tribal ripped guy who ends up brandishing chain guns, flamethrowers, and bombs. Sounds good to me.

Remember, this game is co-op. I didn't realize it until after Totec appeared at the very beginning of the game, then promptly handed me his spear and disappeared from relevance. Then I remembered there were two people on the box art, I checked the multiplayer menu, and it went from there. So I played the first stage single-player, then I started over and played through the entire game on co-op with a friend of mine.

I want to emphasize how much better this game is when played with a friend. In co-op mode, Totec maintains possession of his spear, and also has a shield that is entirely unique to him that can be used to block frontal attacks indefinitely. Lara, on the other hand, is the only one with a grappling hook.

Here's where it gets pretty awesome in my opinion: You can grapple hook to Totec and he can hold the line for you, and if you have a surface aside from Totec to shoot your grappling hook to then Totec can walk on  the grappling hook line like the anachronistic circus performer he is. This actually comes into play fairly often during the puzzles, which seem to change based on whether you are in single player or co-op (at least based off of my experience with the first area).

You can see here that Lara shot her grappling hook to the golden ring so that Totec could walk across the line and step on the circular switch. Then Lara is free to take advantage of the platform to her bottom left that will raise as a result. There's a lot of this "You can't progress unless your partner gets the puzzle" stuff a la Portal 2, so get on voice chat.

There are also numerous Indiana Jones style sequences in the game. From what I've understand, Lara Croft has always kind of been the video game equivalent of a female Indiana Jones anyway, so it is to be expected. For example:
Randomly igniting tiles! Tiles that are inexplicably hovering until you walk on them, at which point they fall after a second! Tried and true ways to build tension and sizzle gamers in lava.

Pictured here: us using teamwork to basically trivialize this "endless hail of arrows" puzzle. Instead of pushing the ball in front of us to block them, Totec raises his shield and advances while Lara creeps along behind him admiring his well-formed tush. 

The end of an epic "You're being chased by a rather large fish" level. You jump over rubble, dodge flaming arrows, the usual.

The game's villain is essentially a Disney villain. You'll never catch me I am the evil and world will be mine cliche junk. It's okay, it's not a story game anyway. It's a game about solving cool puzzles with a friend in a well-rendered world and holding your right joystick toward the bad guys and the left joystick away from them.

It's worth the cheap price tag. If it goes on sale again, pick it up with a friend and give it a go together.

In conclusion, here's a picture of a weird grappling hook bug we encountered (to their credit, the only bug we found):

Lara: "Wow Totec, do you know how grappling hooks work"
Totec: "No, I mean look at my score"

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