Lara and I have had a, how shall we say, tumultuous relationship over the years. I always loved her treasure hunting ways and how she thrived on getting one over other muscle crammed mercenaries, but how often did that actually happen?Â Predictably, she always managed to lead everyone else straight to the prize and there would always been some lame reason why she couldnâ€™t take it home with her and earn shed loads of money from it, which always left me feeling like it was all a complete waste of time. I loved the puzzle aspect and how together weâ€™d be making good lever pulling, boulder dodging, lava chasm jumping progress through the tombs then would stumble across a puzzle so devilish that only a happy accident would mean we could move on.Â I detested how she never seemed to jump in the direction I wanted after Iâ€™d spent hours exploring and getting to the exact point I needed to be, but always rather liked her over dramatic rag doll deaths. I got bored of her patronising posh voice dolling out advice and historical insights whilst her weapons were always a bit naff and often the storylines repetitively dragged on. I admired Lara for being a strong, sexy female lead character but the last few Tomb Raider titles in the series were so dull, it was getting harder and harder to keep forgiving her inconsistencies, her annoying traits and boring adventures.
So it was with some trepidation that I joined Ms Croft in the Aztec world of the Guardian of Light and discovered one of the best Lara games ever made. Lara is back! Sheâ€™s still useless at grabbing the treasure for herself but this time sheâ€™s not alone…
With some attractive and functional animated scenes giving us a speedy introduction, we learn that the artefact Lara has tracked down this time is the Mirror Of Smoke which was the eternal prison of evil god Xolotl, until some hairy brutes who were following her got their hands on it, accidently releasing him from his endless slumber. Also awakening from the mirrors spell is Totec, an ancient guardian of the mirror with a message of doom and gloom. If Xolotl isnâ€™t bound to the mirror by sunrise, he will destroy the world. What else can Lara do but join forces with Totec as the chase begins.
The co-op mode is excellent. Working together is the only way you will get through and each character is equipped to perfectly compliment the other. Play as Lara and your grappling hook can create a tightrope for Totec to zip across plus you can also save him from a fall of death, whilst his shield can protect you from arrows and enemy projectiles and can give you a boost up to high ledges. His spears can be chucked into the wall to also give you an extra helping hand and should either one of you fall in battle, you can instantly revive your partner with quick tap on â€˜Bâ€™ which comes in very useful during the latter stages as you come up against countless ugly undead guys in fury loincloths, a giant crawling eel-monster with huge teeth, crumbly staircases and pits (Lara has been taking dancing lessons or Pilates since her last outing as her foot extensions are beautiful whilst leaping) and not forgetting spikes – lots and lots of spikes.
Though the â€˜Tomb Raiderâ€™ element has been removed from the title, it still feels like very much like a Lara title with chambers full of traps and puzzles. There are big boulders to guide around mazes, trip switches, moving platforms and gaping chasms to cross and thatâ€™s just in the challenge rooms. Throughout the 14 levels, there are plenty of opportunities to unlock relics and artefacts that give Lara and Totec customisable weapon, defence, speed, bomb attributes and abilities. Charge up your relic meter by killing off loads of baddies without taking damage and let your super enhanced abilities fly. All the puzzles are superbly designed to be accomplished by two people and can only be overcome through working in partnership. Many a high five and the occasional whoop were let out in celebration as me and my partner logically conquered challenge after challenge.
Each level also has score and reward challenges to beat which include time trials and tasks that will unlock an impressive range of weapons that you can assign to the â€˜Dâ€™ button, allowing you to swap guns, flamethrowers and grenade launchers, amongst other things in the blink of an eye, keeping the action flowing and the bullets zooming. Using the â€˜Râ€™ stick you can aim and strafe whilst shooting away with right trigger. Being able to move and shoot in any direction from one spot in combination with the isometric view means you have more control during battles and can use a little strategy when working with your partner. Itâ€™s satisfying and thrilling without ever becoming a button mashing mess.
It feels like you get a lot of game for your points here. Choosing the medium difficulty setting and replaying some levels to get extra rewards took about 6 hours. Youâ€™ll have to wait until the end of September for online co-op but the single player mode is skilfully designed and just as addictive. The puzzles are tweaked so Lara can solve them herself and the pace works just as well. Whichever mode you choose first, all the weapons, relics and artefacts youâ€™ve come across carry over meaning completionists will get pleasure from several run throughs.
Seeing the back of Xolotlâ€™s head as he runs away after goading and insulting you at the start of most levels makes the game feel a bit longer than it is as you get a sense that it could never end and in a way, I didnâ€™t want it to. There are some repetitive ideas, the story line is basic, as are the vocal performances and some of the battles perhaps could have been just a little more spectacular or inventive to give it the wow factor (a big fat gun and moving around a lot will easily get you though most of them) but itâ€™s immense fun with lavish attention to detail and an atmospheric orchestral score. The scale of exploration weâ€™re used to from a â€˜Tomb Raiderâ€™ title is missing, but this isnâ€™t a â€˜Tomb Raiderâ€™ title and actually the chance to work fully cooperatively with the freedom to do great puzzles in any order you want is present for a large proportion of the game. I believe fans of the series will find this is an exciting and enjoyable surprise and will be happily welcoming Lara into their living rooms once more, even if she does come with a musty ole guardian. Feisty, fighting, finders-keepers fun!