Before the gameplay even begins, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is already trying to change perceptions; it's the first game in the series' history to drop the Tomb Raider tag. It doesn't stop there either, as it's also the first Tomb Raider title to appear in the downloadable space and it's also an isometric platforming game. There is an element of risk in quite a lot of what the game has done, but risk can often lead to reward and that's certainly the case here.
The story is a bit on the light and fluffy side. Lara has been searching for a new artifact called the Mirror of Smoke, but when she finds it, she learns that she's been followed. Her would-be archieologist friends don't understand what they're getting into however, and awaken Xolotl, the keeper of darkness who had been trapped in the mirror. This also awakens Totec, the Guardian of Light and together, he and Lara set out to try and stop Xolotl before he destroys the world.
To do this, Lara will fight her way through numerous levels, all with their own unique feel. It's essentially a platforming game, although in some ways it also feels like a shoot 'em up. Throughout the game, Lara will unlock/find numerous weapons which she can use to kill countless legions of enemies and doing so couldn't be easier. Just point the right analog stick in the desired direction and hit the fire trigger. This might sound like it gets repetitive, but due to the range of weapons available this isn't the case. Lara can use anything from spears (in single-player), to her classic dual pistols and even chainguns and rocket launchers.
This is only one aspect of the game though, the others are minor elements of exploration and puzzle solving. The nature of the game limits the exploration to a certain degree. The levels are quite linear, which renders Lara's map rather redundant, but there are still plenty of hidden areas to find. And it's generally in these hidden areas that the puzzle solving comes into play, although there are some main levels which are dedicated to this as well. They will generally revolve around figuring out how to get from point a to point b, and will more often than not require the use of huge balls to sit on switches or block incoming arrows. Lara can also use Totec's spear to reach higher places, or she can use her grappling hook to swing around or absail. Early on the puzzles are quite simple, but the end ones can sometimes be quite challenging.
The single-player experience is only one part of the game though and while it's a fully competant mode, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is much more entertaining when played co-op. This allows one person to take control of Lara and one person to take control of Totec, who in the single-player campaign has a rather minor role. The main focus of the game remains the same, but how players progress changes. There is a real emphasis on team work, as Lara and Totec's abilities now complement each other. It's literally impossible to progress through some parts of the game without co-operation.
Lara can no longer use a spear to reach higher places, instead this relies on Totec. However, Totec can only throw spears, he cannot jump on them. He also has a shield, which can deflect enemy fire, and also incoming arrows - no more using large spheres to block them. Lara, now spearless, can use her grappling hook to greater effect. If she puts it across a ravine, Totec can use it as a tight-rope. She can also, when on higher or lower ground, fire it at Totec so that the other character can traverse a wall. There are also more advanced moves, such as putting a spear in the wall up high, standing on Totec's head (via his shield), and doing double jumps. It means that the various puzzles have slightly different ways to solve them and this gives the mode a lot merit.
From the perspective of presentation, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light can't really be faulted. The graphics are more than adequate and certain other elements, such as the explosions and destruction also shine. The sound design also deserves a mention here as things like, rolling a large spherical ball, somehow sound much better than they actually should. The only downside is perhaps the music, which didn't always felt like it suited the environment or the situation.
The game, when taken at face value, is a reasonable length. Players can probably complete it in around 4-5 hours. However, with the addition of the co-operative play, which is extremely good, it easily doubles that. And that hasn't even begun to talk about all of the mini-challenges the game presents. Whether the game challenges players to complete a level in a certain time, get a certain amount of points or jump between platforms without touching the ground, actually completing all of them will take some doing.
Despite appearing as a downloadable title, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a breath of fresh air for the Tomb Raider franchise. It has very high production values and gameplay which fully complements it. With the addition of the co-operative campaign, it's not difficult to recommend this game to anyone who enjoys this genre or gaming as a whole.