In a time when big studios are going under at the first sign of a AAA flop (Realtime Worlds, Free Radical Design), it’s little wonder that publishers and developers alike are looking to explore the downloadable space. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light may be considered a mere spin-off, but even from just an hour or so’s play it’s clear it reinvigorates a faltering franchise.
Its environments – viewed from an isometric perspective* – are beautifully lit and really well-crafted, while the combat (using the right stick) is more enjoyable than in any previous title Ms. Croft has starred in. And happily, the single-player game doesn’t feel like a stripped-down version of the co-operative mode, but instead a different and equally enjoyable experience in its own right. I’ve only seen videos of the game being played with a partner, but it seems puzzles are redesigned to make the most of the presence of a second player. In other words, it’s two games in one.
Or rather three, because there are a number of different challenges per level that add substantial replay value. The first level took me 22 minutes to complete; there’s a reward for finishing it under six. So there’s an element of speedrunning involved, too.
I’d like to see more franchises explore this kind of idea, and take a fresh look at an existing digital world. Game-makers often look at ways of expanding their universe through comics, novels and even films, so why not a downloadable game with a smaller budget? It’s the ideal way of keeping a franchise in the spotlight while perhaps shedding new light on bit-part characters and side-stories. Hopefully, Lara’s latest adventure will be the success it clearly deserves to be, so that more publishers consider investing in intriguing side projects such as this.
(*I’m reliably informed that this is actually the correct term, despite what I may have said on Twitter earlier.)