One Word: Stunning.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (out now, $6.99) sees the iconic adventuress making the leap from Xbox Live and PSN to debut on iOS. Fans will no doubt be delighted to find Ms. Croft arrives looking as lovely as ever and boasting the same assets that made the recent pseudo-reboot of the Tomb Raider series such a resounding critical success. Square Enix play an absolute blinder with this über-polished port, delivering more both-guns-blazing action, puzzle-solving and thoroughly captivating exploration than you can shake a (pointy) stick at.
Story-wise Guardian of Light is pretty much standard fare for a Tomb Raider adventure: Lara unearths a mystical McGuffin (the Mirror of Smoke) in South America only to be relieved of it by a band of rival treasure hunters who inadvertently conjure up the killer demon, Xolotl, who lurks within. Ol’ Xolotl is, of course, hellbent on bringing about the destruction of mankind and, naturally, it’s up to our plucky heroine to put a stop to his nefarious plans. Not exactly scintillating stuff, but it’s still head and shoulders above some of the twaddle that passes for an iPhone game plot. And, to be honest, the focus here is more on all-out, arcade-y thrills than weaving a gripping yarn.
A commendably ambitious undertaking on Square’s part, this version of Guardian of Light features 10 of the original game’s 14 sprawling levels, the same snazzy, new isometric third-person perspective which gives a lovely panoramic view of painstakingly detailed environments, graphics, that while scaled-down this time around still have the ability take your breath away, and an intuitive dual-stick control scheme that allows for some fast and furious gunplay.
Each intricately designed level gives the player ample opportunity to give both their trigger finger and noggin a rigorous workout as they traverse the atmospheric likes of treacherous tombs and mist shrouded swamps whilst gunning down hordes of enemies and figuring out the best means of tackling the fiendish death-traps Xolotl has set around every turn for Lara. Throughout, Square expertly string together thrilling platforming sections, a series of increasingly challenging puzzles and visceral shoot ’em up sequences, while, as that wasn’t enough, also throw a ton of optional secondary objectives and side-quests into the mix.
Okay, it’s not all wall-to-wall fun; during certain sections which demand split-second timing – a frustrating dash down a booby-trapped hallway and leaping across a rapidly collapsing bridge spring to mind – I couldn’t help but miss the accuracy and precision afforded by a physical controller, while some of the more complex puzzles felt a bit overwrought and did involve a considerable amount of traipsing back and forth from A to B. That said, there was usually a thrilling dust-up with a demonic T-Rex or an over-sized arachnid just around the next corner to help take the sting out of these less enjoyable moments.
Much more difficult to overlook is the game’s flaky co-op mode. Now, this feature, which sees Lara joining forces with Totec (the titular Guardian of Light) as 2 players work together, should be a highlight, but sadly as a result of Game Center connection issues is a non-starter. It’s worth noting though that the bluetooth option works perfectly well, and I’ll most certainly play through the game again with a friend as teaming up to solve tricky puzzles and overcome hulking boss enemies is a blast.
Overall, while it’s by no means flawless, Guardian of Light remains a stunning achievement on Square’s part. Been seeking an action adventure that takes the humble dual-stick shooter to the next level?. Look no further.
iFanzine Verdict: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light epitomizes the quantum leap iPhone gaming took in 2010. This console-quality title’s thrilling tomb-raiding and kick-ass action can’t help but impress, while its masterful level design and multifaceted gameplay stake out exciting new territory on iOS. A must-have.