Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light Review

Seemingly out of nowhere, the first lady of gaming decided to make a surprise visit on the iOS platform. That’s right, Lara Croft from the hit-n-miss Tomb Raider franchise is here. As a spin-off from the Tomb Raider universe, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a downloadable title that originally graced traditional consoles earlier this year. We completely co-sign the critical consensus that the game was stellar, but in translation to the iOS platform, we were curious to learn if the experience completely translates over.

Unlike all of the past Tomb Raider games, Guardian of Light is not played from an over-the-should perspective. This game uses a fixed isometric camera that’s very similar to dungeon crawlers like Diablo or Dungeon Keeper. It may seem weird, but it works very well. Lara Croft is known for exploring ancient ruins and mythical environments, and looking down on the world provides a broader view of her world.

Speaking of environments, the reason you’re exploring them here is because of a typical battle between good and evil. In a nutshell, Lara stumbled upon an ancient mirror that housed a powerful evil entity known as Xoloti. Cue a series of unfortunate events and Xoloti shakes lose putting all civilization in danger. That’s original!

Small bullets don’t hurt big monsters.

Guardian of Light is a very well-designed game. While this iOS version lacks four levels from the original game, the 10 that are included are expansive and full of monsters, relics, challenges and other interesting surprises to keep you on your toes. All levels have primary objectives required to complete them, and supplemental tasks to capture relics, hit certain point totals, or complete hard platforming sequences add extra depth.

What made the console version such a joy to play were the precise controls that made the tricky platforming and action sequences feel fair. When console games are ported to iOS chock full of virtual buttons and control sticks, it can make for some frustrating times. Guardian of Light is no exception.

Moving and shooting is executed well enough with virtual control sticks. It’s not perfect, but it’s responsive and serviceable. It’s the jumping around perilous ledges and platforms, especially in the later levels, that’ll cause cheap death after cheap death. Specialized moves like dodging, rappelling, and moving boulders around are all triggered from on screen buttons.

Hope you’ve been lifting weights, Lara.

The cooperative experience in Guardian of Light appears to be a work in progress. Despite our best efforts, we could not successfully connect to another player online using Game Center’s automatic matchmaking. Trying to play local cooperative games was slightly more successful, but games tended to time-out or outright crash in the middle of our romps. Given that some of these levels take anywhere from 30-45 minutes to get through, the connection problems across the board are a huge concern. It’s a shame that arguably best feature of this game is so broken right now, because two player run-throughs offer adjusted level layouts encouraging teamwork.

Another area that’s a huge disappointment for us is a wholly inconsistent effort on the presentation end of things. Don’t get us wrong, porting over an Xbox 360/PS3 game to iOS can’t be an easy feat, but the sheen is not here. For starters, the low resolution and muddy nature of the visuals undermine the usually steady frame rate. Images are blurry, text is very hard to read, and there is a tangible smallness to everything, even on the sharp iPhone 4. Abrupt stoppages on sound effects and music tarnish the beautiful audio package we remembered, too. A simple restart brings things back to normal, but the current execution on that aspect of the port is unacceptable.

Underneath all the nagging problems here, Guardian of Light is a hell of a game. Playing any console game retrofitted for a touch screen will inevitably be a little painful, but getting through this amazing game is worth the trouble. Hats off to Square Enix for aggressively putting their biggest brands on the iOS platform. Let’s just hope the bugs get fixed quickly and future ports contain a bit more attention to detail.

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