Version tested Xbox 360
Squeezing an entire new Tomb Raider game into a downloadable nugget - admittedly, a rather chunky one, at just over 2GB - has necessarily involved some downsizing. Guardian of Light's opening cinematic is a series of stills with none of the acrobatic action-heroine antics or sharp delivery that we've come to expect from Crystal Dynamics' take on Lara Croft. Before you take your first steps into Guardian of Light's first temple, you wonder whether Tomb Raider without the pizazz can possibly be the same.
Guardian of Light is emphatically not the same, but that's no bad thing. It's a radical departure from every game in the series to date, both in its isometric 3D viewpoint and its arcade-style controls. And yet, it's still unmistakeably Tomb Raider: still a cerebral and exciting mix of puzzles and action. Once you get used to the change in perspective, you forget that things were ever otherwise.
Most significantly, the classic action-platforming structure has been reworked for two, resulting in one of the cleverest and most enjoyable co-operative games you'll ever have the pleasure of playing. It turns out there was a superb multiplayer game hidden in the Tomb Raider formula all along.
Guardian of Light's 14 levels are surprisingly vast, full of hidden areas and collectible gems, and they're mostly real, honest-to-goodness tombs: musty, vine-covered tombs, volcanic tombs with falling rock and bubbling magma, vertiginous spider-filled mazes, all full of traps and pressure plates and tantalisingly inaccessible ledges. They're unfailingly well-designed and easy to read; despite the fixed camera, it's always easy to tell whether or not you can make a jump. They take between 20 and 40 minutes to conquer on your first try, giving the campaign a good six to eight hours depending on your skills with firearms and lateral thinking.
You aim Lara's pistols with the right stick and shoot with the right trigger. She can strafe slowly with the left stick whilst shooting, but she can't dart about, Robotron-style. She can lay bombs and remotely detonate them, which you can use to manipulate the environment as well as blow up enemies, catapulting boulders over ledges or destroying arrow traps.
There's a surprisingly large variety of weapons - rifles, spears, flamethrowers, a grenade launcher, shotguns, the classic dual pistols, even a rocket launcher - and they have to be used strategically. The baddies range from speedy lizards to giant, bullet-absorbing ogres, spiders, skeletons and fire-spitting demons.
Challenge rooms, marked with red skulls, are standalone puzzles that are often terrifically inventive, particularly in co-op, and net you new weapons or ability-boosting artefacts. These trinkets modify the balance of play slightly, giving you more attack power in exchange for less potent bombs, or more speed for slightly thinner skin. Kill a lot of enemies without getting hit and you activate relics, which give your bullets special effects, like scattershot. There's actually more to Guardian of Light's combat than there has ever been in Tomb Raider.
In co-op, one of you takes control of Lara and the other of Totec, an ancient Amazonian warrior awakened at the start of the adventure by silly, greedy men with the usual cursed archaeological treasure. Totec has a shield that he can use to protect himself and Lara from arrow traps, or heft above his head to turn himself into a temporary platform. He can also throw spears into walls, which Lara can then balance upon to cross gaps or reach high ledges. Lara, meanwhile, has a grapple line that Totec can walk like a tightrope, and they can use each other anchors, helping each other up or down walls or across gaps.