Top Ten of 2010 - Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

When Crystal Dynamics announced GoL as a downloadable, isometric instalment of their Tomb Raider series it left a lot of people highly dubious and somewhat alarmed. Closer inspection however proved that the name Tomb Raider was absent, and this was clearly going to be some kind of standalone experiment with no impact or connection to the mainline Tomb Raider saga.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light of course went on to become arguably the finest Tomb Raider game yet, with the possible exception of Anniversary.

Guardian of Light takes the form of a twin-stick shooter married to a heavy puzzler and collect-em-up. In doing so, Crystal Dynamics finally - maybe accidentally - found the perfect action template for its heroines' adventures. Combat (by far the weakest element of traditional Tomb Raiders) is no longer a confusion of wonky targeting and spastic camerawork. Teeming waves of enemies come from all sides, punctuated with thrilling but refreshingly fair boss fights. It's effortless, intense and enjoyable. It's Smash TV with puzzles.

Speaking of which, GoL doesn't scrimp on the brain requirements either. Puzzles range from perfunctory, immediately-obvious efforts to level-spanning head-scratchers. However, as with all the best game puzzles a little experimentation and logical thinking should get you through without the need to reach for GameFAQs. I got stuck a couple of times, went away and came back to look at things anew and almost immediately cracked it. It balances things just right, as bogging the player down too much at any point would be a serious flaw in such an energetic and fast-flowing game.

Replayability comes in the form of challenges. Score targets for the levels, collecting 'red skulls' hidden throughout the game, speed runs and finally individual goals regarding boss fights or dexterity. Weapons can be unlocked and enhanced with the powers of found artifacts, and Lara herself can benefit from the effects of certain items. A nice, albeit very light action-RPG element.

The game looks great. While it obviously lacks that profound sense of being in ancient, cavernous spaces that the Tomb Raider games evoke, a broad range of textures, lighting, physics and particle effects really bring the world to life. Control is smooth and intuitive and it's generous with autosaves. You can sit and play through the whole thing in a few hours, or nibble away at it piece by piece, either way suits.

Much grumbling was done about the game not releasing with a proposed co-op mode. This followed later and while I understand co-op seems to be some sort of essential make-or-break for contemporary gamers it really doesn't sway me one way or the other. I found GoL to be an enormously enjoyable single-player experience, and I would welcome many more instalments in this particular treatment of Lara Croft's adventures.

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