Some places are best left unexplored.Edit
It didn't have the words "tomb" or "raider" in the title, but Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was the best Tomb Raider game in a long time when it arrived on consoles and PC earlier this year. It was a very different adventure for Lara. She was still spelunking for treasure, but Guardian of Light found her playing cooperatively with a partner, introduced fun new arcade features, and gave players a new perspective on the iconic British action heroine.
Now Guardian of Light has arrived on iPad and I am sorry to report it's a much less impressive package. It doesn't look as nice, doesn't run as well when playing cooperatively, and is simply awkward to play. The reality is that not every game makes sense on an iPad, and this is one of them. It uses the dreaded onscreen control stick and button scheme -- a generally miserable attempt to get console games working on a touch screen that I wish developers would abandon altogether.
The story in Guardian of Light is mere fluff designed as an excuse for Lara to run into traps and monsters. She uncovers an ancient mirror in South America, an evil demon is released, and The Guardian of Light, Totec, wakes up to help Lara save humanity. Here on the iPad, the animated cut scenes have been reduced to still comic book panes. Story and dialogue are two of the weakest parts of this game. Any time a giant monster or trap appears Lara offers up a "one liner," but they are entirely unimaginative and always made me cringe. It's also pretty ridiculous to watch Totec, who is supposedly an Aztec deity, running around puncturing fools with an M-16. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is gorgeous on consoles and PC, but looks much more haggard here. Explosions pack less of a punch, character models show less detail, and when objects explode their fragments will float in midair. When playing cooperatively the game would stutter and spurt and our heroes would sometimes warp from one side of a room to another.
Two players can go tomb raiding together locally via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection, or you can search for companions online. But when we were playing locally, one copy of the game would crash every time we encountered a cut scene.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light does pack an impressive amount of content and offers an exciting new take on the Tomb Raider franchise. There are 10 lengthy levels, all of which can be played by yourself or with a partner. The puzzles have been cleverly designed to require the particular talents of both Lara and Totec. Lara has a grappling hook she can extend that Totec can then walk across like a tight rope. Or Totec can throw his spear into a wall for Lara to jump to. You encounter puzzles, start experimenting and trying different approaches, and then you eventually solve it -- together.
Over the course of the game the puzzles develop from simple one-step exercises to elaborate conundrums and you'll find that two heads really are better than one. Of course, a disadvantage to the iPad version is that if you're playing online you can't communicate with your partner.
Impressively, Guardian of Light adjusts its puzzles to accommodate both single-player and cooperative games. The game doesn't give you an AI partner when playing alone -- instead, you'll encounter slightly tweaked versions of puzzles that are possible to solve on your own. Since the single-player and cooperative games differ significantly, drop-in drop-out play isn't possible. All of your found equipment and treasure carries over from single- to multiplayer games, though.There are loads of weapons to find and you can customize your character (Lara or Totec) with four at a time. Guardian of Light is sort of a dual-stick shooter that has you running around with the left stick and aiming with the right. It's fun to experiment with the many weapons but these onscreen virtual control sticks are just unbearable.
Fitting for an arcade game, Guardian of Light is about racking up high scores and enjoying some friendly competition with a partner. Finding treasure and killing enemies earns you points and you can compare scores with everyone on the worldwide leaderboards. You may find yourself good naturedly trying to grab gems before your buddy does or stealing their kills in order to boost your own score.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a great adventure on consoles and PC but it just doesn't translate to the iPad well. It's got a great new look, clever puzzles, and loads of fun stuff to collect, but the onscreen controls are clumsy and the game doesn't run smoothly when playing cooperatively. Instead of trying to shoehorn console games onto the iPad developers should be taking advantage of its particular touch screen possibilities.