Crystal Dynamics' Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light contains many firsts: It will be the first outing for the iconic adventurer that lacks the Tomb Raider moniker; it's also the studio's first console digital download release, and its first project since Square Enix acquired it last year.
Studio GM Darrell Gallagher explained to Gamasutra the reasoning behind the title shift, and said that Crystal Dynamics isn't re-branding Lara with this game so much as branching the franchise -- while remaining, so far, within a consistent universe for the heroine.
Guardian of Light, as a downloadable game, is an ideal way to fill fans in on the franchise while they await the next major episode in the Tomb Raider series, following the conclusion of what the team sees as a trilogy with the acclaimed Tomb Raider: Underworld.
And Gallagher tells us that the strategy of developing smaller, lighter downloadable adventures in between major console installments is not just one that Crystal Dynamics intends to continue pursuing -- implying that Guardian of Light will be not just a stand-alone, but its own mini-series -- but one he expects to see many major publishers adopt.
Digital content is an excellent way for publishers to bolster their franchises and provide welcoming points for new audiences, as well as sustenance for existing ones, as opposed to the normal two to three-year minimum gap that commonly occurs between full-length installments in popular franchises, he says.
He may be right; though major console editions of Sonic the Hedgehog have struggled somewhat to find their footing in the current generation, Sega recently revealed it's returning to the franchise's roots with a downloadable, episodic Sonic 4 intended to more closely resemble earlier incarnations, as a 2D sidescroller with updated 3D graphics.
Similarly, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, which Gamasutra got a chance to see behind closed doors at GDC earlier this month, has a little more of a modern-retro look and feel, as a top-down game in isometric 3D with simple controls.
It focuses on co-op play, as Lara's joined by Mayan warrior Toltec, and its emphasis is on environmental puzzle-solving more than action. Players will use the two characters' different abilities to solve puzzles that often have more than one possible solution. Notably, it hinges on co-op play either locally or online, although it can be played by a single person as well.
Some critics and fans have expressed concern at the Tomb Raider franchise's shift toward action elements at the expense of puzzle-solving elements, so the puzzle challenges of Guardian of Light appear aimed at addressing those fans.
The Crystal Dynamics team tells Gamasutra that despite its significantly different view angle and gameplay, Guardian of Light is built using the same engine used for Underworld, and some elements, like Lara's physicality or the lush in-game foliage, are immediately recognizable to the eye.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light launches this summer on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and PC.