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 Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light  Part Of New Downloadable Strategy
Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light Part Of New Downloadable Strategy Exclusive
March 29, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander

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.

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That screenshot looks more like Torchlight.

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One of the things that Tomb Raider Legend did incredibly well was to offer a beautifully animated set of acrobatic moves that allowed the player to navigate each level and even fight enemies in a manner you just don't see in other games. It was the type of game that inspired you to do a swan dive off of a boulder into a roll just because you could and I have to admit that I had a lot of fun just getting from A to B.

The biggest disappointment for me with Underworld was that a lot of the acrobatic feel to the game was replaced with jerky controls and disappointing animation cycles (even if I did appreciate the many subtle additions, like Lara turning to the side as she runs down stairs or brushing plant leaves out of the way). Lara could do a lot more than before, but it wasn't as fun and a lot of the natural feel that the game had in Legend was lost.

My concern when I hear that Guardian of the Light is going to be in isometric 3D with focus on puzzle solving is that it seems to be downplaying all of the things that made the series successful in the past while putting a spotlight on one of the least popular features. I'm not saying that puzzles can't be fun, but in Tomb Raider, they usually just consist of putting a gear in the slot and turning a wheel.