Wednesday, July 20, 2011

-REVIEW-: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
still only good for buoyancy, and not much else

Title: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix/Eidos Interactive
Release/Price: $14.99 (via Steam)

If it ain’t broke, don’t throw any spears at it, it will break

tried and true, found and few

I have this very strong opinion that the most objective measure of a “good” game is how well that game replicates, simulates, or reiterates a phenomenon, event, or emotion that exists in real life. It’s the argument from need: if we can be believed to be sane and reasonable, than our needs are also sane and reasonable, ergo the fulfillment of those needs is also sane and reasonable, and they exist.  Good games fulfill these sane and reasonable needs. An example of this need may be control, which we often find in typical “god” games; another may be heroism, which we often find in ever-increasing abundance in the “manshooter” genre. Crystal Dynamics Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light fails to meet this criteria, but it does so in such a spectacular way that it causes me to question both my sanity and my reasonableness.
Girl, don't you touch that thang
risk vs reward

If the end of world has a starting point, it will most likely be in South America. That place is riddled with so many cursed objects, broken promises, vengeful spirits, dark gods, and defiled temples that it’s likely the world has already ended and we are simply living in some sort of twisted negiverse that exists solely in the imagination of a young Incan demigod in the prehistoric 11th century (which will then inevitably collapse upon itself during his subsequent ascension to godhood but will remain in a vestigial state until what moment he remembers this pure vision of the world and thereby uses it as a template to recreate the world thus leading us to this same exact moment in the world which we currently believe to exist.) So it’s puzzling to me why Lara Croft keeps ending up back here, knowing that every relic she wants to find either has some irreversible curse or promise of immediate death and eventual world destruction attached to it. Okay, so there’s some rationale for it, namely the “I love finding things! Woo!” and the “I must prove to everyone that I’m the greatest treasure hunter in the world! Woo!” but for me, these reasons make little to no sense in the face of the complete, world-ending oblivion that may possibly arise from her failure (AND success). It also fails to make for a good story in my eyes.
See, I TOLD you. Now he won't leave us alone until he gets his money
 What good that does come out of this kind of contrived, tired, sensationalistic, and prideful hedonism is an overabundance of content to work through. There are a lot of levels, a lot of puzzles, and a lot of enemies. Crystal Dynamics must also be commended on the amount of depth they’ve given each challenge too; inserting unlocks, upgrades, and all manner of self-evaluatory milestones in every possible nook and cranny. For those whose urges for supremacy are difficult to suppress, I would suggest taking this game with a grain of salt, lest you find yourself playing and replaying it in its entirety just to acquire these eschatologically meaningless tokens. On top of this is also a leaderboard for each stage, rounding out that trifecta of achievement, upgrade, and e-peen.
Of everything here, I must say that that's a pretty sweet headshot of her
 badonkadonkadonkadonka boom

I don’t know how many times I’ve said this by now (in various places and in various ways), but no amount of quality modeling, asset management, and level design will get you very far if your game doesn’t play well. LCGoL teeters precariously on the edge of my tolerance for crap gameplay vs. quality content. It’s not fair to come down unforgivingly on it because even the worst of its faults aren’t game-stopping bugs. But there are bugs. There are bugs so obvious and pronounced that it makes me wonder if the game was given at least a once-over before it was deemed shippable.  Lara clips through crumbling scenery, bosses traverse to certain areas that are inaccessible by players and get stuck there. This particular bug is mitigated by the fact that most bosses are not mandatory, but really, this kind of thing shouldn’t happen (that and defeating bosses gets you upgrades, which I WANT). Apart from bugs like these, there still remain some design choices that I take umbrage with.
Uh...Drake, is that you?
Considering my lead-in for this particular review, you might have assumed that this title does partially succeed in eliciting some kind of real-world satisfaction via its gameplay. I’m here to tell you that it both does and does not. It does due to its smart level design, pleasing visual feedback, and abundance of content. It does not because Lara controls like a tank, the weapons are unbalanced, and the puzzles are sophomoric and repetitive (intramurally and extramurally). Very little is new in this game and what little is new is presented so early in the game that it loses its novelty halfway through. More importantly, the old is often neutered of what made it classic: instead of agile, responsive isometric control, we get tank-Lara and an awkward forced-strafe-mode upon firing a weapon. Instead of tight, predictable jumping, we get fickle movement that is at once object-oriented while being uncontrollably free-form. And instead of well-tread, substantial RPG-like progression and combat, we get enemies with invisible life bars and arbitrary, completionist-driven, item-based upgrade (and primarily side-grade) paths.
I actually beat 90% of the game with just the spear. So there's another thing.
It’s different, to be sure, but it’s so scattered about that any kind of expectation or attempt to predict the itch this game will scratch before playing it will likely result in a sufficiently palpable sensation of disappointment.

judge not a book by its cover, except this one

To be fair, I did manage to have a “good” time while playing Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, but not a great one. For $15 bucks, you can do better. The puzzles in this game aren’t challenging, the achievements are bland and clumsy, and the gameplay vacillates between utter compliance and unrelenting recalcitrance. There will be moments when you feel like your money was well spent, but those flames will be quickly doused by a boss-bugging glitch or a missed jump. In the meantime, the embers will smolder slowly through the bland platform puzzling and repetitive combat scenarios as you rush from point to point scavenging for points, pickups, achievements, and the occasional cutscene.
Gratuitous booty shot! She really knows her audience.
 For fans of Lara Croft, this may be worth the time and cash. For those of us with no particular inclination towards bosomy treasure-hunting types afflicted with inferiority complexes and irrational motivations, it won’t be.
Not as exciting as it looks. Or as puzzling.