Impressions: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

Giant spiders. Why'd it have to be giant spiders?

Mind you, seeing Lara Croft gun down squealing, eight-legged monstrosities doesn't bring with it the tinge of regret that I've come to associate with her tendency to permanently cross off creatures from the endangered species list. Had Crystal Dynamics opted to switch out the spiders with tigers, there'd be enough fur coats left over to give everyone in the world a warm winter.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is heavy on the action, with territorial enemies swarming the eponymous explorer and a newfound partner, the Mayan warrior Totec, from all directions. Thankfully, the guy knows how to fire a gun and toss a spear -- though I pray he doesn't mix the two up when the situation gets out of hand. If you're playing the game with a co-op partner, either online or on couch, you'll have someone to yell at should that happen.

The game's isometric camera angle and twin-stick shooting mechanics bring to mind Assault Heroes (or Geometry Wars, at a basic level), but the pacing here is different. A more apt comparison -- that takes into account the lulls in action -- would be Left 4 Dead, especially when one player is tasked with manipulating a puzzle object while the other defends the rear.
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The quiet moments are reserved for exploration and puzzle solving, and it's where Guardian of Light's cooperative element expands beyond "let's shoot stuff together." Totec's spears can become lodged in walls, allowing Lara to use them as makeshift steps toward higher ground, and Lara can still use the grappling hook, which has been the source of several inspired puzzles since Tomb Raider: Legend first introduced it. Once the leading lady has swung across a chasm, she can toss the rope back to Totec and pull him up on the other side. Or carelessly drop him into the abyss because, dude, that's totally hilarious -- did you see what I just did to you?

This social aspect is brand new to the Tomb Raider franchise and seems to justify Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light's place outside of what Crystal Dynamics calls the "pillar" games (like 2008's Tomb Raider: Underworld). Co-operative puzzle solving holds plenty of appeal, especially when it's wrapped in some of Tomb Raider's best qualities: the stirring orchestral soundtrack, the atmospheric environments and the satisfaction of watching a long-forgotten civilization lurch back to life.

Crystal Dynamics expects the main story -- which once again features English actress Keeley Hawes in the role of Lara Croft -- to last around 6 hours. It's scheduled to launch on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and PC this summer for $15.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.