It's quite remarkable that Crystal Dynamics has been able to create a game that feels designed for solo play just as much as it does for co-op. On my first run through the studio's download-only Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, the mixture of combat, puzzles and platforming seemed built around playing alone - yet as soon as I played through the same levels with a friend, it was hard to imagine how the game had worked as a single-player experience. This is just one of the reasons why Guardian of Light is one of the most expertly-crafted downloadable titles released this year.
Played from a fairly old-school distant third-person viewpoint, Guardian of Light looks completely different to every Tomb Raider game that's gone before it. The 14 chapters here are large, sprawling environments with many areas to explore, all viewed from an isometric perspective. They look great too, as do the many enemies you'll come across over the course of the decently sized adventure. It's undoubtedly one of the most visually impressive downloadable titles on the market.
Controls aren't your usual Tomb Raider fare either, with the left stick handling movement and the right aiming, similar to how retro shooters like Geometry Wars work. Holding the right shoulder button will cause Lara to fire or throw her weapon, and the left stick will then make her strafe. Movement speed here is adequate to dodge enemy fire (a roll move helps out too), but Lara doesn't move around at a stupidly fast pace.
Weapons come in all shapes and sizes, but it's only the default pistol and spears that are unlimited. The other tools in your arsenal, which includes machine guns and a flamethrower, rely on an ammunition meter, replenished by picking up items scattered around the environment and dropped by defeated enemies. Lara can also plant bombs and detonate them from a safe distance; these are unlimited, and ideal for taking out large groups of small enemies like, but there's a small recharge period to stop you abusing their explosive power.
When playing alone the puzzles are cleverly designed, often making use of Lara's grappling hook and her ability to stand on spears that’s she’s hurled into walls, but it's when you play with a friend that things really get interesting. A second player steps into the shoes of Totec, an ancient Amazonian warrior who is woken by an army of men trying to get their hands on (shock, horror!) cursed treasure. Rather than simply being a re-skinned Lara, Totec has his own set of skills that help to make Guardian of Light one of the best co-op experiences around.