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First look at Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

So, let’s get this part out of the way: yes, Lara Croft’s appearing in a new game, and no, it’s not part of the Tomb Raider franchise. Why shed such an established brand? According to developer Crystal Dynamics, it’s because the download-only Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is going to be a completely different experience than what fans are used to, and the title’s intended to reflect that.

“Different” barely begins to cover it; in stark contrast to her earlier adventures – some of which helped pioneer third-person platforming as we know it – LCGL is a top-down, isometric adventure that uses a fixed camera and focuses alternately on puzzle-solving and Gauntlet-style combat against hordes of enemies. The biggest change, however, is that Lara actually has someone along to help her this time. A dude someone.

Lara’s new sidekick is Totec, an ancient Mayan warrior (and the titular Guardian of Light) who’s awakened from centuries-long hibernation when a squad of mercenaries tries to steal from Lara, only to disturb an ancient artifact and accidentally awaken an evil sorcerer named Xolotl. Xolotl then revives his ancient army of undead horrors, forcing Lara and Totec to work together in order to stop him.

Given Totec’s background, you can probably already guess that he and Lara don’t play exactly the same way. Both will eventually be able to use a variety of guns, and both can lay down an unlimited supply of remotely detonated bombs. But otherwise, the two have completely different – but complementary – abilities, and the entire game is designed around two players using them together in symbiotic co-op.

Lara looks to be a little faster and more agile than Totec, and can use a grapple line to climb up to, or swing from, certain objects. She can also attach that grapple line to Totec, to pull him up walls or enable him to rappel down them. Meanwhile, Totec has a shield he can use to block projectiles, or to turn himself into a platform for Lara to stand on/jump from. More importantly, his default weapon is an infinite supply of spears, which stick out of walls and can be used as jumping platforms by Lara, and he can also tiptoe across her grapple line if it’s hooked onto something, say, on the other side of a spiked pit.

Above: And then, while he’s on his way across, he can lay down some spears for her to use as stepping stones… so long as she doesn’t retract the line

The symbiosis is meant to foster trust between players, and to get them to think creatively about the puzzles with which they’re confronted. In one example that was shown to us, Lara and Totec were confronted with a tall column, covered in spikes, which had an important item at the top. Stepping on a switch caused the spikes to retract, but there was no other obvious way to get on top. The solution, as it turned out, was to have Totec backpedal up a staircase to throw spears into the column at different heights. He then activated the pressure switch, making it safe for Lara to climb up to the treasure.

After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.