Game Reviews

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

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Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

It’s been over a month since - with all the graceful precision of a vintage Lara Croft leap - the OnLive service landed on the Android Market, and the jury is still out on many aspects of the cloud-based service.

While the compressed video-streaming technology gives all games a slightly blurred, washed out look that could put off true HD fiends, the broad range of cracking titles available means it remains an irresistible prospect for Android owners wanting to play console games on their mobiles or tablets.

With games like 2010’s Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light also being tweaked to play with a touchscreen virtual controller, we decided this was a great opportunity to reconsider the oddest Tomb Raider entry to date and put OnLive through its Android paces in the process.

Of spikes and loin-clothed men

In case you missed Guardian of Light first time around, which - being as it was on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, iPhone, and iPad - is quite a feat, the game represents a dramatic shift away from the over-the-shoulder 3D platforming Lara grew up on.

Repurposing the raiding of tombs into an isometric aesthetic more suited to twin-stick shooters is a bold move that, while disorienting to hardened Croftians, both streamlines and energises the act of raiding tombs.

The frantic gunplay, sumptuously designed levels to explore (all with an HD-sharpened, Diablo dungeon feel), and beautifully animated mini-monsters to blast with an arsenal of guns (from dual-wield machine pistols to a pointy new spear for skewering and creating makeshift handholds) all make Guardian of Light a dazzling spectacle.

Unless you can persuade a friend to join your adventure, mind, don’t expect to enjoy the much vaunted co-op campaign (where you work in tandem with Totec, Lara’s spear-throwing, 2,000 year-old, Mayan pal) - as the game’s servers were deserted whenever we checked.

Flawed jewel

Put simply, Guardian of Light looks and plays like a 'gamer’s game'. It’s relentlessly entertaining, filled with taxing and tactile physics puzzles (lots of rolling giant balls onto pressure pads), and blessed with a triple-A layer of graphical and auditory gloss befitting the licence.

The OnLive incarnation, however, veers from greatness to calamity depending on whether you use real or virtual controller. The app’s default setup both clutters your screen with buttons (especially on handsets, where they obscure a lot of the action) and places them in some strange, somewhat obscure locations.

If you’re platforming and shooting at the same time, for example, you’ll end up playing finger Twister as you wrestle to move with one virtual joypad on the left, shoot with another on the middle right, and tap the 'crouch' or 'jump' buttons squarely below by tucking a digit under your thumb.

It's possible to adjust the controls, but then you’ll be hit by the realisation that none of controls are responsive enough for the twitch-shooting and precision platforming Lara demands. The virtual joysticks in particular frequently manage to stop working when you need them most.

Playing the iOS port from last year for comparison, with its sharp visuals and context-sensitive controls, only serves to highlight just how unrefined OnLive’s approach is for the game.

The Last Revelation

If you’ve got a Honeycomb-blessed tablet, plugging in a USB pad - or splashing out on OnLive’s Unviersal Wireless Controller - will solve these touchscreen control woes in a flash.

But, while Guardian of Light remains a scintillating platformer/shooter hybrid that’s not aged a jot since 2010, OnLive’s strangely configured and painfully unresponsive virtual control system makes it nearly impossible to recommend to smartphone owners.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

Guardian of Light still shines as one of Lara’s brightest outings, but OnLive’s crippling virtual controls mean only tablet owners will see this gaming jewel truly sparkle