If you are anything like me, the search for the perfect co-op experience is an eternal one. The excitement and fun of playing alongside friends has never quite been rivaled by other modes in gaming for me. Sure, I’ve had some incredible single-player experiences. Being absorbed by a highly atmospheric game with well-crafted narrative and characters is wonderful. And the adrenaline rush of competitive multi-player is hard to beat. But when it comes down to it, my best experiences have been the ones I shared with my friends. For this reason, you can believe me when I say that Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is the co-op gamer’s wet dream.
The gameplay ultimately breaks down into two categories: Action and puzzle-solving. If you are playing the co-op mode (you can play solo as well), one player gets to play as the legendary Lara Croft and the other a skirt-bearing manly man named Totec. Each character has unique abilities which compliment each other in the process of solving the game’s many puzzles. In the case of Lara Croft, the action mainly revolves around the use of modern weaponry such as assault rifles, grenade launchers, and land mines. Totec has access to all of these in addition to a shield and spear which only he can use. See, Totec comes from an ancient time where your ability to learn how to use new tools is essential to your survival, so he had no problem figuring out how to aim and shoot an RPG. However, Lara is from modern times where we rely on extensive training just to use a cell phone, so she couldn’t acclimate herself to the whole spear/shield deal.
The action element of the gameplay is very reminiscent of past top-down perspective action-RPGs, often times my partner and I found ourselves drawing comparisons to Blizzard’s Diablo series and Balder’s Gate: Dark Alliance on the PS2. The game will often times throw hordes of enemies at you and a great deal of hopping, skipping, and blasting is involved in defeating them. There isn’t much in the way of strategy when it comes to overcoming the waves of enemies, most of the time it boiled down to clearing out all the little weak dudes in order to focus your sights on the big strong ones. Although Totec does have access to his trusty shield at all times, I tried playing the
That’s not to say there isn’t some level of coordination involved in any of the combat. In some cases, especially when up against bosses, it was important for one of us to kite the enemy (so yeah, I learned the term
The puzzle-solving is where the true brilliance of this game shines. Seriously, someone should give developer Crystal Dynamics an award for best puzzles in a game as they somehow managed to strike the perfect balance between fun and difficulty. There is no doubt that the experience they gained from making the Soul Reaver games is being applied here. The puzzles range from the immediately obvious to the 15 minute stumpers, often times ingeniously requiring the input of both players to solve. This is where the unique abilities of each character
Obviously, I’ve been wailing about how great a cooperative game this is. I should at this point mention that there is indeed a single-player mode which is altered in a way that makes the puzzles solvable by one person. However, as far as I could tell the process of making them solvable alone translated to being dumbed down. Totec doesn’t come into play anywhere except for scripted in-game cameo appearances or when he chimes in during cutscenes. The game is still highly enjoyable as a solo endeavor, but it should be duly noted that it’s not nearly as awesome an experience.