Monday, 16 December 2013

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #17: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Square Enix/Eidos Interactive/Crystal Dynamics (2010)

This game's clever co-operative puzzle-platforming is unmatched by anything else this generation.

The plot, in which Lara and Totec, the titular Guardian of Light, make their way through a booby-trapped temple to bring down a vengeful Aztec god, is unimportant. What matters to me is the way in which the players need to interact with each other in order to complete the quest.

Totec is equipped with a shield and a spear, which he can not only use to attack enemies and defend himself against them, but also help Lara traverse the environment. By throwing spears into wooden surfaces, Totec can effectively build bridges for his companion. He can also lift her up on his shield so she can reach higher ledges.

For her part, Lara can use her grapple as a tightrope for Totec or use it to abseil while he holds it steady. Both characters can also use their equipment to interact with the environment, by throwing spears at switches and using the grapple to move objects.

The moves are simple to learn, so the challenge comes from deducing when and how to deploy them across the game's fourteen levels. Alongside platforming staples such as timed runs and trap avoidance are ever-more-complex physical puzzles which require both players to work together in order to solve them.

The only game that I've played that's come close in terms of three-dimensional co-operative puzzling is Portal 2's charming multiplayer, but I prefer Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light because the characters have a tactile physicality that Portal 2's first person perspective does not afford its metal protagonists.

Being able to dangle a friend over a precipice or balance them above my head to help them reach a switch made me feel more like I was playing with my friend - rather than just on the same screen - than any other couch-co-op game this generation. I just don't derive the same satisfaction from dashing through a hail of gunfire to pick up a downed buddy that I do from working together to get an enormous ancient mechanism working.

Crystal Dynamics' custodianship of Tomb Raider has been characterised by good judgement. When the series' complex grapple puzzling reached its apex in the Beneath the Ashes DLC, they made the wise decision to retire it from the Tomb Raider series rather than lean on it until it broke.

But there were still some good puzzles left in that length of metal rope, even if they couldn't carry a full-scale release, and I'm so grateful Crystal Dynamics put the effort into crafting them into this small but perfectly formed adventure.

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