Posted: December 20
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is exemplary coop ingenuity.
Transplanting the Tomb Raider franchise onto an isometric shooter, its genius lies not within its clever puzzles or satisfying combat, but the lengths at which it has been designed from the ground up as a brilliant coop experience. It forces you to think with two players in mind instead of opting for the far simpler solution of just dropping another player in beside you, and this devotion makes for refreshingly unique puzzle designs and the means with which you navigate the world.
The focus on teamwork is in large part based on the different character abilities between archaeologist, Lara Croft, and the ancient Mayan warrior, Totec. Each has various gear and moves (from a grappling hook, to a shield that can be raised and jumped on) and it's in using them in tandem that you can manage to make your way through environments that one person couldn't. It inspires cooperation in ways that simply providing double the fire power doesn't, putting you in situations where each player has a specific role and no one feels the lesser for theirs.
It's a fairly radical departure for the series traditional gameplay hooks, but Guardian of Light still feels distinctly Tomb Raider. Though the perspective has changed and there's less of an emphasis on platforming, there are still plenty of supernatural monsters to kill and tombs to raid, with puzzles that are probably the best the series has ever seen. They revisit many of the same designs but in a way that's constantly layering on new challenges, requiring you continue expanding your perception of them even when on the surface they're born of the same basic template.
I don't doubt that it's entirely possible to play Guardian of Light as a solo adventure and have a good amount of fun with it, but to me that would be missing a huge portion of what makes it so enjoyable. There's just nothing quite like the sort of beautiful coop design presented with a game like this, with playing with friends already being generally more entertaining and something so tailor made to that playstyle elevating it to new heights. There's something really special to me about games that can serve as essentially bonding moments between friends and family, and ones as smart and polished as this are all too rare.