"Damn! Just missed," comes the shout. But missed what? A platform? A headshot? Nope. I was trying to explode my co-op buddy with a remote mine.
Welcome to a new breed of Tomb Raider – one that focuses on fun instead of sobriety, but leaves in all the basic elements that made the Tomb Raider series so great.
We played the co-op mode and it's clear the levels design all points to the interaction between you and your mate as being the main source of enjoyment. For instance, if you work together to reach a high platform with a health pack on it, both players receive health. Do it the selfish way and your mate will go wanting.
Above: "How will we get in there?" is the question you should be asking
This selfish option is also encouraged. If you want to play competitively, you can do. You'll still need to co-operate to succeed, but if you shoot more enemies, grab the best weapons and collect the most gems, you'll be higher on the score table.
There's also the prospect of sabotaging your friend's efforts. For instance, when Lara has to use her grapple line to save her new buddy Totec from a black abyss, most people will make the catch as he takes the leap of faith. But what will you do then? Help him straight up? Or wait until your ancient chum is near the top then release the line? The choice is yours - and it's hard to resist the latter.
Above: You caught me! Thank you so mu... wait, what are... aaaaargh!
The controls work well. It is a twin-stick shooter, but you'll still need to pull the right trigger to fire. You can also quick-select weapons (including a shotgun and a rather tasty flame thrower) by using the left bumper and the four face buttons. The game is set up for speed and ease of use, so whenever you find a new weapon, you're given the option to immediately map it to a face button. It's all very slick and intuitive.
Above: The flamethrower in full effect. Note Totec's shield deflection too
But while casuals will be able to get going easily, there's another reason more hardcore gamers will want to give the game a look - it positively haemorrhages achievements/trophies. While the final list is a week or so off submission, we saw rewards come flooding in while we played. 'Three birds, one stone', 'Leap of faith', 'Hole in one' and 'Beat a better mousetrap' were all won within a half hour of play. The last two refer to completing certain puzzles in the game in a specific way.
Above: Puzzles may have obvious solutions, but is there a secret here?
There are often several methods to reach the same outcome, and the shortest solution may not be the most beneficial. The idea of 'critical and non-critical play paths' was mentioned during the demo. The shortest route will give you everything you need to finish the game, but exploration will unveil alternative routes - sometimes leading you to special goals. "Find and defeat the giant demon lizard" was one such side objective we saw. What will you gain if you do that?
Above: An unlikely pair. Totec's not Lara's usual sort, either. Fnar
The game is still on track for an 'end of summer' release date via Xbox Live and PSN and you can help while away the short wait by watching the latest trailer here. After the rather samey Tomb Raider games of recent years, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light should prove to be a very welcome breath of fresh (musty) air.
18 May, 2010