You're Lara Croft. I'm not. You have a grappling hook. I don't. I'm some guy called Totec. I jump, needing you to catch me with the hook so I don't fall to my death. You let me fall.
Daniel Neuburger, creative director of Crystal Dynamics, showed me the new Lara Croft (don't call it Tomb Raider) game earlier this month and told me that he is trying to
make allow the pairs of people who play this game fight.
"Half of the fun is the game," he said. "Half of the fun is what happens between the players."
So, yes, Lara is supposed to catch Totec. Neuburger was supposed to save me from falling. But, hey, wasn't it fun when he just let me drop? Wouldn't it be fun if I cursed Neuburger out (I didn't; but I might do that to you if you were he.)
Recognize that Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a two-player game, a game of supposed cooperation. I can tell you that cooperating is fun. Neuburger and I had some quality time making our characters race from a monster called Chompy, a big ball of teeth eating the floor behind us as we raced away from it through a series of traps, seeking safer ground. I had to have Totec stand on switches so he could run ahead. He had to have Lara run across a tightrope and then pull me over. Exciting, pulse-pounding stuff, requiring the kind of cooperation that allows two people to escape a temple with a gold idol, without losing their bullwhip.
But Neuburger also wants it to all fall apart. He wants players to, sometimes, screw with each other. Because that, he told me, is an essential essence of cooperative play, the arguing. It is half the fun.
Last year I found that the squabbling induced by a four-player session of New Super Mario Bros. Wii interfered with the pure joy of running through a side-scrolling Mario game solo. Maybe four-player co-op imbalances things, tipping the ratio of friends-holding-friends-back out of proportion with the friends-helping-friends-go-further.
What worries me most, however, is that I don't yet know if Totec has a way of messing with Lara. The lady hero can let Totec drop instead of catching him, that grapple-assisted-leap intentionally designed to bring the jerk out of the Lara-controlling player. But what can Totec do to mess with Lara? I am determined to find out.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, a top-down action-shooting, trap-avoiding puzzle-room-solving game from development studio Crystal Dynamics, will be out this summer on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and for PC. It is not a canonical Tomb Raider game, and, having played parts of two levels of it, I believe it will be good.