It was in 2010 when Crystal Dynamics launched a new spin-off series dedicated to Eidos/Square Enix's heroin, Lara Croft. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light - an isometric title based entirely on local and online co-op adventuring - landed on the old-gen consoles to a good reception from both gamers and critics alike, in the process proving to be a breath of fresh air for the long-running Tomb Raider series, with new modes and new game mechanics for players to explore.
Four years later - and perhaps in order to sweeten the bitter pill that Rise of the Tomb Raider will be a exclusive (of some kind) for Xbox - Crystal Dynamics has rolled out that same formula once again in a new chapter, Lara Croft and The Temple of Osiris, appearing on PC, Xbox One and PS4. Improving the original concept, but building on the foundations that characterised its successful predecessor, this new Lara Croft game proves to be a fun co-op experience.
Let's start with the narrative, which serves as a pleasant backdrop to our adventures in the game. In this new story, Lara Croft is travelling to Egypt in search of an ancient artifact with her old rival, treasure hunter Carter Bell. During their mission, the two archaeologists find themselves trapped in a pyramid, cursed by the evil god Seth, which in turn prevents them from leaving Egypt. However, two more Egyptian Gods, Isis and her son Horus, will help the two adventurers break free from the curse and prevent the evil Seth from destroying the world. To be able to defeat Seth, this quartet of adventurers and Gods must explore temples and face hordes of undead enemies in order to evoke Osiris, the only God able to combat the dark forces of Seth.
Compared to the previous chapter, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris keeps two important elements intact: the isometric point of view and an unusual co-op mode, one that Crystal Dynamics defines as "co-opetition". In addition to that the party includes four characters, and not the two we saw in the previous game. Each pair (Carter/Lara and Isis/Horus) are characterised by specific skills, which allows the game to be more dynamic. Both Carter and Lara can use several weapons and a grappling hook, and this allows both of them (and the other two characters as well) to move around the environments, using the metal cable to reach places otherwise out of reach or to activate certain mechanisms. On the other hand, we have Isis and Horus, who can generate bubbles of light, both to protect the two human adventurers - Lara and Carter - and to allow them to reach high places, in addition to launching powerful attacks via their magic wands, which also activate or unlock certain mechanisms.
Team work is undoubtedly the main ingredient of the whole experience. Although the title is fully playable as a single-player game, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris has been made with multiplayer in mind, and it's when you play with friends that the game really comes to life. That said, the best part of Crystal Dynamics' new project is the co-opetion mode, the friendly rivalry between co-op buddies. Most of the time we'll be cooperating in order to achieve a common goal, but characters also move around the environments in search of collectibles, gems and other rare items (including rings and weapons), which ultimately determines a final high score at the end of each area. Also, the items recovered remain the sole property of the person that has collected them (and therefore not shared with their teammates), an aspect that will lead to disputes between players as they search for better weapons and items.
Alongside this innovative co-opetion mode, another aspect we liked in Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is the occasional and optional puzzles that are in the game, in the form of puzzle dungeons. If you solve these puzzles you can unlock certain rare items and weapons, which in turn will improve your party. Unlike the game itself, which is pretty simple and linear most of time, these new areas adds an interesting increased level of challenge to the mix, and they'll keep you busy for several minutes. It's just a shame that these puzzle dungeons are so few in number, especially considering the excessive linearity that characterises the rest of the game.
To add a little depth to proceedings, there is also a day/night cycle and weather cycle, that, if we activate it in our hub (the titular Temple of Osiris), allows us to access to some secret areas that only unlock at certain times or in particular weather conditions; it's a new feature that offers increased replayability.
Even if we're satisfied by our experience with Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, there are a couple of elements that haven't convinced us at all. Most notably it feels too linear, and it's missing the kind of challenge that could have added additional longterm value. Connected to the excessive linearity there is a lot of repetition here (puzzle solving - kill enemies - kill the bosses - rinse and repeat), with our characters always going through the same motions in the different stages of the game. In our opinion this issue would have been resolved by adding a few more tricky puzzles into the mix.
By the end the quality of the graphics didn't entirely convince us either. Alongside the significant drops in frame-rate that affected the game repeatedly (we reviewed the PS4 version - however we've heard the PC version doesn't suffer in the same way), we also had a few problems clearly seeing the characters on screen, especially when we were in the thick of the action. We repeatedly lost sight of our characters, most frustratingly when we were engaged in combat, and even though each character is marked with different coloured circles - which are useful when differentiating them from each other - we still had trouble keeping track of them.
Putting aside our concerns for a moment, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris remains a largely solid title that offers several hours of fun, especially if you play it with some good friends. Mixing both cooperative and competitive elements, the new game from Crystal Dynamics is an interesting title, and while there's potential here for fun, perhaps it lacks the level of challenge needed to make it an essential purchase.