Sometimes, life just isn’t fair - even for a videogame. Lara’s been getting all the attention as of late, but arguably it’s all for the wrong reasons. It was at gamescom this year that Microsoft announced that Rise of the Tomb Raider will be a timed Xbox exclusive (plus, for a while it seemed as though it was an outright exclusive), bringing the reboot sequel to the centre of the gaming community. Yet while folks were sending angry tweets and probably burning copies of the original Tomb Raider, I was sitting in a small room in the press area playing, and loving, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris. Apparently, in all the hubbub, everyone has forgotten that there’s going to be more than one way to get your Croft fix over coming months - and I’m inclined to say that the Lara who’s getting all the attention won’t be the one everyone ends up loving.
Back in 2010 (yes, it’s really been that long) Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light proved to be a dark horse hit. With the larger Crystal Dynamics team still building up for the 2013 reboot and the series in a bit of a dire position, the game took the classic characters and setting to a new genre, that of a co-op action platform game. It seemed like an odd combination at first, but upon release it became quickly apparent that the team had really struck a chord with the gaming community. So now, after a surprisingly long hiatus - one can assume due to the reboot - the team at Crystal Dynamics are bringing the top-down Lara back with Temple of Osiris, and everything’s looking bigger and better.
In many ways, this new title is gunning for those who miss the old Lara. Classic Croft voice actress Keeley Hawes is back in action and as good as ever, plus, Temple of Osiris features a theme and story that any Lara Croft fan will recognise. Ancient Egyptian legend forms the backbone of the game’s story and provides a host of new, but pleasantly familiar, tombs to discover. This really does feel like proper Tomb Raider stuff, despite the title. It’s unlikely that the story will be a particularly great or important part of the experience, but playing the nostalgia card with a game like this is an excellent move. Plus, I’m happy for the story to take a backseat - it’s never been Lara’s strong point anyway - what I’d rather have is consistently excellent gameplay.
Based on a good 45 minutes with the game, Crystal Dynamics is going the right way about that. Four-player local and online co-op is the big new feature for Temple of Osiris and it’s sure to be a crucial selling point for many gamers. I formed a peppy gang alongside two other journalists and a developer and I had a great time. The game doesn’t just throw the players in together for the fun of it, gameplay is dependant upon all of the players working as a team and using their character’s abilities to help each other. Essentially, you’ve got two core classes: Lara and her tomb-raiding ‘friend’ Carter both use pistols as their standard weapons and can use a grappling hook to traverse the levels. Egyptian Gods Horus and Isis meanwhile, have a beam attack and a magic ability to lift platforms and the like - and yes, you can indeed play as Egyptian Gods.
After a rather messy opening few minutes while we all adjusted to our characters and their abilities/roles, we made our way into the tomb. Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris follows a simple one tomb at a time structure, with each one developing the puzzle complexity and enemy difficulty. So yes, puzzles are still here and still a crucial part of the game - you didn’t think you could have a Lara Croft game without some mildly challenging puzzles, did you? Of course, while the puzzles may be easy in theory, the real difficulty comes down to how well your team can organise itself. Surprisingly, our hodge-podge team was actually rather good at traversing the puzzles - although we did seem to have an affinity with killing each other by...’accident’.
While the puzzles provide moments of relative calm, combat is just completely bonkers - especially with a bunch of people who aren’t too sure what they’re actually doing. As well as the characters’ standard weapons, players can also pick up proper guns around the tombs, along with high-impact team-killable bombs. Those bombs proved to be a pretty hilarious part of our playthrough as combat became more about dodging each others’ explosives than actually killing the enemy creatures - which, by the way, are all beautifully designed. In fact, that’s something that can be said for the entire game. As the game will only be available on new-gen and PC, the visuals are greatly improved. Brighter, sharper and smoother gameplay fits in alongside more cinematic cutscenes - all made possible through a brand new engine.
So the game is looking and playing well already, despite still being over four months out from release. Some other neat changes have been made to the game, including a new loot system in which players can equip their characters with different rings and amulets found within the tombs and in post-game rewards. These essentially provide the heroes with stat boosts and gameplay changes, so players can choose rings that suit their style. Upgrades like elemental attacks make this system really interesting to play around with and fighting over loot is even more important than before. That’s right: fighting over the loot. Temple of Osiris doesn’t share out the treasure equally; what you pick up is what you win. Couple that with the team-kill bombs amongst other nasties and you can probably see how a simple tomb level can become a mad frenzy.
I came away from my session with Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris thoroughly impressed. With a serious lack of local and even online co-op games currently available on new-gen consoles, this could be the ideal time for a game with such wonderfully integrated co-op mechanics. In case you’re wondering, the game can be played with less than four players - even one if you’re in the right mood - but there’s no doubt that the game was meant to be played with three other buddies alongside you. So while young Lara steals the spotlight and makes all the headlines, it looks as though it could be down to good ol’ fashioned teacups and short-shorts Lara to keep fans truly happy, especially those on PS4. The game launches on December 9th as a download title for PS4, Xbox One and PC - based on what we’ve seen so far, this could be one of Lara’s best outings to date.