Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was a surprise hit for me. I had never been a huge Tomb Raider fan, but its focus on puzzles, asymmetric cooperative multiplayer, and replayability drew me in. It’s hard to believe that was already four years ago.
Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris (abbreviated as Lara Croft: TOO, which any word nerd will appreciate) picks up the torch from Guardian of Light, adding four-person multiplayer, new puzzle mechanics, and updated visuals. It has a great formula for success, but it slips a little in execution.
Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris (PC [reviewed], PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: December 9, 2014
Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit
Gameplay in the Lara Croft series is different from that in the main Tomb Raider games. Though both feature shooting, light puzzling, and treasure hunting, the former uses an isometric camera position as opposed to the latter’s standard third-person shooter viewpoint. As a result, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris‘s brand of shooting feels more like Geometry Wars‘ than Gears of War‘s.
The bird’s eye view also allows for more easily discernible puzzle elements. The problems presented and the tools available are clear, placing the focus on logic and eliminating most of the worry that a necessary lever or switch is hidden somewhere. There are a few clever puzzles to solve, but most are easily figured out and only require some finesse in execution.
The basic tools available to Lara are guns, bombs, torches, and a grappling hook. Taking the place of Totec’s spear from Guardian of Light is a magic staff that works as a sort of catch-all trigger for any environmental item with a particular rune marking. This can raise and lower platforms, slow down ticking time bombs, alter the rotational speed of gears, fire a damaging beam of light, and more. Alone, Lara can wield this in conjunction with most of her other gear, creating interesting combinations to use in Temple of Osiris‘s tombs.
Though Temple of Osiris can be completed solo, the real interesting stuff happens with at least one other player. In the cooperative mode, Lara and fellow archaeologist Carter have only torches and grappling hooks, while playable gods Isis and Horus have the staff and a shield bubble ability. Teams need to consist of at least one archaeologist and at least one god, but additional members can be of either type.
This alone would be enough to change up some basic gameplay, where trivial things like climbing up a wall need to be tackled differently, since Isis and Horus lack a grappling hook. Timing jumps along with staff usage to retract deadly spikes requires a bit of teamwork and communication.
However, the strongest point of the cooperative play is that the puzzles are updated in order to require each player to be doing something. Sometimes it is a simple change like requiring two pressure plates to be activated simultaneously instead of in sequence. Other times the solution to a particular puzzle room is entirely different with more people around.
Through all of the tombs, there are various challenges to hit, and they have tangible benefits. Many of the available weapons are locked behind achieving a high score, and several trinkets that confer stat bonuses are rewarded for completing tasks unique to a given tomb. As with Guardian of Light, there are still more red skulls to find, but this time they have Egyptian headdresses on so it still totally makes sense probably.
Certain pendants will grant bonuses to the entire team, but this buff will only be activated if the player holding the corresponding item maintains a high combo meter; collecting gems and killing enemies boosts the meter but taking any damage resets it back to zero. This combo meter also factors into going for a high score, as it can be the difference between a gem’s base value and four times that amount. In order to get the high score for a tomb, players will need to take as little damage as possible.
In multiplayer games, this can breed a competitive cooperation like that seen in recent Super Mario titles, where each player is working toward the goal of having the team reach the end of a tomb, but also wants to be the one on the team to have performed the best. With the right kind of player, this can lead to “accidentally” setting off bombs or dropping teammates onto spikes when there are precious gems nearby.
So far, it sounds like Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is a great successor to Guardian of Light. There are more players, more weapons, and better graphics. But Temple of Osiris‘s fatal flaw lies in its control issues. The most noticeable problem is an easily detectable input lag. At times, it felt like somewhere between 300 and 500 milliseconds between controller input and the corresponding on-screen action. It is less obvious when running in a single direction or shooting, but going from stationary to moving takes far too long. Given the tight quarters and constant direction changes necessary for some boss fights, the lack of responsiveness can be quite frustrating.
Other times, Lara and her cohorts do not behave consistently. Usually, walking to the end of a platform will result in the player dropping to a hanging position on the edge. Every so often, the characters will instead just drop to their deaths. There was another section where Lara even mentions needing to be careful about a particular wallrun. Dropping into spikes enough times caused me to think I must have been missing a switch somewhere. After a bit of searching and returning, I was able to succeed at the wallrun over the spikes, having no idea what I had done differently.
For those who only want to play through the levels and get to the end to advance the appropriately silly story, the penalties for taking damage or dying are not severe. Checkpoints are frequent and players get back into the action quickly. However, given the focus on perfect runs and high scores, it is especially irritating to be locked out of a challenge (and its corresponding item unlock) not at the fault of the player, but as a result of loose and unresponsive control.
Sadly, that colors the whole experience. Playing through Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, I was consistently impressed with the environments, weapons, and puzzle design, but I was still frowning and scowling. The action sections (and especially the boss fights) are unsatisfying, tainted by control that functions at a base level but requires the player to fight against it.
There are still great things to be found in the Temple of Osiris, and those who care less about scoring points or who have some good partners to team up with can still find some fun in it. For me, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is a lot like Horus’s staff: it is a treasure that can do great things, but it is cursed.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]