Cooperative gameplay is an inherently funny thing. A slow teammate can drag the entire game down with his or her incompetence, while a squad humming on all cylinders feels more harmonic than a San Antonio Spurs pick-and-roll. For a co-op experience to truly shine, developers have to hit on a number of important fronts:
1) Allow players to help one another through smart mechanics.
2) Create a way for the strongest players to carry the rest of the team without being annoying.
3) For the sake of hilarity, allow players to screw with each other with no tangible consequences.
4) Give players the opportunity to play completely by himself or herself.
It’s a pleasure to report that, while a small level of polish needs to be added, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris manages to check each of these important boxes off, making for a joyous experience.
The sequel to 2010’s Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is set in a series of ancient Egyptian ruins (much to the joy of longstanding Tomb Raider fans). Players take the role of either Lara Croft, a rival archaeologist Carter, or magic-enhanced Egyptians Isis and Horus. Obviously those who choose to play through the campaign alone will play as Lara, albeit with some of the powers of Isis and Horus, as reworking every puzzle from scratch for single-player would remove some level of creativity. There’s an aura of coolness that envelops every second of Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, largely resulting from the mystique that surrounds ancient Egyptian mythology to this day. Because of the technology available to Crystal Dynamics, players are able to witness pieces of legend in real time, giving Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris a true level of mystique.
In terms of gameplay, think of Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris as a combination of Diablo III and a puzzle-platformer. During combat, layers have the ability to shoot enemies in standard top-down fare and drop bombs to blow up everything in a given area (I’m sure you were wondering when that point about screwing your friends over would come up). The two Egyptian characters are able to shoot a beam of light while the archaeologists fire their trusty pistols, showing that your character choice goes deeper than mere aesthetics. In fact, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris leans heavily on the individual abilities of each character, as players are forced to use all of the tools at their disposal to advance.
Never is this action-based puzzle solving more evident than in one section where a mini-boss is triggered by each player stepping on a pressure-switch. After the orb-like creature spawns, everyone will inevitably fire upon it like straight-up lunatics, only to discover that this technique simply doesn’t work. All of the crazy gun and energy fire masks the fact that each player has to hit the mini-boss’s weak spot in a specific order. This small sequence is a testament to the creativity the development team; Crystal Dynamics understood that the wave of chaos resulting from years of button-mashing through boss battles would mask the true solution to this puzzle. Little tidbits of creative, but not obtuse or obnoxious, puzzle-solving are littered throughout Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris. At any given time, players might have to discern that a given ledge can only be climbed with the Egyptians’ orb shields functioning as steps, or that the archaelogists’ grappling hooks are the only way across a pit of spikes. Puzzling is part of the action, rather than a separate entity that breaks up any sense of continuity.
Communication is paramount to the Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris experience. It’s just about impossible for a group of four players to make it through a single obstacle, let alone the entire campaign, in complete silence. In my demo, I found that my three teammates were almost perpetually confused by everything from the control scheme to the simplest environmental puzzles. I took the role of the vocal leader, letting everyone know where they should be positioning themselves. At first, this was a bit of a nuisance, but after a few minutes, I found myself enjoying the leadership role. Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is meant to be a vocal experience, so it was clear that I couldn’t get the full gist unless we began to talk. What’s staggering is that this could be both a frantic party game or an intensely serious couch co-op adventure (or an challenging single-player experience). There’s something for everyone here.
Because Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris comes out in December, which is strangely devoid of releases at this point, it has the chance to be the flagship title of 2014’s final month. Everything appears to be right on schedule in terms of development, as all this title appears to need is that final level of smoothing required before going gold. Whether one wants to play with friends over a few beers, speed-run through the campaign with sweaty palms, or tackle all challenges alone, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris should be a joy to undertake.