Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider reboot was brilliant, but it wasn't really Tomb Raider, was it? Our heroine schizophrenically flipped between helpless and murderous at the drop of a cutscene, there was a distinct lack of tombs to raid (not to mention Keeley Hawes) and the whole gritty thing took itself far too seriously to take seriously. Grit. Grit happened.
Rise Of The Tomb Raider may have dominated the Gamescom headlines for all the wrong reasons, so thankfully the other Crystal Dynamics studio are quietly beavering away at a follow-up to Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light, which can never be accused of taking anything seriously. Lara Croft And The Temple Of Osiris may be a puzzly shooty platformy cooperative romp for four players, not a purebred action platformer like its predecessors, but it feels like the Tomb Raider titles of old.
Because, quite simply, it's bringing the fun back to the franchise. Along with a billion spike pits, hot pants, loads of priceless ancient Egyptian superweapons and massive arguments after griefing your mates and stealing their gems. It's ridiculous, frequently stupid and absolutely ruddy brilliant. Tell your butler to fetch your dual pistols and let's take a closer look.
If you never played Guardians Of Light -- we're not going to write the whole title from now on, because I'm not paid by wordcount -- then Matt's glowing review is ready for inspection. Too Long; Didn't Read: it's an isometric puzzle game crossed with a hectic twinstick shooter. Players need to work together to defeat enemies and help each other beat environmental traps, all while competing for gems and occasionally griefing each other for fun. Death isn't permanent, so why not? All-told, it was a great success, buoyed up by its enthusiastic storyline and rambunctious gameplay.
Plus, you know, Lara actually enjoyed her job as opposed to rebounding between horrifyingly efficient killing machine and insecure student every ten seconds.
Temple Of Osiris is very similar on a basic level, once again throwing players into an insane network of Egyptian tombs. She and fellow archaologist Carter have been cursed by the Gods and marked for death, prompting a rip-roaring adventure through spike traps and crocodile legions in order to piece together the scattered remains of a dead god, all while being pursued by undead guardians. The twinstick side of things is suitably frenetic as you swap between signature character weapons and a host of upgradeable guns, dropping remote-detonated bombs to wipe out entire groups or finish off stunned reptilian swordsmen.
However, Temple Of Osiris now allows two more players to join the fun, playing as Isis and Horus respectively. These two Egyptian gods bring a powerful beam weapon -- the staff of Isis -- to the party, plus two more sets of bombs and boomsticks. The net effect is exceptionally chaotic yet lends itself surprisingly well to tight communication and cooperation, especially since the new upgrade system allows you to imbue your weaponry with elemental effects. In my session, I equipped Horus with a talisman that lent ice magic to my staff, freezing dangerous foes so my comrades could finish them off.
And then blowing them up with explosives so I could steal the 1st place podium and the massive gem reward. We'll get to the griefing presently.
First, though, we need to talk about the drastically more important puzzling aspect. Temple Of Osiris now scales its puzzles to accommodate four players, increasing the complexity of tricks and traps while assigning players different toys and tools.
Lara and Carter bring straightforward gear to the proceedings. Their grappling ropes allow them to haul fellow players up to higher platforms, or help them get across gaps. They'll naturally then expect you to return the favour. Torches are also an essential part of any Tomb Raider's arsenal, used to set things on fire or act as an ad-hoc light source. It's a torch. What did you expect?
Meanwhile, Isis and Horus' staff is more than an Egyptian laser cannon. It allows the user to shield themselves, blocking incoming arrows or even acting as a stepping stone for allies to climb onto, and more importantly interact with glowing objects around the environments. Whether raising platforms out of the ground, delaying the fuse on ancient time bombs so Lara can roll it into position or toggling retractable spikes, it's the Swiss Army Knife of priceless ancient artefacts. Naturally Lara will grab it if played solo.
This diverse toolkit allows Crystal Dynamics to carefully design their puzzles with multiple solutions, while allowing players to cooperate to come to solutions on the fly. As Horus, I'd frequently use my shield to stand in front of arrow traps, working with Isis to get Lara and Carter close enough to the source to lay down a bomb. Perfectly timing staff movements allowed me to raise a bridge for just long enough to acquire a hidden red skull, netting all of us new bonuses. Various new varieties of balls(puzzle spheres with different effects) make a return, often bringing hordes of enemies into the arena to force players to assume guard duty and run interference. It plays a bit like a classic 2D Zelda game... with multiplayer... and a hundred thousand spiky deaths. None of which matter all that much since death just brings a point penalty.
Tomb Raider isn't the name of the game, but Tomb Raiding is the aim of the game. Gems are everywhere, falling out of enemy caches, buried under loose floor tiles and awarded for placing highly in the score rankings at the end of each level. This factors into a new economy that allows players to open chests in a level select hub, unlocking items and weapons to confer passive abilities and higher damage depending on their rarity, while also inflicting some balanced debuffs as a trade-off.
The RPG side of thigns has been massively expanded, which you can learn more about in our in-depth video interview (embedded above for your pleasure).
Instead, it's high time we discussed how competitive co-op (DICE would probably call it 'co-opetition' given half a chance) comes to the fore. Or in other words, griefing. Since high podium placement guarantees a huge payout and death only inflicts a score penalty, combat and puzzling can turn into a hilarious no-holds barred grudge matches at any time. "Oh sorry, Isis" I said, tongue firmly in cheek. "Looks like my bomb killed you by accident. And now I'm in first place." It didn't last, though, because later on Isis let go of the Staff's trigger prematurely, resulting in my precarious platform turning into a spiky pincushion. "Oops," said the Crystal Dynamics producer. "Accident." Yeah, right. But it's good-natured and hilarious pranking rather than malicious and aggravating, especially since everyone gets a reward and cooperation benefits everyone.
I suspect that its drop-in local co-op will become a bit of an office institution.
Factor in some high-octane chase sequences and precision platforming and you've got a Tomb Raider game that doesn't share the name, but definitely feels like gleeful action romp of the first degree. That's set in tombs. That you raid.
Rise Of The Tomb Raider may be a year away, and may have already driven you away, but Lara Croft And The Temple Of Osiris has you covered.