When it launched back in 2010, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light seemed like an unexpected direction to take the Tomb Raider franchise. After three solid (albeit hardly revolutionary) entries on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, putting the gaming world?s favorite archaeologist in a isometric, co-op centric action-platformer was an odd choice, to say the least.
The odder thing, though, was how well it all worked. Guardian thrived on relatively simple game design, executed smartly and cleanly, to deliver an experience that called to mind the heyday of couch and arcade co-op while still feeling completely modern in every respect. It was, for me and many others, one of the biggest surprises of that year.
When Square Enix announced a Guardian of Light sequel, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, was on the way, it was just as much of a surprise?but for entirely different reasons. With the success of 2013?s more grounded Tomb Raider reboot, I figured Lara might?ve grown up too much to keep teaming up with ancient gods and solving pressure-plate puzzles. But after having now had two opportunities to go hands-on with Temple of Osiris, I?m glad she hasn?t.
In short, Osiris is shaping up to be everything I loved about Guardian, only grander and deeper in scope. The most immediately apparent change is the fact that the player count has been bumped from two to four. (Like the last game, however, puzzles and levels will adapt based on the number of players, so you?ll be able to complete the game by yourself, if you so choose.) Ms. Croft is joined by fellow archaeologist Carter Bell and the Egyptian gods Horus and Isis on her quest to solve the mysteries of the Temple of Osiris and defeat the evil Set. As you might expect, the larger cast really lets the game move into puzzles that require more thought and careful teamwork, but it also amps up my absolute favorite aspect of Guardian of Light: the competitive mayhem.
See, while you?re required to work together to clear obstacles and reach the end of each stage, you?re always simultaneously competing to be first among equals. The persistent score meters at the bottom of the screen never let your forget who?s killing the most enemies or collecting the most treasure, so there?s inevitably an underlying tension in every party. Do you keep it clean and let skill determine who comes out on top, or do you try to gain the upper hand by ?accidentally? detonating one of your bombs while your teammates are still in the blast radius?
There?s a delightfully devious metagame of trust that develops within the group, especially since you?re so often at the mercy of other players. When Lara or Carter uses their grappling hook to form a rope bridge so Horus or Isis can cross a spike pit, they?re just a slip of the finger away from sending their teammate to an early, pointy death. Of course, the constant back and forth of the puzzles means the shoe will be on the other foot soon enough, and past betrayals are not easily forgotten. By the end of both of my sessions, solving a puzzle was an entertaining mix of hesitant movements, sidelong glances, and nervous laughter. Despite the fact that I started out playing with strangers, after a few minutes, there was so much playful antagonism in the air that we might as well have been longtime friends. It?s that sort of electricity that brings out the best in local multiplayer, and Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris has it in droves.
In fact, there?s even greater incentive to mess with your friends thanks to the expanded loot system. Rather than a simple progression of weapons and upgrades, Osiris features a full-on inventory screen with various equipment slots for rings, amulets, and the like. Each artifact can have a stat boost or gameplay effect that applies to the entire team?say, ice bullets or an increased bomb radius?and, much like Diablo, there will be different rarities based on the quality of the buff. While they?ll drop during normal gameplay, you?ll also be able to earn them by spending gems to unlock chests at the end of each level?and, wouldn?t you know it, whoever?s got the highest score gets the most gems to spend.
That means if you want the best collection of gear, you?re either going to have to find a trustworthy group of teammates to play with or be willing to go all Lord of the Flies every now and again. If you don?t have quite the penchant for mischief that I do, don?t worry. Osiris has you covered, too. Lobby leaders will be able to kick difficult players at any time and limit who can join an online game, if they so choose.
But hey, when the griefing helps spice things up this much, who?d want to do that?