Lara Croft is one of video gaming's most revered and most debated protagonists. For years her misogynistic figure has been held up as evidence of the gaming world's inability to grow up. However, Crystal Dynamic's 2013 reboot changed all that. Similarly, a new tranche of spin-off Tomb Raider tales have breathed not only new life, but also new gameplay into one of the industry's most iconic heroines.
Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is a sequel to 2010’s Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Drawing inspiration from classic dungeon crawlers such as Diablo, you control Lara in third person with a top down camera, as she marauds her way through ancient Egyptians tombs. And maraud she does. Using bombs and weapons such as grenade launchers or assault rifles, Lara cuts a path of destruction through each level. Such a rampage isn't all that archaeological of Lara, but then the series has never really emphasised this woefully underdeveloped side of her character. This style of isometric gameplay puts new spin on an old design, and they've done it for good reason — it works.
It's hard to pin down exactly why the Temple of Osiris is such an engaging game to play. As a port to PC there are certainly some hurdles that Lara only barely manages to scramble over. However, despite this lack of polish it brings a sense of infectious fun that grows on you the more you play.
Part of this is because of some excellent game design. Temple of Osiris won’t win any accolades for its writing — you must search for missing pieces of the god Osiris to bring him back to Earth so he can battle his nemesis, Set, who has corrupted his temple — but the barely serviceable narrative at least ties together the game’s clever levels and gameplay.
This is most clearly evidenced by the way the game's progression is structured. After an initial prologue Lara spawns inside Osiris' temple itself, and from there must hunt down and explore tombs on the periphery. These tombs are themed, and have different gameplay threads running through each one. A temple to the river god might feature difficult water puzzles and problem solving, or a temple to a lesser god could just be a shoot-‘em-up, hack ‘n’ slash — Rambo style.
The genius of constructing the game in this way is that gamers can have varied and interesting experiences that are presented in a structured, but not wholly linear way. For this type of game letting players choose their own pace is a smart little piece of design, and Crystal Dynamics earns a high-five for its execution here.
Like Guardian of Light, Temple of Osiris has been designed with cooperative play foremost in mind. Going solo the game presents little challenge, and the poorly acted supporting characters are mercifully absent throughout much of it, but for a fuller appreciation of what the game can do cooperative play is highly recommended. Everything is more fun with friends and the Temple of Osiris is simply begging to be snapped up in a Steam sale and smashed out by a group of mates over a rainy weekend.
However, when the Egyptian dust settles the title is, after all, still a fairly basic RPG clone. The loot system is rudimentary, the introduction of collectable gems and items gives it an arcadey feel that clashes horribly with Lara's more sophisticated 2013 direction, and Temple of Osiris suffers from classic top-down horrors such as clunky cameras and rote combat. When a significant part of the game involves jumping from one hidden ledge to another, these kind of problems become frustrating really fast.
But strangely this ham-fisted style makes the game better, not worse. Crystal Dynamics clearly knew that there was no way they could reconcile this Lara with her more grown-up alter-ego so they didn't even try. Instead they have embraced Lara's cartoony caricature with guns akimbo — and the result is a game that is fun, engaging, imminently replayable and clever enough to do justice to Lara's long and chequered legacy.