If you, gentle reader, are anything like me then you might spend an inordinate amount of time lamenting the near-extinction of couch co-op as a multiplayer component. All but gone are the days of having a few friends over and playing a game together on the same screen, in the same room, competitively or cooperatively. Thankfully, Crystal Dynamics hasn’t given up on couch co-op just yet, as evidenced by Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, their second twin-stick shooter/loot-em-up starring the legendary Tomb Raider herself.
I never played the original, thus if you’ve played Guardian of Light you’ll probably find much of this review familiar territory. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was a surprise hit for the developers when it released in 2010. It took the concept of a Tomb Raider game and turned into something entirely different, a twin-stick shooter that drew influence from games like Geometry Wars and the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance series. Crystal Dynamics is taking another run at the series, this time expanding the multiplayer component from two to four players, either locally or online, and adds a variety of new puzzles and items for players to tackle.
The game sees Lara delving into Egyptian mythology, in an attempt to stop loose god Set from accomplishing some nefarious scheme he’s cooked up. Lara enlists the help of rival explorer Carter Bell and (presumably because she’s extremely well connected) two actual, legit Egyptian gods Horus and Isis. To call the story trivial is being quite kind. I tried to follow it but none of what was happening during cutscenes made any sense to me and really only served to push players through to the next level or area. You and up three friends can pick any of the four player characters you want and start carving a path through a seemingly endless supply of enemies immediately. Each character has their own weapons and abilities that will allow you to progress through areas that would be impassable otherwise, and it means everyone gets something to do.
I’ve used the terminology a few times now, so for the uninitiated when I say “twin-stick shooter” in regards to this game, I mean control of the game comes largely from using the analogue sticks on your controller to move and aim. Here, left stick moves your character around and the right stick aims their weapon. You pull R2 to fire. It’s simple, surprisingly precise and it works a treat. If you have other weapons, you can switch between them using the D-pad. You’ll find weapons throughout the game like SMGs, shotguns, etc and the good news is that everyone (even the gods) can pick these weapons up and start mowing down enemies without fuss or preamble. I have to be honest, seeing Horus and Isis pick up machine guns and go full Rambo on a mob of skellies is easily one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen in a game all year, so way to scrape in under the wire on that one, Crystal Dynamics.
There are a wide variety of puzzles on offer here and playing on your own is actually quite a challenge. When on your own, the puzzles take some serious strategy and timing to solve. Unfortunately, the moment you add a second player, many of these puzzles suddenly become incredibly easy and adding a third or fourth player sees them become little more than a minor obstacle between you and completing the level.
Even though they aren’t the most taxing puzzles in the world, they’re still quite well designed. Some puzzles require Lara to throw a whip out for another player to catch and haul her up onto a ledge, or vice versa. Others require Horus to cast a shield bubble around himself that other players can jump on to reach higher platforms. What’s there works a treat. It’s a shame that more work wasn’t put into making the puzzles a bit more difficult, but it doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment too much.
One thing that I really liked about multiplayer was the sharing of abilities. One of my room-mates picked up an amulet that dealt added fire damage above a particular multiplier. I picked up a similar amulet that granted a three-way split shot when my health was above a certain percentage. Both of these attributes applied to the wearer and to party members which is so ludicrously dope I don’t even know where to begin. If your party chains together the right array of items you can become a crack squad of screen-clearing nightmare engines in the blink of an eye.
Graphically the game is quite pleasant to look at, couched as it is in an isometric view of each environment. The lighting is quite nice and the character models are just detailed enough to please the eye without becoming too indistinct. The devs have tried hard to make each area feel self-contained and significantly different from the last but considering that most of the game occurs inside ruins and tombs it’s little more than an aesthetic difference rather than sweeping environmental changes with each new level.
The campaign itself isn’t particularly long, again especially if you’re playing with a full couch, but it is nevertheless an extremely entertaining way to kill an afternoon, especially if you find yourself skipping the turgid cutscenes in order to get back into the action. This is couch co-op par excellence, short and sweet and I certainly hope it doesn’t take Crystal Dynamics a further four years to bring us another one.
Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: Four-player multi; tight controls
Lowlights: Short campaign; a few camera issues
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: December 9, 2014
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Reviewed on PlayStation 4