Here we have the ‘other’ Lara Croft. She wears vest tops, and climbs and clambers about in underground burial chambers, possibly whilst raiding them, but she’s not ‘that’ Lara Croft, the blockbuster game heroine whose exploits with Microsoft have been on the front pages of the internet. This Lara Croft only performs her puzzle-action-platforming isometrically, and will even play co-operatively with others. The question is, is this smaller experience perfectly formed, or merely an understudy to the big budget headliner?
As the sequel to 2010’s critically acclaimed Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, players are treated to the same puzzle orientated action gameplay, with twin-stick gunplay and a toolset that allows you to solve various location based problems. In the Temple of Osiris, Lara is cursed by the Egyptian god Set whilst trying to grab an ancient artifact alongside fellow treasure hunter Carter Bell. They join forces with imprisoned gods Isis and Horus, Osiris’ wife and son respectively, and this group of four look to revive Osiris, defeat Set, and remove the curse.
The only issue is that something has been lost between Guardian of Light and the new title, both in terms of the quality of the puzzles and in Lara’s abilities. Straight away you’ll notice that Lara’s control is quite weighty, and despite later upgrades to her speed, she continues to feel like that, barrelling along and taking a moment to turn and face the opposite direction when called to do so.
In terms of traversal, Lara is as spry as we’ve come to expect, leaping, hanging and clambering across the landscape. That isometric viewpoint however does it make it harder to hit jumps accurately, and you’ll often find yourself falling into water or plummeting to your death because you’ve misread where you are. Lara also completely loses any of her litheness the moment she wants to use her guns, slowing movement down to a crawl whenever they’re drawn. As such you end up using a lot of evasive movement, firing in bursts and rolling out of the way. Overall, her movement is slow and unwieldy and a real throwback to the series earlier titles, though perhaps for all the wrong reasons.
You can alleviate some of the speed problems a small amount with equipable items that Lara collects either from completing tomb-based challenges, such as finishing within a set time limit, or via the game’s in-game currency. Each level contains gems everywhere; hidden in pots, dropped by enemies, or revealed by lighting torches, and players can use these to unlock treasure chests at the end of each tomb and dotted about the main hub area. Treasure chests are ranked, with low level ones unlocking for 100 gems, and high ones reaching 1000.
I discovered fairly early on that the low level chest rewards were pretty poor, and ultimately saved up my loot for two higher levelled ones. The ultimate items I got saw me through to the end of the game, offering a wealth of benefits including increased speed and weapon damage. It’s a very odd system, with seemingly far too many chests for the amount of gems and low level items giving you significant stat reductions as well as buffs.
Whilst the game hardly ever pushes the Xbox One, everything is nicely detailed and presented, though there isn’t much variety to be found in any of the locations beyond the day/night cycle and various weather effects. I understand that it’s set in Egypt, and that Lara is a tomb raider, but bar a few stand-outs such as Osiris’ architect’s tomb, they all merge into one. Those weather effects do seem to stretch the engine as well at times, with frame rate issues rearing their heads in particularly effect-laden scenes. The bosses are amongst the most impressive visuals, being well realised, but the other enemy characters; skeletons, scarabs and crocodile men, are repeated ad nauseum throughout with minor colour changes and loadouts. Overall animations aren’t that fluid either, with characters appearing stilted at times.
The boss battles are unfortunately robbed of their danger by an overabundance of health pick-ups and ammo recharges. By the time you’ve equipped an item that grants you recharging health and a gun that leeches life from your enemies, you don’t have much to worry about at all as long as you don’t become too complacent. The final boss battle was the only one in the entire game that required repeated tries to beat which was a shame as they had plenty of visual impact.
These problems don’t disappear when playing co-operatively, but they’re certainly lessened. With up to four players taking the roles of Lara, Carter, Isis and Horus, Lara’s singleplayer abilites are split across the group meaning that you have to work co-operatively to complete each area. At least that’s the idea as it seemed more fun to sabotage each other, releasing spikes early to catch team-mates and competing over every last gem you can find. I imagine that playing locally or with friends in this manner would be a complete blast, but relying on strangers can be tough, particularly if everyone’s not getting a certain puzzle. Playing in this manner I found a few bugs as well, falling through the scenery and having to repeatedly bomb myself until I died and respawned.
The puzzles are solid enough, though generally they extend to rolling timebombs or metal sphere’s into the correct place, or standing on the right switches. Playing co-operatively definitely adds another aspect to the gameplay but as a singleplayer experience it’s sadly one dimensional.
One strong point is the sound design, which, whilst hardly groundbreaking, fits the action perfectly with adventuring orchestral fare supported by more whimsical eastern tones. Keeley Hawes also returns to the role of Lara, meaning that she absolutely sounds the part if you’re a long-term fan, though not if your only experience of the franchise was the most recent blockbuster.
Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is not a bad game, it’s just not a great one. The singleplayer game brings nothing new to the franchise, and in some ways even feels like a step backwards from Guardian Of Light. As a multiplayer game it takes on a different and welcome dimension, though for every great moment, you can expect equal frustration.
Version reviewed: Xbox One