Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris review: Danger zone

Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC

If you've got some friends over and are itching for game that requires teamwork, coordination, planning and lots and lots of yelling, then you'll be well pleased by Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, the isometric-view follow-up to the excellent Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Quick tip about the yelling before we move on: Urging your friend to "go there and stand on the THING" really isn't nearly as helpful as it sounds in your head.

The gist of Temple of Osiris is that Lara and rival archaeologist Carter started a chain reaction of whoops when they grabbed the staff of Egyptian god Osiris, an ancient and (surprise!) magical artifact. First, they released Osiris' wife, Isis, and her son, Horus (also gods), from imprisonment, which is the good news. The slightly less great news is that they also gave the evil Set (yep, he's a god, too) a way out of Duat – the underworld – where he'd been trapped ever since he chopped his brother Osiris into pieces and scattered him around Egypt. As if that particular family reunion wasn't awkward enough, a giant crocodile named Ammit has you marked for death and won't stop coming for you until you've been eaten in one gulp.

The solution to your croc-entree problems is to track down the pieces of Osiris and restore him to power so that he can take down his brother Set. His pieces are hidden in a number of trap-laden tombs teeming with giant scarabs and undead nasties. As fate would have it, though, Lara just happens to have some expertise in this area.

Temple of Osiris is an isometric-view twin stick shooter, hurling fast enemies and deadly traps at you so quickly that it's easy to lose sight of yourself in the midst of the chaos. Though all the characters can heft a robust array of firepower, each pair specializes in something: Lara and Carter can light the torches and braziers around the tombs, while Isis and Horus can use the beam from the Staff of Osiris to reflect off mirrors and create protective barriers. You can play with up to three friends in any combination of online and local co-op you fancy, but the aforementioned yelling is much more enjoyable in person. (Well, I think so, anyway.) If you're playing two player co-op, you'll have to choose one character from each pair, but if you're by yourself, you're always Lara, who also has a grapple for reaching those out of the way spots.

It's a good mix of skills, and the puzzles use the characters' various abilities in immensely clever ways. Horus might create a sphere of light to give Lara a boost to an otherwise unreachable ledge, or maybe he'll tightrope across her grappling line to reach a switch. The Staff of Osiris can slow down the fuse on time bombs, too, giving you enough time to place them in exactly the right spot to topple an unsound wall, and of course it's always nice to have extra people around to stand on pressure switches. The Challenge Tombs – petite affairs offering a choice prize in exchange for mastering its puzzle – offer some particularly well-crafted brain-teasers that are a joy to decipher. All of the traps and obstacles are so cleverly created that they make you want to figure out the correct way to best them, not merely get past them so that you can move on. That your brain is tickled as much as your trigger fingers is the secret of Temple of Osiris' appeal.

At the end of each tomb you'll find a dozen or so chests that can only be opened by trading in the gems you've been collecting along the way. The higher the price of the chest, the more likely you'll get some really good gear out of it – though there is still an element of chance involved, as luck determines the piece of loot you acquire. Opening all of the chests would take several trips through the tomb, but once you've opened a a few high-priced chests and gotten some really good stat-boosting rings and amulets, going back for the cheapo chests seems moderately pointless. Why spend 100 gems to open a chest likely to produce a ring that lowers defense while raising offense when you can just spend extra gems and get one that raises both and throws in fire projectiles for fun?

Tomb Raider fans who were disappointed by the lack of actual tomb raiding in the reboot should appreciate the amount of puzzle solving and exploring you'll have to do in Temple of Osiris. Each tomb has plenty of switches and traps to navigate, as well as challenges to beat if you'd like some extra swag. All you really have to do to move forward is eventually get from one end of the dungeon to the other, but if you can do it under the set time, or without taking any spike damage, or while collecting the five hidden red skulls, you'll earn bonuses like new weapons, rings, or health buffs. There's little chance you'll pull off any but the score challenges on your first time through, so be prepared to make many trips if you want to check every box on that list. The challenges teach you new ways to dispatch enemies, like using the tomb's own traps against them, but mostly they exist to provide incentive to run through the tomb a few extra times. They're fun to complete, but not particularly addictive.

You needn't be alone on those return trips, either, as the puzzles and environment adapt to the number of players you have, changing the situation so that everyone is involved. To say which version of a tomb is harder – the solo or the co-op – usually comes down to what your strength is. The solo version might require a bit more finger dexterity, but the co-op will require more team communication. Clearing tombs is enjoyable no matter what your challenge of the moment is, though bringing along the full complement of four players can make fast-moving situations more than a little chaotic. Also, remember: Your bombs hurt the other players. Use that information however you like.

As Set becomes more frustrated with your efforts, he turns day to night, begins flooding the land, and eventually freezes everything, which is a clever way to tie the narrative to the unlocking of new areas, but it also unfortunately sets up one of the game's biggest disappointments. After you've finished Temple of Osiris's story – which won't take more than four or five hours – you'll be left to explore the area around the temple, take on new challenges and replay any tombs you didn't completely crush the first time through.

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But getting to all of that tomb-raiding adventure will require various trips to Orisis' temple to flip switches to turn the rain on or off, make daylight appear or turn on the snow, depending on where exactly it is you want to go. It's a very smart idea, but in practice, it's not very fun. Typically, you'll wander around, see something enticing, attempt to reach it for a bit, figure out that you need to make some sort of weather change and then trek back to fiddle with the Weathertron 3000. Making it snow, for example, will create a snow drift that lets you access a gated area, or the rain might allow you to swim across a gap that you previously couldn't cross. As you're playing through the story, these changes happen naturally, opening up the next tomb you must explore before bringing the bit of Osiris back to his temple at the heart of the map. The weather is meant to feel like a puzzle all by itself, and indeed it fits quite nicely into the main story, but when the story is done and you're adventuring at your own pace, the weather gimmicks feel about as inspired as the different color key cards you need to open doors in zombie-infested office buildings. The post-game Combat Challenges are also pretty lackluster. If you've put any effort at all into the tombs, you'll finish the game with a robust array of firepower, which makes the short wave-based enemy challenges far too easy. They do earn you a ton of gems, though, so they're worth it if you've got your eye on a high-priced treasure chest.

Temple of Osiris is immensely entertaining while it lasts, but there just isn't enough of it. Once you've beaten Set, you're free to explore, but your reward for beating challenges is cooler gear, which you don't really need once the game is finished. Completionists will want to open every last chest (there are dozens, some of which only appear in certain weather conditions) and collect all the rings, amulets, costumes and buffs they possibly can, but it feels a bit aimless once you don't have a goal to work towards. I eventually had so many guns, each one incrementally better (or worse) than the next that I couldn't be bothered to choose between them and instead stuck with my twin pistols and flamethrower. (Which, I mean, it's a flamethrower. Why would you even want anything else?)

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris's temples and puzzles are fantastic, but I found myself wishing for several more hours of gameplay. This is, I suspect, where Isis and Horus' promises that "Set will return" are going to translate into copious DLC, bringing more challenge tombs or perhaps even more story. What's there is great, especially if you have a friend (either locally or online) to raid alongside you, but by the time Lara closes her journal on this adventure, you'll just be getting warmed up.

This review is based on an Xbox Live download of the Xbox One version of Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, provided by Square Enix. Images: Square Enix.

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