Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light surprised everyone by being actually rather good when it came out back in 2010. A throwback to classic couch co-op games, it let two players careen around inside a Mayan temple, smashing priceless artefacts (aren't you meant to be an archaeologist, Lara?), shooting various monsters in the head and hoovering up a bunch of power-ups and loot. It was straightforward, uncomplicated fun, and sequel Temple of Osiris is hoping to capture the same feel.
This time Lara's in Egypt with her adventuring buddy/rival Carter, investigating the depths of the Temple of Osiris (an actual location in the Egyptian city of Abydos which in real life tragically lacks both giant scarab beetles and deadly dart traps). During their investigations they manage to get in the middle of a feud between several narked-off gods. Evil chaos god Set has dismembered nice guy Osiris and scattered his body about the place in order to prevent his resurrection, and so Osiris' wife and son Isis and Horus team up with everybody's favourite ass-kicking British explorer to foil the dastardly deity's plans and restore Osiris to life.
Scarabs can be pretty deadly when they swarm you, so you constantly have to keep on the move
Just from that little snapshot you can probably work out that this is more akin to classic, goofy, fun-loving dinosaur-shooting Lara than the excellent but rather more restrained recent series reboot. It's made by the same team at Crystal Dynamics, and I get the distinct sense that this is something of a palate cleanser in which they can pack in as much over-the-top action and cartoon mythology as possible. That's not a criticism – it's nice to see Lara having some fun again.
Gameplay's the same mix of twin-stick shooting, jumping and puzzle-solving that made Guardian of Light such a blast to play. Lara packs her iconic twin pistols for basic blasting, a grapple which she can use to scale walls and reach distant platforms, and some powerful bombs which she can place on the ground and then detonate when foolish enemies stumble over them. Carter has the same basic gear, while Isis and Horus opt for beam-shooting staffs and the ability to create an orb of force, which other characters can also jump on to reach higher ledges.
This friendly fellow pops up at the end of the demo. Thankfully I didn't have to fight him
Scattered about the levels are various limited-ammo special weapons to collect – machine guns, rocket launchers, shotguns and so on. Both Isis and Horus can also grab some military hardware and go to town, which leads to the amusing image of an Egyptian goddess blazing away at scarab beetles with an MP5 machine gun. Aside from weapons there's a few different items to nab; rings provide only one player with a bonus, which adds a nice selfish little scramble to proceedings, while amulets provide the whole team with a buff that lasts until you pop your clogs. I'm not entirely sure what you can use looted gold for yet, but hopefully that adds another level of competition to what's mainly a co-operative game. Like in Guardian of Light, you get the chance to wind up your allies just as often as you help them out.
Most puzzles require you to mix and match your equipment in some way, whether that's Lara using her grapple gun to create a tightrope for Isis to scamper across a gorge, or Horus putting up a shield barrier to deflect arrow traps while Carter plonks down explosives to clear a path. Don't expect complicated, drawn-out headscratchers in classic Tomb Raider tradition, the emphasis here is on maintaining constant arcade-style momentum. You barely stand still for a second.
Levels are scattered with traps and obstacles to avoid or get skewered by
If you play solo Lara gets all the key gear from Isis and Horus that she needs to pass through levels (which apparently will also re-jig themselves to suit solo play) but really you want to play this one with a friend, in the same room if possible. That's where the frantic blasting and jumping around is at its most enjoyable. Whether you're helping each other out with a well-placed bomb or a mid-combat revive, or sneakily abandoning your allies to net a few extra coins while they do all the dying, there's always something interesting to do. The pacing and level design is strong too, with brief puzzle sections nicely balanced with combat zones and bigger set pieces – pelting it across a trap-laden bridge with a hippo/crocodile/lion... thing hot on my trail was a particular high point, even if I did subsequently get crushed by an iron-spiked log.
If you liked Guardian of Light there's more of the some here, with the added bonus that you can take two extra players along. I like the knockabout tone and the simple, 'if it's fun let's throw it in' approach to gameplay. More than that it's just nice to see Lara running around sorting shit out like she did in the old days, not stumbling around in the dark with a harpoon through her leg. If you want to flop down on the sofa and spend a couple of enjoyable hours with a solid, immediately accessible co-op action game, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris looks like a great call. It's set for release on December 9th this year.