Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris makes cooperation meaningful. Whether it’s Castle Crashers or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance or Diablo III, I have a bad habit of zoning out and not playing with the group in co-op games. I nod off and have to be told to get back on track when I’m the only person preventing my group from moving to the next part of the map. I’m not proud of my attention span, but it’s the result of having to do the same thing over and over again, and that thing not even mattering, since I know my friends are more engaged and will pick up the slack. Temple of Osiris kept me on track the entire time I played, whether I was alone or with a group, and that’s something I can’t say of many co-op games.
Temple of Osiris makes it harder to zone out because it doesn’t take the easy route of making characters interchangeable. Instead of making everyone a variation of the same all-powerful character capable of accomplishing any task, what one person can do in single-player as Lara is split in two. Lara and Carter, the two human characters, can use the grappling hook to climb walls and light torches, but only Horus and Isis can activate magic platforms and levers or slow down time bombs. These differences make for some mean puzzle-solving. Lara or Carter needs to keep the grappling rope taut so Isis and Horus can tightrope to the other side of a gap, so the former can have the latter hold the rope in order to cross the gap themselves. Each level asks that your group actually work together, using each other’s strengths to compensate for weaknesses instead of simply inhabiting the same space.
This leads, almost necessarily, to a wide gamut of experiences. In one game we experienced the highly disorganized chaos of something like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, where no one really knows what to do and the one person who actually cares about finishing the level has to corral his cohorts into actually making progress. On the other, we had a highly efficient run with an online random where all three of us knew our roles perfectly and played the level like a frenzied triathlon, passing the baton of progress among us without dropping a beat. Both experiences are fun for different reasons, and that the game can accommodate for both (and even lets you mix online and local players seamlessly) is impressive.
I suppose I could still coast with four people going, letting the other person with my skillset do all the heavy lifting, but Temple of Osiris further alleviates that with its top-notch level design. Think of how many co-op games have you killing room after room of dullard enemies with a single button, throwing in the occasional switch for good measure. Perhaps they’re that way to facilitate conversation between friends in dull moments, but Temple of Osiris doesn’t want you to talk about your day. It wants your group working together, constantly moving from puzzle to combat to traversal to chase sequence to puzzle again, with very few lulls in between. It’s a loop that demands your attention constantly, and my easily distracted co-op mindset never had time to set in. Because of the lack of fluff, the levels tend to be fairly short, but there are enough secrets in the connecting hub area and reasons to replay levels to keep the value-minded engaged for a while after beating the final boss.
In single player, Lara Croft is the empowering, if occasionally cringe-worthy, heroine we’ve always known her to be. She has access to all of the abilities of co-op, and the puzzles adapt to accommodate her lone presence. Playing solo, I’m still surprised by how well Crystal Dynamics map Lara’s 3D outings onto an isometric perspective: all the gun combat, rappelling, switch-hitting, boss fighting and eye-rolling story beats feel like a crude drawing of a familiar face: all the important bits are in the right place, allowing your mind to fill in the gaps. Playing alone means you won’t get the highs of a well-oiled machine, but the solo experience still has its moments. Like Lara’s character pre-reboot, it’s a little dull being able to do anything without needing help, but if you’re the kind of player who aims for the top of leaderboards, you’re still in for a good time.
Still, the best moments in Temple of Osiris are with friends; when a typical aha moment meets the domino effect of all your friends coming to the same realization you have, there’s nothing quite like it. And if the package is a little slim, it’s because it’s been trimmed of most of its fat, never slowing down enough to let you idly wonder about what else you could be doing with your time. For that, my regular group of friends and I are grateful.
Suriel Vazquez is a freelance writer who has written for Kotaku, Shoryuken and other outlets. You can follow him @SurielVazquez.