GAMING GREATS: Tomb Raider II (1997)

Lara Croft is back to find bits of old pottery and sh*t in this legendary sequel. Rod celebrates its 20th anniversary with another play. 

Who made it?: Core Design, Westlake Interactive (Developers), Eidos Interactive, Aspyr (Publishers).

Platforms: Windows, PlayStation, Mac, Android. 

Format: DVD, CD-ROM, Download. 

Released: 31st October, 1997.

Tomb Raider II celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year! Since each of the earlier games in the series were yearly releases, there will be quite a few twentieths in a row. Many fans consider this to be the best in the Core Design-era of the franchise, and while it doesn’t take the number one spot in my ranking, which belongs to Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999), Tomb Raider II is definitely a really good entry in the series.

Centuries ago, in Ancient China, the Emperor had possession of the Dagger of Xian, which, when driven into the heart, could literally transform you into a dragon. With this power, the Emperor and his army were very much a major threat. In a battle against Tibetan warrior monks, the dagger was removed from the chest of the Dragon Emperor, thus destroying him. However, in his death throes, he killed the valiant warrior monk who had removed the dagger. Afterwards, the other monks returned it to its resting place within The Great Wall, and it was sealed away from the rest of mankind. Fast forward to present day and Lara Croft has arrived at China’s Great Wall in search of this dangerous and powerful artifact. But she’s not the only one seeking out the Xian dagger, as Marco Bartoli, a powerful mafioso, also desires it. He is the head of a cult who wants to use the dagger to achieve world domination.

Those of us who have played the older games will know that the controls aren’t exactly the greatest in retrospect. This doesn’t ruin the games in any way at all for me, but if you’re not used to them they can be very difficult to handle. Tomb Raider II retains the tank control-style of the first, but I found that there’s a slight improvement in controlling Lara; her turns when running seem smoother for example. The basic moves she can perform are running, jumping, grabbing ledges, pushing blocks, ground rolls to quickly reverse the direction Lara faces, and backward and sideway flips. You can now also climb ladders, which didn’t appear in the first game. Then there’s a very tricky move where Lara can jump backwards off a ladder, and in mid-air, perform a roll to change direction and grab a ladder on the opposite side. It’s actually a move you need to do at certain points in the story, so it’s definitely something you will have to learn. But being able to save will help whilst performing this tricky manoeuvre (and other kinds of challenges you face during the game).

Speaking of game saves, in the original’s PC and Macintosh versions, you could save at any point you liked, but in the PlayStation version, you had to use save crystals at fixed points. Tomb Raider II on the PlayStation adds the ability to save at any moment, with an unlimited amount available. I mention this because it’s something that was topsy turvy in the first three games for the PS releases, and by the time The Last Revelation was released, it thankfully became a mainstay. Tomb Raider III: The Adventures of Lara Croft (1998) would return to the save crystal mechanic, except, in that case, at least you were able to collect them to use whenever you wanted, instead of having to use it right away.

Other additions introduced here are vehicles for Lara to use, such as the speedboat and snowmobile. Lara can now find and use flares to help light dark areas, which you can either hold as Lara explores or toss around, and throwing them can highlight how far down a chasm goes, if there’s even a bottom that is! These things may seem like small additions now, but back when this game came out, they would have been very welcome. Throughout, you can find secrets hidden around, with a distinctive chime sound which plays once you have discovered them. In Tomb Raider II, these secrets are three types of dragon statues – silver, jade and gold. Obtaining all three in each level will reward you with bonus items consisting of either ammo or health packs. For this entry in the series, there are no bonus levels to unlock by finding all of the secrets.

Of course, Lara Croft always makes sure to arm herself on her adventures. Dual pistols with unlimited ammo are with her from the start, but like the previous game, she can find and use other projectiles. These include the Shotgun and Uzi’s. But in this sequel, there’s more added such as the automatic pistols, harpoon gun, M-1 assault rifle, and even a grenade launcher. And there’s naturally health packs, both small and large, once again available for Lara to find and use when needed. The first saw Lara fight against wild animals such as wolves, which would attack her. Did I mention dinosaurs as well? But Tomb Raider II has Lara shooting human enemies the majority of the time. It wasn’t a plot point in the first, but Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2006), which is the first reboot of the franchise and a remake of the original game, introduced the idea that Lara hadn’t killed a person before, and when she finally does, there’s a great sense of regret she feels about having done so. But she has no such qualms in the original continuity.

It’s no secret that Tomb Raider, and the character of Lara Croft, is influenced by Indiana Jones, and throughout the series there have been many references to those films. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) is actually my favourite Indy film, so it was especially great to see a really good throwback. Remember the scene where the villain Mola Ram reaches into the chest of the man being sacrificed and pulls out his heart? Well, while this isn’t exactly what happens in a particular cutscene in Tomb Raider II, the whole atmosphere of the location is very reminiscent and the music has the same kind of haunting sounds mixed with dark chanting choruses. In regards to the music as a whole, composer Nathan McCree returns to deliver a really energetic, adventurous accompaniment, being a very atmospheric score at times, too. The classic main theme once again returns, with various additions made to it whilst still retaining the feel from the first game. He would go on to compose the score for Tomb Raider III: The Adventures of Lara Croft, but that would sadly be his final soundtrack.

Before summing up my final thoughts on Tomb Raider II, I wanted to bring attention to a really good fan-made remake of it that is in development. It is titled Tomb Raider: The Dagger of Xian, and recently a demo was released online for fans to play. It is created with the Unreal 4 Engine, and it is based on how Tomb Raider: Anniversary approached such a project. So, if you’re a fan of the series, or if you were frustrated with the controls of the earlier games, then I would recommend trying the demo. What the team of fans have managed to accomplish so far with this project is excellent.

Overall, Tomb Raider II is a great sequel. The original is an absolute classic, introducing one of the greatest female characters of not only video games but also fiction, but part II definitely improves upon some things. If you can get past the archaic controls which belong in museum, Tomb Raider II has a really good story.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • The game sold over 8 million copies worldwide by 2003, making it one of the best-selling games released up to that point and the second best selling of the franchise.
  • Lara’s appearance in Tomb Raider II was given a make-over by the new designer, Stuart Atkinson, giving her a free-flowing ponytail, smoother features, and several new outfits which changed over the course of the game. Atkinson has also claimed credit for introducing vehicles to the gameplay. While in China and Venice Lara sports her signature “Tomb Raider outfit” (a tanktop and shorts), in the ocean-based levels she dons a half-body wetsuit and in Tibet she wears a flight jacket. Lara’s revolving wardrobe would become a trademark of the series going forward.
  • While the original Tomb Raider was released on both the PlayStation and Sega Saturn game consoles, Tomb Raider II was no longer designed for the Sega Saturn despite having been confirmed as a target platform for the game in the first place. Following the cancellation announcement, Adrian Smith cited technical limitations of the console to program an adequate conversion. In September 1997, Sony Computer Entertainment signed a deal with Eidos to make console releases for the Tomb Raider franchise exclusive to the PlayStation, preventing the Sega Saturn or the Nintendo 64 from having any Tomb Raider game released for it until 2000, a deal that would prove very beneficial to Sony both in terms of revenue and also in further cementing the PlayStation’s growing reputation as the go-to system for must-have exclusive titles.
  • Shelley Blond was asked to reprise her role as Lara Croft from the previous game, but was unable to do so due to other professional commitments. Blond gave permission for Tomb Raider II to reuse the clips for Lara’s grunts, cries, and monosyllables from the first game, while Judith Gibbins voiced all of Lara’s speaking parts.
  • The original plan was with the game to end with the dragon battle, but as development neared its end the developers felt it made an unsatisfying conclusion and decided to add an epilogue. Because the deadline was now looming near, Croft Manor was reused for the epilogue. According to programmer Gavin Rummery, the shower scene “was our response to the enquiries about nude cheats!”

Rod Petrie

Gamer since 1988 at the age of five. First system was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Favourite retro systems - NES, SNES, N64, MegaDrive, PS1, and PS2.

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