Some people believe that Lara Croft peaked after Tomb Raider three, whilst others believe nothing captured the original games ambition, and a few more suspect the series was never really that good anyway. Obviously all of these people have forgotten the glory that is Tomb Raider II, for me the best in the series. Well, the best from the days before Crystal Dynamics took the reigns and reimagined the series as a world not entirely as built of square boxes, but even against modern competition I would argue it holds its own.
Tomb Raider II isn’t flash, and by and large it doesn’t present Lara quite as the super celebrity sex model she had become with the next installment. It may not be the first of the series but, with serious graphical improvements over Tomb Raider it is able to bask in a still fresh premise and just smells of “classic”.
The game controls simply, yet opens up every imaginable way, combining intricate platforming with shoot ‘em ups and free -swimming. Nothing seems out of place whether you’re fighting mindless thugs on the canals of Venice, running from dogs down side alleys, hiding from a T-rex in an underground cavern, swimming at the bottom of the ocean through shark infested waters with no respirator or plucking knives out of the stomachs of undead dragons, everything requires a different tactic and the relatively advanced for it’s time engine allows you to play the game the way you want. Yes, this is the same engine that 'struggled' on for another four more games, but here it is still advanced and more than capable of everything that was being demanded of it.
Also, I know very few people who have ever completed a ‘classic’ Tomb Raider without doing the extra ammo cheats, but whether you do or don’t it still feels like a momentous achievement. When you complete the game. It doesn’t pull its punches, giving you enemies who simply will not die and some levels which even if you know back to front can easily take hours to run through. At points you’ll find yourself stranded in the middle of the ocean with only a few minutes breath and who can remember the immortal moment in the first level when the Tyrannosaurus comes chagrining down the valley at you and the last level which I won’t spoil but, you thought it was all over and then... Absolutely sublime gaming, and whilst more recent games have struggled to be epic and outrageous what shines through here is the simplicity of it all.
Lara’s adventure takes you across the world, albeit making this the first game in the series to abandon the title ‘Tomb’ Raider. All the important moments of the game happen in Tombs but she has to traverse mountain ranges, city centers and working oil rigs to get there first. Lara visits three separate tombs here, the Chinese site where the game begins and ends, a Tibettan monastery and most striking, a sunken ship, all of which offer important and vita clues in Lara’s search. The plot is relatively simple, but intriguing; it all starts when a hitman tries to prevent Lara opening a door hidden beneath the Great Wall of China and she slowly uncovers a secret cult attempting to discover the secret of immortality. The levels are atmospheric, realistic and striking, the Venetian and Chinese themes will haunt you for years to come after playing. Sound wise the games theme tune is it’s only masterpiece, but its strong and foreboding background noises accompany Lara on her quest giving the game additional chills.
The quest is long and arduous, but constantly rewarding and engaging, and gives the game a long lifespan for you to complete it in. This will not take you an afternoon to finish and even the best gamers should spend hours working through it. The puzzles are hard but generally solvable, and the ability to save and load where you like helps to diminish annoyance levels. There are a few more varieties of bad guys than the original, with the sharks and the abominable snowmen being particularly memorable. The games true villains are explained and drawn out well, but not overly complicated. You see them kill people, kill each other, talk about things and do nasty deeds, but none of them have recognisable personalities. That works in the games favor though as if you saw any more of the antagonists the game would loose its sense of mystery, the question of what exactly it is that Lara has uncovered…
Tomb Raider II combined improved graphics with exciting gameplay, a strong storyline and the best pacing of any Tomb Raider so far. It’s not the original, but still the classic benchmark of high gaming that the series can only dream of one day returning to.
They remade the first, why can’t they remake this?