Lara Croft’s first adventure, Tomb Raider, had her globetrotting from Peru to Greece to Egypt and quickly became one of the best-selling games of all time. It boasted great-for-the-time gameplay, had crossover appeal to non-gamers, and made a bonafide video game icon out of its protagonist. So it was no surprise when Tomb Raider II was released for the PlayStation and PC in 1997, just a year after the smash hit original. With such a quick turnaround, developer Core Design was only afforded the opportunity to make slight refinements to the game, resulting in a game that many believed to be slightly inferior to its predecessor. Still, the game sold like crazy and Core Design went right back to the well, pushing out three straight sequels over the next three years. As a result, the quality of the games continued to dip. Things reached a nadir in 2003 when, even with a major advertising blitz, the putrid Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness came out to slow sales. Since then, the series has endured two separate reboots, and with 2013’s excellent Tomb Raider, the series appears to be back on the right track. But how well do the classic original games in the series hold up? After playing the recent reboots, can Lara’s second adventure still make for an enjoyable experience all these years later? In my opinion, no, Tomb Raider II just doesn’t hold up.
It’s tough to criticize Tomb Raider II – after all, in 1997 this was one of the best games available. But technical limitations of the original PlayStation keep it from being truly accessible for today’s gamers. The blame lies mainly with the controls. Like many games of the generation, the first few Tomb Raider games suffer from tank controls, the suitably named control scheme with which a character handles more like a tank than a human. This means stopping in place to turn before you can start moving again. Turning around requires rotating the character in place 180 degrees rather than simply pulling back on the control stick. These limiting controls are more forgivable in an old Resident Evil game where it can add to the tension, but they don’t make much sense in a game in which a seemingly agile Lara Croft has the ability to easily perform flips.
This difficulty in controls extends to Lara’s platforming abilities. Making straight jumps is no big deal, but whenever Lara needs to make running jumps or perform them at an angle, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether she’ll make it or not. The developers seemed to recognize this difficulty though and revamped the save system so that the player can save at any moment mid-game. This is crucial during long platforming segments in which one misplaced jump could force Lara to restart the entire level. You’ll be saving constantly – possibly every few seconds during the really tough parts.
Fixing the save system wasn’t the only notable improvement made in Tomb Raider II. Lara looks better here than in the first game, or at least slightly less polygonal. Tomb Raider II seems like the height of Lara’s cartoonish proportions, as her stomach is nearly nonexistent while her breasts rival the size of her head. Combine that with an end-game cut scene where Lara’s about to get in the shower and it’s painful how obvious Core Design pandered to the teen boy demographic. At least most of the more action-packed cut scenes are charming in their own original PlayStation way.
The levels here are for the most part well done. Although Lara rarely strays from her tried and true methods of hopping, climbing, flipping switches, and finding keys to progress through the game’s eighteen levels, there are a few attempts at larger moving set-pieces that would soon become staples of the series. Lara might cause an avalanche that uncovers a key or raise giant pistons in an engine room allowing for access to new areas. Lara can also drive some small vehicles, letting her traverse long distances in these large levels much more easily. It would have been nice to see a little more variety though. After an introductory level in China and a few in Venice, the game shifts to a long slog through six straight underwater levels as Lara investigates a wrecked freighter. Tomb Raider can do water levels better than most games, but six of them back-to-back gets to be a little much.
At this point, it’s hard to argue that Lara’s second adventure was any better or worse than her first – the improvements and mistakes made by the developers in 1997 are small enough that time has rendered them nearly unnoticeable; instead the passing of seventeen years has made more apparent the flaws that were there the whole time. There are the bones of a great game here that were hampered by hardware limitations. As such, Tomb Raider II would be ripe for a remake. After all, the first Tomb Raider was successfully remade into 2007’s Tomb Raider: Anniversary. If current developer Crystal Dynamics tried that again with Tomb Raider II I would highly suggest giving it a shot, but in its current form it’s best to leave Tomb Raider II to the long-time fans and purists.
2.5 Chicks out of 5