Retro Review – Tomb Raider II (1997) – PlayStation
Publisher: Eidos Interactive Developer: Core Design Genre: Action Adventure, Puzzle
Players: 1 Other console/handheld formats: N/A
When the task of the development of a sequel is undertaken, it’s often the case to make it bigger and better than the game that came before it, and this was certainly the case with Tomb Raider II. Released in 1997, which was only a year after the original game, developer Core Design certainly made an impressive sequel.
Tomb Raider II has a plot, although it doesn’t have much of one, and it’s only really there to set the stage for a globetrotting adventure. While it’s passable nonsense which involves a mythical dagger, Tomb Raider has rarely been a game to win any awards for its storytelling. The Lara Croft character here certainly doesn’t have any depth, although it’s a case of her in-game actions speaking louder than any of her words.
Tomb Raider II has larger and more open environments than the original 1996 game, and, with more weapons and the inclusion of vehicles, it’s also more varied. As opposed to being restricted to one small corner of the globe, the sequel has you beginning in China, and then heading to the likes of Venice, an offshore rig, Tibet and then back to China again. This certainly makes for some very varied level design, and you’ll be exploring areas such as an opera house, a wreckage of a ship, snowy mountains and dark caves, as well as a Monastery.
There’s a genuine feeling of loneliness in these environments, and the game also keeps sound effects and music to a bare minimum, which means that when the guns start firing and the enemies start attacking this peace is then suddenly broken. It’s certainly effective and, even to this day, the game remains atmospheric and immersive.
When it comes to the puzzle aspect, Tomb Raider II’s bigger environments also come into play here as well. You’ll find yourself on longer treks in order to solve some of the bigger puzzles, although there’s few very taxing puzzles in the game, and it’s mostly a case of learning and remembering where things are, dragging around blocks, finding key objects to advance, pulling switches and making risky jumps in which you sometimes find your fingertips saving you from a nasty fall. Still, the puzzles are nonetheless satisfying for what they are and are always fun to solve, particularly as the environments are so beautifully designed. The now sadly defunct Core Design were certainly masters of level design.
Less impressive is the action. When the game was first released way back in 1997, many fans of the original game were rather depressed with the increase in the amount of enemies. Back then, it could certainly be argued that Tomb Raider was never meant to have as many enemies, as the dodgy shooting controls would let you down on many occasions. Lara automatically targets her enemies, although sometimes the AI seems to be able to shoot you from a certain position but yet your own auto aim fails to find the enemy. It’s annoying and frustrating and often makes the shooting mechanics feel like a slog as opposed to anything else. Still, it does break things up and, even though many stages have 30+ enemies, they are well spread out across the level, which means you are never expected to take on 10 enemies at once.
When it comes to the rest of the controls, Tomb Raider II is clunkier than ever in this day and age. In fact, when I first started playing it again, I was so close to giving up with it, although through perseverance the game did become playable enough, and something did eventually click for me once again. There’s still something very satisfying about lining up jumps as well as the truly heart pumping leaps of faith that are sometimes demanded by the game. Playing the second Tomb Raider again certainly brought back memories of when jumping around levels in such an action adventure game required a certain amount of timing and skill.
As clunky as it is to play, Tomb Raider II is still a playable enough game in the modern day. As Lara Croft was bigger and more recognised than the series she starred in back in 1997, Core Design could have quite easily released a cash-in game that was more about her than it was about Tomb Raider, but the sequel was still very much what Tomb Raider should have been about back then. It’s bigger, more varied, and more action packed, and, while dated today, it’s also one of the earliest highlights in the long running series.