Some are good at hunting men, others are good at hunting money. Both have value to me.
-King Einon, DragonHeart
“The following is a contributor post by the ABXY Mage.”
Tomb Raider was considered an instant classic by many fans and critics when it released in 1996. It garnered both critical acclaim and commercial success. Based on those facts, and not all the flaws that I mentioned in my review, it should come as no surprise that a sequel was soon to follow.
Except for two, all of the original players returned for Tomb Raider II. Actually, the team more than doubled. However, one of the departures was the creator of Lara Croft, Toby Gard. With the arrival of a new designer, Lara was given a slight makeover that included a realistically moving ponytail (whoopee). Anyway, Tomb Raider II, which would essentially secure a film adaption for the iconic character, turned Tomb Raider into a franchise.
As I’ve said before, the first sequel of a game will often see some things get better in the sequel, and some things get worse in the sequel. Tomb Raider II blazes no trail here. Instead of building on the first game while fixing its issues, it brings some elements more to the foreground in exchange for some elements being suppressed in the background.
This review contains some story spoilers. I don’t normally include the entire story for games, but I have to for this one. You will see why. Don’t worry, it won’t ruin the game. There aren’t any twists, at all.
The story begins with a short video that acts as the prologue.
In ancient China, the Emperor in possession of the Dagger of Xian marches his army across the country. The mythical dagger, once stuck into his heart, transforms him into a fire-breathing dragon. Rivals and rebels kneel or face destruction.
In a battle with Tibetan monks, the Dagger of Xian is removed from the chest of the great beast and both the dragon and emperor collapse in death.
Following the victorious battle, the monks return the powerful artifact to its pedestal beneath the Great Wall.
In present-day China, a helicopter flies over the Great Wall and out rappels our familiar hero. Presumably, Lara is looking for the dagger, for one reason or another. At the end of the first level, Lara finds the door, from the prologue, that leads to the dagger’s chamber.
However, before she can open it, she is attacked from behind. Some random henchman in a black outfit, with the aim of an original-trilogy stormtrooper, wastes some uzi ammo on the wall behind Lara before literally jumping out at her. She then disarms him with a stupid flip move.
After telling Lara that there is a plot to use the power of the dagger and that his boss, Marco Bartoli, is behind it, the thug poisons himself. Let me repeat that… AFTER he tells you the plan and who the mastermind is, that’s when he poisons himself. It makes no sense. Of course, that doesn’t really matter because thanks to the absolutely terrible voice acting and offensively stereotypical accent of the “Italian” baddie, you won’t understand enough of what he says to know that’s what he was telling her, anyway.
After the thug’s over-the-top death shriek, Lara hacks into a satellite laptop to discover that Bartoli operates out of Venice, Italy.
In Venice, Lara finds the hideout of Bartoli’s goons. They’re working out of an abandoned opera house. They’re Italian, we get it. She then sneaks onto a seaplane that Bartoli and his men are using to leave the country.
Aboard the plane, Lara positions herself to eavesdrop on the conversation Marco Bartoli and the pilot are having. Unfortunately, completely distracted and unaware, a man with a wrench gets the drop on her.
When she finally comes to, Lara finds herself weaponless on an oil rig somewhere in the ocean. Obviously, she escapes and gets her guns back soon after. Upon saving the life of a clearly-tortured monk, she learns that the monk’s father bombed a ship belonging to Bartoli’s father. That’s what the men are looking for out near the oil platform. Why? Because aboard that sunken ship is the Seraph, a vital component to the legend of The Dagger of Xian. Another necessary key is the Talion, which the monk tells Lara is hidden beneath the Barkhang Monastery in Tibet.
Lara follows Bartoli’s men to a submersible, and when it dives, she latches onto it and takes a deep breath… I’m not joking. She hooks onto a sub, let’s it take her into the ocean, and doesn’t even bother with an oxygen tank. Bad mamma jamma or complete moron? Don’t decide just yet.
The sub hits a rock and quickly sinks. Lara detaches. Who knows how long she’s supposed to have held her breath at this point, but I guarantee it’s longer than almost any human is capable, especially at that depth. How deep is it? Well, you see that it’s daylight when you dive, but when you get to the floor, where the sub finally lands, there is very little light reaching you.
Oh, there are sharks too. Obviously. Of course there are sharks.
When we last left Lara, she was holding her breath for the duration of the uncut version of Aqualung (get it?).
Now in the dark depths of the ocean, she just swims into the abyss, stumbling upon the sunken liner. Talk about DUMB luck.
After retrieving the Seraph from the luxury ship, Lara flies to Tibet in search of the Talion. You will never guess what happens there. She gets the Talion. Surprise!
With all the pieces in her possession, Lara returns to the remote section of the Great Wall of China. She opens the chamber of the Dagger of Xian, but a trap drops her into the catacombs underneath the wall.
In true Indiana Jones fashion, by the time Lara gets back to the chamber, the villain has used her success to complete his mission. She finds Marco Bartoli in the chamber, just in time to see him plunge the Dagger into his chest.
Bartoli’s body collapses into the arms of his men who then carry him through the doorway of a newly-appeared portal. Lara, who remained out of sight during the “ceremony” (instead of stopping it), follows them through the portal.
Traversing through an unexplained realm of floating islands and stone soldiers, Lara eventually makes her way back to the dragon temple below the Great Wall. When she finally finds Bartoli again, he transforms into a rather large dragon.
Not gigantic. Not mountainous. Not even huge. Just rather large.
Lara shoots the dragon until it collapses, stunned, and removes the Dagger of Xian from its chest. Everything but the skeleton melts away, and with the dragon, Bartoli dies.
In a short epilogue, Lara admires the dagger, which she has apparently stolen from the monks, in the bedroom of her huge and empty mansion. The alarm sounds when the last of Bartoli’s men storm the house.
Armed with just a shotgun, Lara slaughters them, and you the player, before taking a hot bath.
Yes, she points the gun directly at the camera and fires. The screen doesn’t just go black, either. The view darts off to the side like your head is lifelessly falling with your body. It’s weird.
Okay, feel free to go back and read some parts again. Yes, that’s really what happens. I promise. Take it all in.
Look, I get turning into a fire-breathing dragon in ancient China; you would totally rule over everyone. But, now? Lara literally shoots it to death. You can kill it with regular guns and bullets.
Bartoli spent his whole life searching for the dagger. So he could turn into a stupid dragon in 1997? He literally dies within minutes of becoming the dragon. Even if you weren’t there to stop him, any army easily would. What was his plan? That’s the kind of scheme a nine-year-old would come up with, “I’ll steal an ancient dagger that turns me into a dragon! Yeah!”
Who wrote this garbage? Seriously, I couldn’t be bothered to look that up. I’d feel too bad for them, anyway.
The ending is so anti-climactic, that they tossed in an epilogue where you just run around and shoot sixteen goons with a shotgun. So many things in the story are unbelievable or make zero sense. And here I always thought these games were story-driven, for some reason.
Technically, the visuals are better in Tomb Raider II than they are in Tomb Raider. But, not much. Everything is still very rigid, polygonal, and squared off. Even with the increased team and testing, some glitches still made it to the final product. However, there are several notable improvements over the first entry in the series.
For starters, there are several new and varied settings, textures, and colors. This alone makes the game visually much more appealing than the original. On top of that, everything is a bit more crisp, even with the increase in size.
The lighting is also better looking and better utilized in Tomb Raider II. The addition of flares helps in some of the darker areas, but the scenery does feel a little more real thanks to the improved lighting. But not much, let’s not get crazy.
The water in TR2 looks even better, and it even looks different depending on which location you’re in. Also, in this game, the lava actually moves!
Many of the wall and floor textures are still muddy, but they do look better, and there is more variety. So, there’s that. Oh, and again, Lara’s ponytail moves, and that was really important to someone for some reason.
Even after a reportedly less-than-perfect experience with Tomb Raider, Nathan McCree returned to score Tomb Raider II. While he was given more time for this outing, the music isn’t really any better. It’s similar. There are more songs. But, they still don’t play for very long periods. They’re most notable for suddenly making the game more enjoyable for a minute; reminding you how boring the silence of the game’s majority can be. However, the songs are also, mostly, really boring themselves.
The sound effects are pretty much all the same as they were in the first game. Lara’s voice acting is still perfectly fine, even though she is voiced by a new actor. Bartoli is slightly less offensive than the henchman from the beginning of the game, and the monk is so-so depending on your personal preference.
If you’re anything like me, when you first play a sequel, you want almost zero additions to the gameplay. So Tomb Raider II really hits the sweet spot here.
Wait, that’s not right. Sequels are supposed to build on the original, not mimic it.
Now, I’ll give credit where credit is due. Tomb Raider II does add some gameplay elements to the TR universe. To start with, it adds new weapons to your armory. Automatic pistols, a grenade launcher, an M-16, and a harpoon gun all enter the mix.
Let me expound on that a little bit, though. The automatic pistols aren’t really an addition since they replace the magnums. They’re a replacement. The grenade launcher is terrible for killing any enemies that actually move with any speed, and that is nearly all of them. The M-16 requires Lara to stand in the “firing stance,” which means that you can’t fire it while jumping or running. So, enjoy the one or two times you ever use that. Finally, the harpoon gun is only useful underwater, and it’s really weak. You’re much better off, if you can, shooting into the water from the safety of land.
The game also adds new secrets. Instead of just finding hidden ammo and health packs, like in Tomb Raider, TR2 gives you dragon statues to find. The jade, silver, and gold dragons are colored based on their difficulty to find. Finding one or two grants you absolutely nothing, but finding all three gives you… ammo and health packs. Are we, the players, being trolled?
Tomb Raider II also adds vehicles to Lara’s world. This would be a huge deal if they weren’t clunky, mostly useless, sparse, and more cumbersome than anything else. In the seventeen levels, there’s one with a boat and one with a snowmobile. That’s all. They’re really just shoehorned in for seemingly no reason.
Real quick, I found it very funny that once I made it to the last collection of levels, the controls image in the menu changed from keyboard arrow keys to a PlayStation controller. In the last level, it was arrow keys again. I bought this game, too, before you ask that question.
I can’t think of anything to say here that I didn’t already say in my critique of Tomb Raider. The tutorial is a little longer, but just as hard to find if you didn’t play the first game. TR2 gives you just as little direction about what to do as the original, and it also hides necessary switches and pathways even more. I would have loved to have been in the meeting where they decided to make this game even harder, more confusing, and less fun.
Tomb Raider II is harder than it’s predecessor. Even if you’ve played the original game, TR2 is still going to be difficult.
To begin with, there are a lot more enemies in this game. Of course, to no surprise, many are also reused or replaced. Tigers instead of lions, leopards instead of panthers, sharks replace crocodiles, and the T-rex returns with no reason or logic.
Not only is there a wider variety of enemies, but there’s also just way more in each level. The camera and auto-aim adds all the same challenge to the action, there’s just more of it. And, even for all the added enemies, once you’ve killed them, the levels become empty and boring runarounds.
There are also more levels, and several of them are much longer than levels in the first game. Some of them are ridiculously long. And, with no direction, you just run around randomly throwing switches and moving blocks. Some switches will show you what they do, some do not. So much guesswork. So many frustrating swims and treks just to find a dead end. So many far-too-hidden pathways and crevices. Without a walkthrough, you could easily waste several dozen hours on this game.
I hate to keep referencing my review for Tomb Raider, but I have to at least one more time. I said the original game had next-to-no replay value. I said that the only thing that raised it to 2/10 was the fact that you could try to beat it faster or find all the secrets. I said that replaying it would be like torture.
Replaying Tomb Raider II could be my version of Hell. At least a portion of it. It could be yours, too. I compared Lara’s first outing to an entire game of Water Temples from Ocarina. TR2 is more akin to playing hockey with infrared vision.
If you traced a really cool picture and then added a couple of your own elements to the drawing, you’d understand what Tomb Raider II is. It’s the same terrible game as the first one, but it’s bigger and harder and more exhausting. It follows the exact same formula with absolutely no surprises.
My Personal Grade: 2/10
Once again, I couldn’t care less about the character, Lara Croft. She’s like Kim Kardashian; no talent, people throw money at her no matter how terrible everything she is involved in is, and insanely famous all over the globe based on no discernible reason besides looks.
I thought I couldn’t care less about the story or villain in the first game, but it turns out I was wrong there, too. The absurd story and lack of character depth or arc leaves you completely indifferent about any of it. That works for arcade-style games that are just fun with no substance. It does not work here.
Once again, the puzzles are too abstract, and they force the player into a pattern of trial and error. This makes Tomb Raider feel more like a job than an escape; except I’d rather go to work than play this game.
So that’s pretty much it. For me, the Tomb Raider series is batting .000 after the only two games I’ve played. I have heard the new games are much better, but I still can’t believe there was ever more than one.
Was the critical acclaim really just a product of the time? Honestly, these games have aged more, and worse, than nearly any other game I have ever played. Yet, still, I can’t imagine I would have felt any differently if I had played them at their initial release.
Were the sales the result of ad campaigns and positive reviews? Or, were there really that many pathetic, horned-up, nerdboys who just bought the games because of how hot they thought Lara was? I would actually guess the latter. But, supposedly, there are throngs of people who claim to enjoy these games, somehow.
I haven’t played every game, and I know there are games that are much worse than Tomb Raider II, but I guess I haven’t played those ones yet.
Aggregated Score: 2.8
This critique is also part of a multi-writer series that explores the Tomb Raider series. Check out the hub article on NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog for links to reviews and recollections from other bloggers, fans, critics, and gamers.
The ABXY Mage leads a double life of unfathomable hipness, if his expertise in jazz is any indication. Music maker, fandangoist, writer, you can find this hip cat as ABXY Reviews on Twitter and on YouTube.
Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in restoring integrity and quality to games writing. We specialize in long-form, analytical reviews and we aim to expand into a community of authors with paid contributors, a fairer and happier alternative to mainstream games writing! See our Patreon page for more info!