Tomb Raider Retrospective Part 2 – Tomb Raider II (1997)

7 02 2008

Platforms: PC, PlayStation

Tomb Raider 2 Logo


  • It was set in The Great Wall of China, Venice, An Oil Rig, A Ship Wreck, Tibetan Mountains and Monastery, China, and a Surreal Alien Dimension.
  • It was the one with the Dragon in the intro, and the last boss was a Dragon.
  • You got a grenade launcher, M16 and spear-gun.
  • Her breasts were actually breast shaped.
  • She did have an animated ponytail, but it behaved like some sort of epileptic snake ghost.
  • It had a mansion level with a butler, and there was some outside areas.
  • You could climb up walls, and ‘ladders’ which were just walls that looked like ladders.

A mere 12 months after the first game came out, a sequel was already weighing down store shelves. It soon became apparently that Core had decided to go in a different direction with this game, the opposite direction of tombs. Some surmised that this new tomb-less environment may have been a response to the controversy stirred up by having Lara spend a large part of the first game killing poor cute animals. Killing humans is of course far less upsetting for the children than killing dangerous and almost certainly rabid beasts.

Let’s get the plot out of the way first. The game starts off strongly with a level set on the Great Wall of China which contained far more rolling boulders and swinging axe traps than I expected. Lara is there searching for the Dagger of Xian which is a legendary dagger that if stabbed into ones own heart will apparently turn one into a dragon. Actually it does exactly that, turns you into a real bloody dragon. Of course removing the precariously lodged dagger doesn’t turn you back into a human, it turns you into a dead dragon instead. A Venetian mob boss called Bartoli is also searching for the dagger, presumably because he’s an otherkin who wants to live out his fantasy of being a dragon with an obvious weak spot. This time round, the plot really is just an excuse for Lara to traipse around the world, and it actually manages to be substantially weaker than the first game’s plot which is quite an accomplishment. Here, just to fill up some room, is the rough progression through the game…

Oddly detail free Great Wall
No expense was spared recreating the majesty of the Great Wall of China.

From the Great Wall, Lara ends up in a blocky impression of Venice where she gets to pilot an awkward speedboat around some canals for a bit. She blows up Bartoli’s hideout with some bombs, then jumps around a condemned opera house. From there, she catches a sea-plane to an oil rig, and then dives down to the wreck of a cruise ship at the bottom of the sea. After this, she goes to the foothills of Tibet for some more awkward vehicle based hyjinks, this time in a gravity-ignoring snowmobile. After this long frustrating sequence she ends up in a monastery where she meets the first non-hostile humans in the series. After this it’s back via truck to the Great Wall and into some catacombs that some how lead to a surreal alien dimension of floating rocks, and from there to a boss fight with a dragon in a temple that has convenient water filled holes for you to hide in when you are inevitably flambéed. Finally you end up back in her manor where she fights off home-invaders while wearing night-wear.

I feel I glossed over something important in that last paragraph. Did you notice I said she went to an alien dimension of floating rocks? Let’s be clear here, I am all for the wackiness of the first game, and I will admit that this sequel had been largely too mundane for my taste up to this point, but this was by far the oddest plot jump the series ever did. Look, just watch it here. What the christ was this all about? Who even knows? You had better believe that Lara doesn’t seem to bat an eyelid about it though. Most blasé heroine ever.

Floating Islands
No need for concern, it’s just a surreal fantasy world of flying rocks and floating Chinese warriors. No need to even pass comment really.

Much like the first game, playing it is a really long and surprisingly difficult experience. You will find yourself reloading your game a lot, and simultaneously growing to love the bone-crunching sound that happens whenever Lara dashes herself all over rocks for the umpteenth time. The poor PlayStation users had to put up with a terrible Save Crystal system which just went towards making it that little bit less accessible.

The gameplay was spiced up all the way to the max with the addition of wall climbing which was I have no positive or negative opionion on, it was just there. You could also do this 180 degrees roll thing which I always found myself using more than I probably needed to. The biggest new feature was the inclusion of vehicles. For the Venice levels you got a speedboat, but weren’t really given enough room to do much speeding in it. At the end of the level you were supposed to launch yourself up some stairs and over a mine-field which didn’t always work quite how you would expect. You also got a chunky snowmobile in the Tibet area. Back in 1997 physics didn’t exist yet, which is unfortunate as you were required to make a few jumps across pits which would result in the laws of gravity being totally ignored.

The combat is exactly the same as the first game, although some of the enemies have guns now, but you have better guns. The grenade launcher was particularly devastating, and had a bizarre visual effect. Upon being killed by a grenade, enemies split apart into their component triangles in an effect now unlike a vase shattering.

As mentioned earlier, Core had only 12 months to work on this game, and therefore didn’t have time to deliver much more than what is essentially an expansion pack, and most reviewers acknowledged this, although it still managed to get reasonably decent scores. One thing it certainly did do though was make a franchise out of Tomb Raider.

The first hint or perhaps omen of what was to come for the direction of the series was the curious phrase ‘Starring Lara Croft’ on the games’s box. This seemed to me to be the marketers telling you why you should care about the game in no uncertain terms. It’s also a really odd concept. Do game characters really star in games? I’d say probably not unless there is some meta-layer actually present in the game to some degree. I have a feeling that this obsession with promoting Lara Croft as a character external to the games was instrumental in the decline in popularity of the series.

Just to show where this all eventually went, it was this corporatisation of the franchise that would lead to Lara appearing in adverts for Lucozade, finally culminating Lucozade being briefly named Larazade around 2001. Yes Larazade, I swear I am not making this up. What the fuck?

Hey Kids! Do you want to simply play a game with your fists like a nerd, or do you want have a wild and unique branding experience?

Next time on Tomb Raider Retrospective, Lara discovers a hidden lost valley of dinosaurs…again….

Tomb Raider Retrospective
Part 1 – Tomb Raider (1996)
Part 2 – Tomb Raider II (1997)
Part 3 – Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft (1998)
Part 4 – Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999) – coming soon
Part 5 – Tomb Raider Chronicles (2000) – coming soon
Part 6 – Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003) – coming soon
Part 7 – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend (2006) – coming soon
Part 8 – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007) – coming soon