Tomb Raider II Review

TR2 1 - Title

Game Title: Tomb Raider II
Developer: Eidos Interactive
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: PS One Classic
Download: 195 MB
NA Availability: Digital Download
EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: Yes

When I began my coverage of the early Tomb Raider games, I didn’t at first realize what a daunting task it would be.  I had played the original game many years ago, but never really got around to playing 2-4.  I kind of just jumped straight from 1 to Chronicles to Legend.  Little did I know that not only are more recent Tomb Raider games huge, the original games were massive as well.

As such, the game I’m about to do a retro review for will be the end of Phase 1 of Tomb Raider coverage.  I’ll shift my focus onto a couple other games and then come back for the final two of the PS1 Tomb Raiders available on the PSP and PS Vita.

So, here is my retro review of the PS One Classic, Tomb Raider II!

Story

TR2 2 - Story

The story of Tomb Raider II takes plays 1 year after the events of the first game.  The plot revolves around an ancient artifact known as the “Dagger of Xian”, a magical artifact that the Emperor of China once used to command his armies.  Lara Croft becomes involved as she investigates the Great Wall of China researching the Dagger’s legend when she meets some thugs from the Mafia and chases after them, in the hopes of finding more about the dagger.

Now, for those of us whom have played the game will know that the above paragraph is filled with magical events that we only dream were actually explained to us.  The game starts off with a cinematic before the title screen of a previous Chinese War (assuming you were patient enough to watch said cinematic) and once you hit New Game, you are right in gameplay.

And that’s the problem with the story because if you asked me about Tomb Raider II’s story, my first response would be “There was a story?”  Cut scenes are extremely scarce and most don’t give you much, if any information regarding the actual plot.  Until late game, there might as well not even be a story.

Gameplay

TR2 4 - Gameplay 1

Like its predecessor, Tomb Raider II is a 3D Platforming game with combat and puzzle elements.  Just like the first game, you’ll be doing lots of jumping, climbing, pulling switches, solving puzzles, and gunning down enemies with any weapon in your arsenal.

Since this is a sequel, they did try to improve the formula.  Tomb Raider II introduced the climbing mechanic, allowing you to grab and climb up walls instead of just grabbing platforms and ceilings.  That’s about it, outside of new weapons like the Harpoon Gun that can be used while underwater and the Grenade Launcher for those of you that wish to see your enemies blown into a dozen blocky pieces.

The biggest improvement is the fact that you can now save anywhere you want.  In TR1, you had Save Crystals hidden in every dungeon and you could only save your game at said crystal.  If you spent 20 minutes progressing and died right before the next crystal, guess what?  You get to re-do those last 20 minutes.  The infinite saves really helps you out.

TR2 5 - Gameplay 2

Main progression is similar to the first game.  Your task in each area is to explore and find switches that will open up areas and then go to those areas and find more switches and puzzles and keep going until you find the exit for the level and move onto the next.  However, this is a bit more complicated than in the first game.  The areas are much larger and there are more intricate puzzles that require not only items, but timing as well.

There are also more environmental tasks thrown at you for some of the puzzle-solving and item-retrieving.  Not only will you need to search rooms, but some levels will have you going through extense underwater sections as well.  One of the main level sets is actually at the bottom of the ocean with you swimming around with sharks and exploring wrecked ships, and those levels give you some very unique tasks (and are, in my opinion, the most memorable levels in the game.

tr2 6 - Gameplay 3

As far as the combat mechanics and boss fights, you can expect just as many unfair fights not only with bosses but normal enemies, too.  There will be lots of times where you’ll be surrounded by several enemies and playing vanilla would make the game extremely difficult.  Thankfully, there are Cheat Codes built into the game to help balance and keep things in your favor.  Not only did the Level Skip and All Weapons/Ammo cheat return, but the latter cheat also replenishes health packs, so you can be ready for any situation, even though the game is still difficult with all of that active.

Now, let’s talk about length.  Some people will tell you that the game can be beat in 4 hours, and those people are not being honest with you.  There are 17 levels to go through and even playing with a guide, you should expect to spend the better part of an hour on each level.  If you’re like me and decide to tough it out without referencing a guide (but still using the All Weapons cheat), you should expect to spend 1-2 hours or more for each individual level.  It took me around 30 hours to beat Tomb Raider 2, but if you use a guide, you might be able to do it in under 20.

Still, think about that for a minute.  An action game that lasts nearly 20 hours.  Some handheld RPGs aren’t that long nowadays.

Controls

Just like the first game, Tomb Raider II is compatible with the PlayStation TV.

The control scheme has, unfortunately, not been changed since the first game, so you’re still dealing with tank controls.  Actually, the entire scheme is exactly the same.  D-Pad for movement.  L1 for free-look.  R1 for walking.  L2 and R2 for strafing left and right.  X for interacting and Square for jumping.  Triangle for weapons and Circle for rolling to turn around.

So you should know a thing or two about this, but since it remains unchanged, it still remains especially awkward compared to today’s games.

Presentation

TR2 3 - Presentation

Visually, the graphics have improved.  Lara’s face looks a bit awkward, but the polygons look much better.  An example of this would be Lara’s Breasts, the topic of any Tomb Raider discussion.  In the original, her breasts were literally like triangles.  In Tomb Raider II, they made them curved to look more realistic.  The environments all look better too.  The environments in TR1 looks really blurry and made it hard to make anything out, but this is a definite improvement.

Audio has also improved a bit, but not all.  There were a lot of areas in TR1 with no background music and there are still some of those areas in TR2, but a far less number of them.

One issue with the audio is the fact that the audio cuts out every so often.  That’s also tied to performance because the game has some slight frame-rate issues.  In many areas, the fps will drop a little bit.  Not a lot, but maybe about 5 down from the normal flow.  And when it does that, the audio cuts out as well.

Summary

Tomb Raider II is a class platforming adventure game that takes the original and puts everything on a much grander scale.  It isn’t all candy and roses, as the story is barely told to you for the majority of the game, the tank controls are still awkward on the Vita, and the frame-rate has some slight issues here and there. 

7/10

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