Tomb Raider 2
So Here It Is Then. Tomb Raider II, one of the Christmas heavyweights, eagerly awaited by one and all, (except your grandmother, who's probably eagerly awaiting the Heartbeat Yuletide Special instead). Ever since the release of 'Tomb-o Numero Uno', Core Design have seen their reputation as game designers skyrocket, and have simply sat back and gawped as Lara Croft has become the first bona fide video gaming megastar since Sonic the Hedgehog. She has appeared on the cover of almost every games mag on the market, including this one. She has strolled around on giant video screens with pretentious post-modern ironist and occasional crooner Bono, during the 112 Pop Mart tour. Some cooler-than-thou biscuit arse wrote a ponderous article about her for The Face (which also deemed her sufficiently important to slap on the front cover). She has inspired several web-literate spods to erect virtual shrines in her honour, many of which included surprisingly competent nude 'photographs' of their heroine - especially impressive when you consider the artist only had one hand free with which to draw. There was even talk of her releasing a single written by Dave Stewart. Lara Croft was a star. Digital Spice, if you like.
Anyway, someone left the door open, and she's back.
In an attempt to keep potentially tedious scenario summarising to a minimum, we at Zone Castle nave squeezed the entire Tomb Raider II background plot into one handy info-burst, which shakes an angrily defiant fist at all known laws of grammar and comprehensible sentence construction, and concentrates instead on providing a mass of information within an incredibly short space of time. Those of you with video recorders attached to your eyeballs might like to hit the record button and then play it back later in slow motion. Are you ready? Go:
Immensely powerful dragon of lore... Fiama Nera, ancient Chinese cult... 'Dagger of Xian'... 'He who plunges the dagger deep into his heart will gain the power of the dragon'... guarded by shaven-headed Tibetan monks... Great Wall of China... hidden palace... Lara Croft... intrigue... thrills... derring-do... etc, etc.
Okay. You can stop now. That's the basic background to the game. Basically it's Indiana Jones territory again, only far more attention has been lavished on the sequel's unfolding storyline. The FMV segments are genuinely entertaining, the polygonal cutscenes snappy and to the point. This time around, Lara's adventure progresses smoothly and logically, and the levels themselves are far more varied than the original selection: it isn't just tomb after labyrinthine tomb. A large proportion of the action takes place outdoors, and across locations as diverse as Venice, Tibet, and China. The selection of indoor playing areas is also encouragingly imaginative, with an immense opera house, a capsized passenger ship and an ornately-decorated monastery all used to good effect at various points. Don't play the game if you live in Coventry, because the intricate and enchanting architecture on display herein will sit in cruel contrast with the woebegotten piss-stained concrete boxes that dominate the character-less municipality you call home. And for God's sake cheer up.
Puzzles and action, alive alive-o
The programming team obviously recognise the wisdom of the maxim 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it', since the tried-and-tested Tomb Raider mix of problem solving, exploration, and occasional violent conflict remains largely unchanged, (although the violence quotient has been upped considerably). Enemies come in many different shapes and sizes, and are drawn from the animal kingdom (sharks, tigers, eagles and guard dogs), the human race (plenty of psychotic gunmen in Killing Zoe style eyemasks), and the world of legend (er, The Abominable Snowman). All of them are superbly designed and expertly animated (especially the sharks). The Al has been improved, and while none of the aforementioned gunmen are about to start winning chess tournaments, they're clever and able enough to, for example, climb ladders in pursuit.
As in the original, much of the combat itself is a little unsatisfying. Lara automatically aims whenever an enemy homes into view; often she spots the danger before the player does. This, and an unfortunate combination of camera angles, can sometimes lead to a situation where you're firing blindly offscreen at an enemy you haven't even seen yet, while in other situations, being able to dodge your assailants depends more on your ability to leap chaotically around in the air like an over enthusiastic circus tumbler than your capacity for stealth and cunning. Thankfully, the armed conflict is perhaps the least important element of the game, mainly serving as a device to keep you on your toes.
And now the important bit: the level design, which cannot be praised highly enough. An important aspect of Tomb Raider which wrong-footed the action game freaks was the fact that you had to think in order to succeed. It's actually quite a leisurely game, and at times must be pored over like a particularly vexing crossword puzzle. Every five minutes Lara arrives at an apparent dead end, and it's up to you to discover a way out. Thanks to Core's ingenious level-editing system (which allows the designers to simultaneously test each area at the same time as they create it), every location has been exploited to the full.
The sheer amount of thought that has clearly gone into the layout of each section makes a mockery of just about any other computer game you care to mention. There's not one lazy moment.
Here's a bijou anecdote which explains what I'm getting at. It's 1984 (or so) and I'm sitting in my bedroom, aged 13, playing a game called Robin O'The Wood on my Sinclair ZX Spectrum. A friend of mine who has never really played a computer game before is watching me run around on the screen. The scrolling 'forest' background graphic catches his eye for a moment.
"Why don't you climb up that tree?" he asks.
"I can't", I mutter, trying to dodge an arrow.
"Why not?", enquires my friend.
"It's part of the background", I snap.
The Girl Can't Help it
ara herself has received a slight makeover, he fearsome triangular bust of yesteryear replaced with an altogether curvier lodel, which makes her look as if there's tiny Ford Ka trying to reverse out of her lirt. The haircut, too, has changed - a jnvincingly animated ponytail now angles behind her. It's just like the real ling. Occasionally it catches the breeze, he can even flick it over her shoulder, ist like Linford Christie does after he's nished doing his pee-pees. Then there's le new costumes, which are discussed in reater length elsewhere in these pages. Cosmetic changes are one thing, but ara's also been endowed with some handier attributes; such as climbing sideways and turning quickly underwater. And in the words of Thora Hird, Praise Be! - the team have addressed one of the largest criticisms of the first game - the unresponsive keys - by fine-tuning the control system. Previously, if the player hit the 'Jump' key when Lara was in the middle of a 'run' animation, the leaping process would only commence once the animation had run its course. In other words, she kept running off the bloody platforms all the time. Now the action is more or less instantaneous, although PC still had the occasional mysterious mishap (usually resulting in our sudden and violent death by plummeting).
Of course, the good lady wouldn't be quite so endearing if she wasn't continually waving a lifethreatening weapon in your face all the time, which is why there's a bunch of new weapons too, including a grenade launcher (as seen in most films starring Norris) and a harpoon gun (as seen on board Japanese whaling vessels and in most films starring Chuck Norris).
Does My Bum Look Big in This?
Lara Croft spent the whole of Tomb Raider wearing the same outfit. She clambered up daunting rock faces, leapt across gaping ravines, swam through mighty rivers, and spilt the blood of countless violent aggressors across a period of several adventure-packed weeks - yet not once did she change her clothes. Let's face it, by the time she returned home, her knickers would have looked, felt and smelt like she'd spent a fortnight using them to rub the skin off corpses in the basement of a turd factory. Attractive? No, it isn't, is it?
Hygiene finally triumphs in Tomb Raider II Lara alters her outfit to suit her surroundings on a couple of occasions. And the pathetic onanists amongst you can unclench those clammy fists now, because no, you don't get to see her changing - although the game does include a slightly 'saucier' costume in addition to the ones we're mentioning here. We just don't want to spoil things for later, that's all. Lara's wardrobe of weird and wonderful kit consists of the following:
The 'Lara Classic'
The instantly-recognisable ensemble from the original Tomb Raider: ultra-tight sky-blue T-shirt, buttock-clasping khaki shorts, belt, twin holsters, insolent sneer. You know it, I know it, let's not waste time yakking about it.
The Alpine Jacket
Approximately halfway through the game, lara ventures into the frozen isolation of the Tibetan foothills, an environment so remorselessly cold, the natives perpetually hurl cupfuls of boiling water into their own faces in an attempt to prevent their eyeballs from freezing. Turning up in a t-shirt would be exceedingly stupid given the unforgiving nature of the climate, and so to this end, Lara dons an attractive alpine jacket during these frost-bitten sections. Its warm, downy fleece keeps her snugger and cosier than a fat dog in a duvet avalanche. Well, it warms her upper half anyway - for some reason she's decided to retain her trademark skimpy shorts, so by rights her thighs should be covered in goose bumps you could rest your chin on.
The Wet Suit
There are times when the plot dictates that a girl simply must strip off completely and swim around as naked as nature intended: unfettered, unashamed, and right in the viewer's face. Not in Tomb Raider II, however. Lara Croft isn't quite as dothes-0-phobic.as Brooke Shields or Amanda Donohoe, and has insisted Core provide her with suitably aquatic attire to spare her blushes. Et voila - the skin-tight rubber wet suit: undeniably practical, yet also more figure-hugging than a fixated numerologist at a large furry digit convention. Although the outfit is adept at protecting Ms. Croft from the icy temperatures of the deep, she has to be may billow out at the ankles and drag her to the surface like a sodding balloon.
One Thing's For Sure, Tomb Raider Ii Is Not An Easy Game, Nor a small one. It's not an out-and-out action fest either: instead, the player's success depends upon his ability to explore, experiment and perform frighteningly accurate leaps across deadly chasms. In other words, you're going to need all the help you can get.
Which is where we come in. As you've probably already noticed, attached to this very magazine is a full-blown, arse-denchingly accurate walk through guide which will take you gently by the hand and lead you sensitively over every leap and turn in the game. But first, a selection of 'general hints' aimed at easing you into Tomb Raider II, without explicitly spoiling your enjoyment of it. Sort of like your first day at school, except no one's going to flush your head down the toilet or draw comedy penises on your satchel. Yet.
Welcome To Legoland
The first thing to realise is that - gasp - Tomb Raider II is a computer game. The environments that Lara passes through have all been created using a deceptively simple landscape editing system. No matter how organic it may appear, each landscape adheres to a strict grid system and breaks into squares of uniform dimension. Look closely and you'll get the idea. "So what?', you may be thinking. Well, here's 'what': every single manoeuvre in the game, no matter how tricky it may seem, can be calculated beforehand in terms of the number of squares covered by the movement undertaken. For instance, a single backward hop covers precisely one square. Assuming the terrain is level, a jump from a standing position places her two squares forward - a leap of one square - while a running jump clears two squares, leaving Lara standing three squares forward. Didn't follow that? Then go back and read it again, dunderhead. (Fair enough - Ed)
Okay, let's press on. It's often crucial to precede a jump with a short run-up - but don't go overboard. A run-up of a single square will suffice. If you're on a particularly precarious ledge, hold down the 'walk' (shift) key, and let Lara take three steps backwards. Not only is this equivalent to one square of ground, it's also safer than taking a backward hop (since Lara never falls off ledges during 'walk mode'). Clever huh? Similarly essential is the ability to grab ledges in mid-air. A running jump followed by a grab will allow Lara to leap three whole squares, then clench the edges of the fourth one. Don't forget, however, that the ledge you wish to grab onto must not be higher than the one on which you currently stand.
As in most things, practice makes perfect. Don't be afraid to experiment with Lara's many moves. Make the most of the training level, and memorise as many tricks as you can.
Look at the arsenal on that...
Lara loves weapons of destruction. She always goes gooey at the glimpse of a grenade launcher and mischievously moist at the mention of an M-16. The harpoon gun gets her horny, the automatic sends her half-orgasmic - even the puny pistol prompts passionate precipitation in her primrose-scented pants. She's a woman. She's a sick woman, that's what she is. A sick woman. With plenty of guns. It's no use darting around waywardly blasting mofo's in the goddamned face, however. A teensy weensy bit more care, attention and worthwhile selection is called for now. In other words, pick the right tools for the job. Here's a wickle guide for woo...
Use against: rats, spiders, Dobermans and unarmed men Good thing about pistols: they've got unlimited ammo. Bad thing: they're about as effective as an umbrella made of Disprin. Use them primarily for tiny foes such as rats and fish or from a distance on enemies who can't reach you.
Use against: Dobermans, tigers, leopards and armed men Automated for ease of use: voted 'Gun Most Likely To Reduce A Sophisticated Dinner Party To A Sprawling Mass Of Screaming Bloodied Carnage', at the 1997 Headless Madman Awards. Best deployed against multiple beastly foes or far-off fellows; be prudent with the ammo.
Use against: sharks, frogmen and fish (in an emergency) You may think you're Lord Muck, having an aquatic javelin-flinging device at your disposal, but take care. Ammo for this maritime murdering machine is hard to come by, and it must be reloaded after three shots. Bear in mind that it's possible to stand on the shore and pick off underwater nasties before Lara so much as dips a toe in. Don't let off a harpoon gun unless you have no other choice. Which is good advice for everyday life, by the way.
Use against: yeti, warrior, monk and Xian When someone pulls an Uzi out of their jacket, it's time to start agreeing with everything they say and do. Like birthday cake, it should be saved for special occasions: again, the ammo doesn't grow on trees, so make sure Lara doesn't riddle everything in sight with bullets.
Use against yeti, warrior, monk and Xian The biggest and best weapon in Lara's arsenal. Don't waste a single shot. The M-16 can pick off enemies from a very long distance - it's too cumbersome to be effective at close range -and it shouldn't even be used at all until well into the second half of the game. Capice?
Use against yeti, warrior, monk and Xian The ultimate conversation stopper. Grenades are extremely hard to come by, so don't even think about letting this off unless you're all out of options. In the long run, it's better to use up a medipack than to waste grenades on bad guys who could be eradicated via less spectacular means. And try not to fire it in a confined space. That would be just plain silly.
Use against: packs of dogs, armed men and tigers etc. Scourge of clay pigeons everywhere, this is yer common or garden 'shootah', as seen on Crimewatch UK. Come the collapse of society we'll be nonchalantly bandying these things about like they were sparklers, mate. Mark my words. Anyway, it's most effective when deployed against nearby enemies (one of these in the guts can make a mockery of six months work on the Abdominizer in seconds) or when fired wildly into slavering packs of animals. Top tip: hop backwards after firing, and reload on the move.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode