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sheepman23 29-01-16 03:50

Sheepman Reviews Tomb Raider II
Tomb Raider II
A Comprehensive (Re-)Review!
by Sheepman23


China (Part 1)
Level 1 - The Great Wall

Level 2 - Venice
Level 3 - Bartoli's Hideout
Level 4 - The Opera House

The Rig
Level 5 - Offshore Rig
Level 6 - Diving Area

The Maria Doria
Level 7 - 40 Fathoms
Level 8 - Wreck of the Maria Doria
Level 9 - Living Quarters
Level 10 - The Deck

Level 11 - Tibetan Foothills
Level 12 - Barkhang Monastery
Level 13 - Catacombs of the Talion
Level 14 - The Ice Palace

China (Part 2)
Level 15 - Temple of Xian
Level 16 - The Floating Islands
Level 17 - The Dragon's Lair

Epilogue: Home Sweet Home

After a year-long hiatus, I have returned.

The last time that I analyzed any Tomb Raider material on this site, I literally took every level from TR1 to Underworld and ranked them from #1 to 173. Every single level from the classic games to the Crystal trilogy. All of it. After that, it would seem that there's really nowhere left for me to go, right?

Well... you're wrong. :ton:

I am taking on two different Tomb Raider projects this year. The second one I will not reveal - yet - but this first one is simply a (re)review of Tomb Raider II. It was nearly five years ago that I joined Tomb Raider Forums and did my very first review over this masterpiece of a game. However, at that time, I was a highly inexperienced analyst and really didn't have many in-depth views to spit out. I also blasted through the game and didn't leave a lot of room for others to express opinions regarding my thoughts. This will not be the case this time, as I am juggling college, a social life, and work, so don't expect me to be playing every single day. :p

So sit back and enjoy! Discuss, criticize, praise, do whatever you want. I love hearing what you guys think, so please don't hesitate to comment here, even if you think my opinion is blasphemy. But it's not, so you don't have to worry about that. :pillow:

WolfRaider 29-01-16 04:04

Cool, having gone through TR2 recently and enjoyed your ranking all TR level list, I definitely look forward to this.:)

sheepman23 29-01-16 05:33

Level 1 - The Great Wall


Crafting the Perfect Opener

One of the hardest things for any video game design team to do is the creation of an opening level or sequence to start off their game. It doesn't matter if you have a masterpiece in front of you: if you don't draw in gamers through the opening stages, they will put your game down and never reach the good stuff that you have packed inside of it. This is becoming increasingly pertinent in a lot of newer games, where we often don't have the protagonist's full skillset to work with at the beginning since they need to "level up", or the game's beginning spends so much time on story setup that we get little gameplay (and what we do get is bare bones and not fulfilling).

Neither of these issues are present in any of the original five Tomb Raider games. The Lara that we're working with in the game's opening moments is the exact same Lara that we're working with before the last cutscene rolls. She receives no added tricks along the way. Story takes a back seat to gameplay, meaning that we actually get to spend time maneuvering Lara through a rich environment from the start instead of having to wait until we're a third of the way through the game.

A lack of complexity in the story is the reason why the original Tomb Raider games shined. The only thing we needed from the beginning was the ability to control Lara through Core's worlds, and that was it. This simplicity is excellent, and something that much of the new era of video games is missing. Of course, this does not mean that there are no great games nowadays. I am currently playing Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag in addition to this title, and while its methodology for creating an experience is almost the polar opposite of Tomb Raider II, it is still a grand experience, and Black Flag is probably one of the greatest games that I've played from this decade. Still, there is a lot to be desired from much of the newer generation of gaming, and most of it boils down to simplicity.

Enjoy killing endangered wildlife now Lara. Little do you know that this game is Tomb Raider II, and PETA is going to be the least of your worries.

Moving on to The Great Wall, what exactly does it do that solidifies it as an excellent Tomb Raider opener?

First, let me be very clear here: The Great Wall is absolutely superb. You could really stick this level in at any point in this game, or any other game, and it would be a delight of a level to play through. It hits a lot of different key aspects of Tomb Raider gameplay (more on that later), and it does it without overstaying its welcome. It has a welcoming atmosphere and does not make any weird design choices that feel out of place with this level's environment. The exception of course is Secret #3, but this will also be explained later.

The Great Wall's real selling point as an opener is its progression. At the level's beginning, we are dropped into a relatively calm crevice alongside the wall that is devoid of hazards, aside from a few stray tigers. We are quickly expected to learn how to maneuver Lara up a set of rock ledges, but not with any menacing leaps. The pace is undoubtedly a lot faster than TR1, but not so fast that it feels as though the designers were picking up where they left off with the previous game... *cough* TR3 *cough*.

For the first two-thirds of the level, the designers really hold our hand. We get to kill a few harmless crows and little spiders; we fetch a key to open a guardhouse; we climb a ladder and collect some pickups from a lost explorer.

And then all hell breaks loose.

What's cooler than one boulder? TWO boulders!!!

The Great Wall makes its raider comfortable for the first 15 minutes or so by presenting it with calm, outdoor environments where everything feels very much under our control. There are no big surprises outside of the occasional tiger appearance or random falling spider. But the infamous trap sequence that makes up the next portion of this level is probably one of the greatest surprises that the designers have sprung on us in the series for a few different reasons.

First of all, I think it's safe to say that pretty much no one expected this for the first level of the game. If you look back to the original Tomb Raider, the most dangerous booby trap that we encountered in Caves were... darts. There were also a few swinging axes in City of Vilcabamba, but these were not only very brief but also extremely easy to avoid. Hell, spikes and boulders didn't even show up until the Tomb of Qualopec, which was four levels in. However, here, we are encountering a mix of several deadly traps at once, and the most dangerous part about this is that we're being rushed through these areas to avoid advancing dangers. The designers play even more mind games with us by sticking not only an ammo pickup in here, but a secret itself! So if you're the raider that is going to pillage everything, then you're expected to stoop down in the middle of this craziness to gather your goods, and still have time to escape from certain death - and it is very certain death in both circumstances (see below).

Secondly, this trap sequence is not bloated to Temple-of-Xian-esque levels of toughness. Although it is tricky and unexpected, it's actually over quite quickly despite feeling very packed with traps. There is one sequence where we have to run from two boulders, fall into a room with a moving spike wall, and then escape to the safety of a hallway. The other run features falling tiles, slashing blades, and more enclosing walls... but after that, it's pretty much over. Any danger that lies ahead is manageable and not a race against time (or in this case, bloody spikes).

As a result, what we have here is one of the most memorable moments of really any TR game. If I had to pick one iconic trap sequence, this would probably be at the top of the list. I can give Temple of Xian all of the accolades in the world for being a monster rampage of a gauntlet, but absolutely none of those trap-ridden rooms or hallways stand out in the same way that this little spot does in The Great Wall. It's a brilliant little piece of design, and one of the reasons why this level is the best opener of any TR game in the series. :tmb:

You know, the gallons of blood on these spikes and the total lack of skeletons on the ground is a little unsettling...

Oh 1997 blood graphics, how I've missed you.

Jurassic Tomb Raider Park II: The Lost Grenade Launcher

Putting aside the ingenuity of The Great Wall's progression, one of the more perplexing and, to some extent, criticized portions of TR2's opener is the t-rex canyon.

First of all, let's consider the context of prehistoric enemies and their place in the Tomb Raider universe. To this day, The Lost Valley is lauded as one of the series' most iconic levels. That's not an opinion, it's a fact - even if you don't agree with it. The appearance of raptors and t-rexes pushed the boundaries of a game that was supposed to be bounded in completely realistic scenarios, and it did it with style.

Flash-forward to Tomb Raider II, where the designers are clearly trying to capitalize off of things that worked during the first game. They can't literally recreate a Lost Valley-esque scenario, so what do they do? They stick a few t-rexes in, but in a location that casual players may never even uncover. Of course, the descent into the canyon is not very difficult to accomplish, but it is still easy to overlook if you decide to go zip-lining first. In any case, the appearance of not one, but two t-rexes in the bottom of the canyon is startling. In a level that seems pretty factually correct (for the most part), why would there be two prehistoric foes just hanging out down here? In fact, it's kind of absurd to think that these two can be even be alive with what appears to be no food or water source around.

This oddball design choice seems rather brash for designers that have never had an inconsistency like this one. However, there are a few circumstances that make this moment great anyhow. Firstly, this is a secret area, and as we know, secret TR areas have a tendency to sometimes go a little haywire with their accuracy and realism (see many of the secrets from TR2 and TR3 Gold ;)). Secondly, it's off the beaten path, and the reward of finding two hidden t-rexes is really a secret in itself. Third, this is an opening level, and not some random t-rex pit halfway through the game. Granted, it might still be cool if it were inserted somewhere else, but for a level that already makes a lot of cool memorable moments, this is a slightly bizarre excursion to go on top of all of the other good ones that we're presented with.

The bottom line: realistic or not, the t-rex pit was well worth its inclusion.

Putting malnourished t-rexes out of their misery is one of Lara Croft's specialties.

Thank goodness for handy wi-fi hotspots in deep subterranean caverns!


It's too bad that the quality of Tomb Raider II has to take a slight nosedive before getting really fantastic again, because The Great Wall is really a very exciting and engaging opener that ticks all of the boxes of what I'd want from a Tomb Raider level. It never goes overboard and never tries to tax the player with unreasonable backtracking or convoluted amounts of combat, and it manages to ease us into the game and then dump a load of danger on us in one subtle swoop, and it does the whole thing stylishly. Music tracks are inserted at proper moments, and even the level's secrets are quite interesting. Did I mention the brilliance of the Jade Dragon location? This is perhaps the most obvious secret in any of the original games yet it becomes one of the most frustrating to reach.

There's just... really nothing I can come up with that's wrong about this level. It's utterly fantastic. I guess the only thing that really keeps it from top status - or that perfect 10/10 rating - is its relatively short length. Part of me wishes that the designers had spent more time designing outdoor areas here, because the ones they did come up with were superb in every respect, and we almost could have used some more calm areas before plunging into the gauntlet and t-rex valley.

Overall, though, this is a very solid opening and a testament to how great Tomb Raider II can be when it's at the top of its game. :tmb:


knightgames 29-01-16 05:58

Looking forward to reading more, sheepman. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of TR2's first level. It really does shine as a running gauntlet of traps, treasures and danger.

Thanks for taking the time to write and post such a well written review.

WolfRaider 29-01-16 06:02

Yeah I love how the level is pretty calm for a while (and a sight to look at with the part of the wall you are on), and then it goes balls deep with those traps.:vlol: Talk about a sudden change of pace heh, but that was pretty neat, and doesn't really go overboard indeed. As for the two T-Rex at the end, pretty amusing and odd secret there.:p

Hyper_Crazy 29-01-16 06:41

Nice review of The Great Wall.
Truly the best opening level in any Tomb Raider. I feel for anyone whose first experience with Lara Croft was Tomb Raider 2, this level is quite unforgiving, they throw you in the deep end.

I still remember the first time I encountered the T-Rexes, what a bloody surprise, unnerving for a first level but still a pleasant surprise. :p

I look forward to the next entry. :tmb:

tomee 29-01-16 08:52

Great review on the first level. I agree with everything.:tmb:


Originally Posted by sheepman23 (Post 7533802)
The last time that I analyzed any Tomb Raider material on this site, I literally took every level from TR1 to Underworld and ranked them from #1 to 173. Every single level from the classic games to the Crystal trilogy. All of it. After that, it would seem that there's really nowhere left for me to go, right?

Well... you're wrong. :ton:

Technically you never did Lara's Shadow. :whi:
What a tease!

sheepman23 29-01-16 15:28


Originally Posted by tomee (Post 7533876)
Technically you never did Lara's Shadow. :whi:
What a tease!

I was actually referring to the level rankings list, where I did review everything... but yes, I'm still missing Lara's Shadow. I can't exactly remember what was going on in my life at that time but it's kind of funny how I just reached the end and then let the last level go. :vlol:

As far as actual reviewing goes, I have yet to review the final portion of TR1, Unfinished Business, AoD, Lara's Shadow, or either of the reboot games.

tlr online 29-01-16 15:29

Looking forward to this sheepman :wve:

peeves 29-01-16 16:05

I like the levels in the game in general. I'm looking forward for you to review the rig and maria doria levels.

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