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Old 22-07-16, 09:38   #201
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Yay, yet another review sheepman never finishes
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Old 22-07-16, 09:48   #202
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I've just come here and I've read all your reviews Sheepman.. I love this!!
Now, I need to play TR2 again.
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Old 22-07-16, 12:37   #203
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Now, I need to play TR2 again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again.
Fixed.

One replay of TR2 is never enough.
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Old 22-07-16, 12:48   #204
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Hahahaha, game gets finished multiple times over but the review doesn't. Only shows that the game is good, no?
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Old 22-07-16, 15:02   #205
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Oh trust me, this review will be completed. In fact my TR2 disk is in my computer right now, I am just waiting to find some time this weekend to play. But of course, thank you all for the continued interest.
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Old 22-07-16, 15:20   #206
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Fixed.

One replay of TR2 is never enough.
You're damn right
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Old 23-07-16, 18:31   #207
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CHINA
Level 16 - "The Floating Islands"




You know, I have never tripped on acid, but if I did, I have a feeling it would look something like this... right?

Tomb Raider normally maintains heavily grounded in reality. Even its most mystic or supernatural elements are, most of the time, within a world that we can relate to. Midas' golden hand was within an ancient palace; extinct dinosaurs were inside of a pretty standard valley; undead mummies, monsters, and the like are always hidden in deep, dark tombs that our heroine uncovers. The craziest and most unusual things about Tomb Raider are almost always presented in a context that is easy for us to understand.

But then... what the hell is going on with "The Floating Islands"? This is easily the most supernatural level in the entire series, and the reason it earns this award is primarily because there is absolutely no basis as to where we are, how we got here, or whether or not this stuff is actually occurring in real life. For all we know, Bartoli actually killed himself by sticking the dagger in his heart, and Lara entered a hallucination where she "killed" the dragon in order to escape the Temple of Xian. I don't know, that's pretty far-fetched, but to be honest the possibilities are endless. I do believe there was a level designer who explained what this was supposed to be at one point, but I feel like a level this mystically ambiguous is pretty up in the air for fans to draw conclusions on.





I got really, really screenshot-happy when I was playing through this stage, because there are just so many awesome views to soak in and take pictures of. "The Floating Islands" is a very beautifully crafted level in appearance alone. Although sometimes the draw distance does not work in favor of supporting such a massive space like this, it is still quite haunting and mesmerizing to stare out in the distance and see the shadows of floating warriors or previously unseen emerald islands in the distance. The use of that emerald green is a particularly bold choice, although not all that bold in context of what this level is representing anyway.

Blend those islands together with pretty normal-looking architecture, and this becomes the most imaginable unimaginable world ever created in the TR series. I am curious to see how this level would be remade if such a remake were to ever exist for Tomb Raider II; on the one hand, I am pretty well opposed to any future TR remakes - especially in the new direction that the series is going - but at the same time... damn, I would love to see this world updated with today's graphics. That is a dream that I will most likely never get to experience, but ah well. The original is hella good, and because "The Floating Islands" is the only level of TR2 to exercise this environment (I'm not counting the boss battle since it's completely indoors), it gains a lot more memorability as a result. While I savor at the idea of having a few more emerald island stages to play around with, "The Floating Islands" is so iconic for being as crazy as its name suggests.





Tomb Raider II's use of color schemes is really unmatched by any other title in the series, and "The Floating Islands" is further proof of such perfection. I tried to pick screens for this review that capture exactly what I am talking about. It's a pretty level to look at, and being easy on the eyes is a very underestimated facet of why certain games and levels ultimately are viewed in a better light than others. Compare the color scheme of Tomb Raider II to Underworld, and it becomes obvious why the latter feels so much less appealing to play, despite having decent gameplay and locations.

But enough of talking about other games; I have only just began to touch on why "The Floating Islands" is such a goddamn masterpiece.

Going off of the supernatural theme: the enemies. Man they are great. Although I said earlier that I am thankful that this level stood alone in its theme, I would probably be fine with having a couple more levels like this one just for the sake of getting these badass statue warriors to shoot the living daylights out of. They are fun, they are creepy, and they are tough to defeat. Well, not necessarily the floating ones, since they take an unreasonably long amount of time to fly across the skies, but whatever, they still send chills down my back whenever they start animating and... attempting... to make their way over to Lara.





The above two screenshots depict perfect examples of why the enemies are perfection in this level. In the above shot, there is a floating warrior that literally emerges from a hellish wall of lava. Granted, they had to make a little "room" inside of the wall just to create the visual that it was coming out of the lava, but it is very cool and original. Little surprises like that exist all over this level; often times you will be able to touch a warrior statue, but it will not animate until you step on a certain tile or pull a specific switch, and thus the player is left worrying about when the guardian will actually come to life...

The second screenshot is set within "The Cage" as I like to call it, or what could be the most exhilarating combat experience of this game. Here, Lara falls into a cage where there are ninja dudes and inanimate warrior statues on the outside; when she pulls the switch, all hell breaks loose. But the screenshot itself is actually illustrating the "death by warrior" animation, where the spear guys will actually pick Lara up with their giant chopsticks, wave her around in the air, and then lethally fling her head-first into the ground, effectively killing her. It's quite a gruesome display, and yet kind of satisfying to watch. Little details like that elevate this level to the highest possible tier.



Good God, I have written an awful lot already and there is still so much stuff to talk about. While the islands and whatnot are a big deal, "The Floating Islands" is impressively structured to allow a taste of pretty much every style of gameplay we have gotten throughout TR2. Combat is easily the heaviest, but jumping sequences are also pretty prominent since we are talking about an archipelago of floating emerald islands. The second half of the level is mostly set indoors with traps inserted at certain locations, and little puzzles included to further hinder Lara's progress... all whilst knife-throwing dudes and spear warriors are breathing down her neck.

You know, I do think it is a testament to a level's success when I cannot find one thing to even nitpick on. I have been trying to for the entirety of the time I have written this review, but so far nothing has come up. "The Floating Islands" is one of the best experiences of the entire series, and I will elaborate on just how well it matches up with the series' best here in a moment. But for now, let's hit some odds and ends...
  • The secrets were all above average in placement; no big standouts, unlike in the previous review, but generally good. Also, that reward for getting all three dragons is quite the surprise...


  • Block-pushing and ladders are used sparingly and cleverly here, so kudos to whoever designed this level, because TR2 has commonly had an issue with this.
  • There are all sorts of fun little tricks for dealing with the statue warriors. There is one method where you can "soften" them up with grenades, and then they are extremely weak upon animation. You can also open and shut some of the lattice doors here and then fire at them through the "cracks". Personally, I prefer to just engage in open combat with them and suck up the health packs if I end up taking damage, which I took a lot of here.
  • Speaking of which, is this the toughest level of Tomb Raider II? I think it might be. The combat is easily the most difficult of the game, and I believe that only ToX would probably give it a run for its money in overall difficulty, if only for its mind-numbing trap sequences.
  • I got to this point in the odds and ends and realized that I had not even touched specifically on atmosphere... but in case you did not get the hint when I was describing the world, it is absolutely phenomenal here.
  • There is an invisible platform in this level in the first area; it is diagonal to the top of the giant ornate cage structure, and it extends for quite a long ways actually. I took a screenshot for those of you have never seen it, but definitely check it out when replaying TR2 in the future.



Conclusion

I remember going into this replay and firmly believing that Temple of Xian and Barkhang Monastery were going to be the two levels to come out on top. That is just always how I have had them, and I did not think it would ever change.

But... The Floating Islands has won me over in a way that I did not anticipate it too. This level is just so damned fun, guys. I do not even think this review, which has basically been 100% positive, does it the justice it deserves. It is such an unbelievably quirky and unique experience that it so aloof to really anything else this series has to offer. That kind of uniqueness instantly catapults it to stardom, but the perfection of gameplay and atmosphere on top of that is what really pushes this level to being Top 5 material.

Is it better than Temple of Xian? That's a tough one. These two levels are similar in a couple really substantial ways, but also wildly different. They both are heavily boosted by an outstanding background ambient track and a generally apocalyptic setting. But whereas Temple of Xian places more importance on deadly traps, The Floating Islands has harrowing enemies and jumping sequences instead. They are very difficult and memorable for vastly difference reasons.

Today, my ranking of this level is going to reflect how I feel after just finishing it about an hour ago. But let it be known that TR2 has three absolute stars, and they are all perfect for their own reasons.

Rating - 10/10



Current TR2 Level Rankings:
1. The Floating Islands (10/10)
2. Temple of Xian (10/10)
3. Barkhang Monastery (10/10)
4. 40 Fathoms (9.5/10)
5. Catacombs of the Talion (9.5/10)
6. The Great Wall (9/10)
7. The Deck (9/10)
8. Tibetan Foothills (9/10)
9. Wreck of the Maria Doria (8.5/10)
10. The Opera House (8.5/10)
11. Bartoli's Hideout (8/10)
12. The Ice Palace (8/10)
13. Venice (7/10)
14. Living Quarters (6.5/10)
15. Diving Area (5/10)
16. Offshore Rig (3/10)
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Old 23-07-16, 18:47   #208
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But then... what the hell is going on with "The Floating Islands"? This is easily the most supernatural level in the entire series, and the reason it earns this award is primarily because there is absolutely no basis as to where we are, how we got here, or whether or not this stuff is actually occurring in real life. For all we know, Bartoli actually killed himself by sticking the dagger in his heart, and Lara entered a hallucination where she "killed" the dragon in order to escape the Temple of Xian. I don't know, that's pretty far-fetched, but to be honest the possibilities are endless.
What? ;P That definitely is very far-fetched. I mean, you can see the entrance if you turn around and look up. Promoting it to a hallucination/dream is definitely much more bizarre than just taking its existence as something 'fantastical' (which isn't unheard of in TR at that point).

As I said in the General thread I thought this level was just stupid when I first played the game on release. As an adult... HOT DAMN, it's so amazing. Well deserved perfect score. That frikkin fire texture against the jade texture gives me a woody.
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Compare the color scheme of Tomb Raider II to Underworld, and it becomes obvious why the latter feels so much less appealing to play, despite having decent gameplay and locations.
IMHO Underworld's visuals are the least of its problems but that's for another thread.

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Old 23-07-16, 19:00   #209
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I'm really loving these reviews, Sheepman! Your writing style is superbly effective at keeping your readers interested, and all your points have validity and none come across as nit picky for no reason, if you understand what I mean
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Old 23-07-16, 19:03   #210
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What? ;P That definitely is very far-fetched. I mean, you can see the entrance if you turn around and look up. Promoting it to a hallucination/dream is definitely much more bizarre than just taking its existence as something 'fantastical' (which isn't unheard of in TR at that point).

As I said in the General thread I thought this level was just stupid when I first played the game on release. As an adult... HOT DAMN, it's so amazing. Well deserved perfect score. That frikkin fire texture against the jade texture gives me a woody.
I mean, I don't actually believe that, I am just blindly speculating different things that could have happened in between ToX and The Floating Islands, because it is not really clear. Also, I would say that something this fantasy-like was unheard of in the series before this level. As I mentioned, other supernatural elements have always been grounded in a realistic world; there is nothing about The Floating Islands that is realistic, which does promote that it could be completely made-up (a la Nightmare in Vegas, although that one is a little more obvious). Again, I do believe it was all real, but I like joking about the idea that it was all a dream.

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IMHO Underworld's visuals are the least of its problems but that's for another thread.
True...

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I'm really loving these reviews, Sheepman! Your writing style is superbly effective at keeping your readers interested, and all your points have validity and none come across as nit picky for no reason, if you understand what I mean
Thank you for the comments! It is admittedly a lot easier and fun to write reviews of games that I enjoy very much, and TR2 is definitely one of those.
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