Tag Archives: Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider II, Level 2: Venice

So my last Tomb Raider-related blog post was, uh *checks watch,* seven years ago. Look, you can see this as me being lazy and abandoning a project for too long, or you can see it as me valiantly attempting to combat the view that popular entertainment is disposable by refusing to bow to the quiet tyranny of time; the choice is yours.

The Urban Problem

I have a lot of problems with Venice, in fact with this whole Venetian level set, and it makes me feel kind of bad. I know these levels are largely beloved by fans, and I wish I could feel the same. But from the first time I played this level, back in 1998, I found it tedious and frustrating, and I’ve never been able to shake that feeling. Even now, when I have the level mostly memorized and can zip through it pretty fast, I still find it frustrating.

The first problem is that urban environments present practical problems for Tomb Raider, as a franchise. If we’re supposed to be in a city, where are all the people? Well, there are lots of gun-toting Bartoli henchman, but where all the non-packing, non-insane people? Putting in neutral NPCs would probably create as many problems as it would solve, but it still feels weird to be running around a city where no one lives; it’s kind of antithetical to the whole concept of the series, really. The whole set up of Tomb Raider implies that you don’t run into any people, because they all died thousands of years ago; when you’re in a modern city, and there’s still no people, you’re reminded of the artificiality of the situation pretty bluntly.

Yes, in the back of your mind, even in the first game, you always know you’re playing a video game; it’s not like making TRII Venice look more populated would really change that. But I think it’s safe to say that Tomb Raider achieves a higher level of immersion when set in, err, tombs, versus modern environments. Interestingly I think they pulled this off better with the London levels in Tomb Raider III, since in that level set, it felt like it was about 4:30 A.M. there and Lara was exploring mostly abandoned buildings anyway, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first vehicle you can ride in all of Tomb Raider and I…don’t like it too much. Maybe this is just me, but I feel like I’m constantly getting on an off the damn thing when I don’t want to, and it happens a lot less with later vehicles.

The second major problem is I think the level’s primary puzzle is a bit too clever for its own good. Maybe I’m just mad that I blew up Lara about a zillion times on the mines trying to clear this level as a teen, but I still think the boat puzzle is too hard to figure out without the aid of a strategy guide. I mean, this is the first TR level in history where they even give you a vehicle, and you’re supposed to figure out a)that you can completely destroy it and b)you can jump out of it at the last second before an explosion? My memory is a little hazy, but I think at the time, I thought you were supposed to improve your speedboat piloting skills to the point where you could navigate between the mines; obviously, this didn’t work out so hot for me.

On one hand, I complain that this puzzle is too unintuitive. On the other, I know that if this game were made today, NPCs and in-game prompts would probably give you about 47 hints about what you were supposed to do, and there would be no satisfaction when you solved it. Maybe I’m just never happy?

Eventually I destroyed one boat pretty much by luck, and forgot the second one existed, so I completed the level the wussy-way; swimming through the gate and completely missing the harried boat ride through half the level. Imagine my surprise when I started the next level and Lara was in yet another speedboat.

Is it possible that very few players were stymied by this puzzle, and I was just being dense? I guess it’s possible. Besides, I have to admit, when you do know what you have to do and you succeed with the timed boat challenge– complete with taking your boat to places where boats are definitely not meant to go– it is pretty darn satisfying.

The Joy of Awning Hopping

It’s hard for me to see past the negatives with this level, mostly because of bad memories from 20 years ago messing with my perception. However, if I give Venice a fair shake, there are some really nice elements here. Jumping from awning to awning is much more fun than it should be; same with jumping up to the fancy glass windows, shooting them out and then running inside. Somewhere out there, there is custom level that’s all about jumping on awnings and shooting out fancy windows on raised overpasses, and I really need to be playing it right now.

I also like the secret placement; sure, burying two little dragons in the black depths of an underwater catacomb is a little harsh, but if you haven’t figured out by this point in the game that they’ve been handing you buckets of flares for a reason, that’s on you.

Once you get this mysterious door open, that’s when the fun starts. I can never get enough of scouring dark catacombs for shiny things, especially when there are lots and lots of shiny things.

Have I mentioned that love collecting flares in this game? I feel like they’re the closest thing to money in the game, so my hoarding instinct takes over;  I’m pretty sure I’ve finished the game with 60+ flares in my inventory. It’s like a game-within-a-game to see how well I can get along with stumbling around in complete and total darkness without using the obvious tool. Hey, did you know that in a pinch, you can use your pistols instead? Lara’s pistols illuminate the area around her briefly, so if you fire them like they’re tiny little machine guns, you can almost see where you’re going for a little while there. Sadly, this does not work underwater, which is where you tend to need flares the most, but oh well.

Speaking of the swimming element, it’s cool to be swimming along, pull up on a dock, shoot some henchmen, jump back in the water and get on with your day. In practice I always get Lara shot about twice as often as she needs to and end up getting frustrated, but that doesn’t change the fact that the idea of it is cool.

Is there some kind of theme park attraction where you’re in an entirely floating city, and you can climb up on the dock to buy ice cream or something, but then jump back in the water to swim to the next attraction? Because that sounds like it would be insanely fun. I may have to stop playing Tomb Raider for a bit and petition all my local waterparks to implement this feature.

Best: Hands down, the best part of the level SHOULD be doing the timed boat race, which is really innovative and feels exhilarating when you pull it off, but as you now know, I have a love-hate relationship with that puzzle. So instead, I’m going to say that the best part is the whole sewer-like area you enter after getting the first speedboat; you may burn through flares like mad, but it’s a blast finding all of the hidden items and secrets. Those uzi clips nearly buried in the sand in a dark corner underwater…*chef’s kiss*

Worst: The excessive number of enemies in the first area, especially the one that pops up after you pull the switch in the boathouse. We’re just getting used to fighting human enemies in TR2, and you throw like five of these bozos at us? Plus mean dogs? No thank you.

Rating: Two Uzi Clips Out of Five

This is my honest opinion; please don’t hurt me.

Coming Next: Bartoli’s Hideout, where I’m going to try to put aside all my issues with Venice as a whole and just play the damned level.

(Screenshots from Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots; used with permission.)

Tomb Raider II, Level 1: The Great Wall

Lara runs from two boulders, because that's totally apropriate in the first level of the game.I was planning on starting with Lara’s Home, since unlike in TR1, there’s an actual puzzle to solve this time. However, since I hate hedge mazes and everything they stand for, I’m going to pretend Croft Manor doesn’t exist and move on to the first level proper. I’m no longer going to be able to ignore the fact that Lara’s Home has become an actual level by TR3, but let’s deal with one problem at a time.

Continue reading Tomb Raider II, Level 1: The Great Wall

Annotated Playthrough: Tomb Raider II

TR2 Lara with shiny new braid
I drew some new fanart to celebrate a new playthrough. Here, Lara is showing off her shiny new braid, since she’s obviously very proud of it; hey, I would be.

Me and Tomb Raider II

Though I completed TR1 first, Tomb Raider II was the first game I ever really wanted; it was the reason I saved up my babysitting money and bought a Playstation. After barely touching videogames other than short Mario sessions at friends’ houses when I was little, sometime in early high school, I was flipping through an issue of Newsweek after school one day to see a one-page article on the upcoming sequel. From the first screenshot, Lara in her leather jacket on a pristine snowfield in Tibet, I was intrigued. The idea that videogames would allow me to explore gorgeous, imaginary worlds hit me all at once.

I used to read my parent’s copies of Newsweek in those days to pretend I understood the articles, and if it weren’t for that, I don’t know if I ever would have gotten involved in gaming at all. Maybe one day I’ll write an alternate history for myself where my parents subscribed to Time instead, I never learned about Tomb Raider, and instead I became a nuclear physicist and solved the forthcoming energy crisis (why not?) Continue reading Annotated Playthrough: Tomb Raider II

Tomb Raider Level 15: The Great Pyramid

THE MEDIPACK IS NOT WORTH IT
I swear, this room can SENSE YOUR FEAR. I just run through the room lacksadaisically, like I don’t care? It’s all good. Actually worried about having to go back to my last save? The lava walls are magnetically attracted to Lara. If nothing else, there’s definitely something funky going on with the collision detection here.

Alas, here we are: the final level of the original Tomb Raider. I thought I might be low on things to say about it since the level designers are far to busy trying to kill Lara dead to put in any beautiful vistas or meaningful symbolism, but naturally, sensible things like that don’t hold me back.

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Tomb Raider Level 14: Atlantis

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m not typically interested in feminist criticism. When a text actually lends itself to it at all, the resulting analysis is often obvious to the point of being banal: you mean, stuff written decades ago was more overtly sexist than we generally see today? You don’t say.

However, when the penultimate level of a video game involves traipsing around what is basically a giant womb, pitting one alpha-female absolutely obsessed with self-reliance against another alpha-female absolutely obsessed with the power of creation, while giant eggs are bursting forth with new life all over the place, well…there might be some feminine symbolism going on there; I could be wrong.

This is a roundabout way of saying that some of my thoughts on this level may seem a lot like feminist criticism, and that’s a bit of a pain; I still don’t like it on general principle. It’s just, even a stopped clock is right once a day, you know? Continue reading Tomb Raider Level 14: Atlantis

Tomb Raider, Level 12: Sanctuary of the Scion

Overview, or in Need of Level Replayers Anonymous

Confession time: I seriously screwed up this level for myself. First I played it two or three times, as is my habit for these things, fully intending to write up a level review shortly. Then I moved into my new apartment and got sidetracked. Then I played the level again, thinking I would THEN review it, only to get buried in work for a few weeks. So as I played it again just now, for what must have been the fourth or fifth time, I realized I had managed to make one of the great Tomb Raider levels of all time appear boring via repetition.

Continue reading Tomb Raider, Level 12: Sanctuary of the Scion

Tomb Raider, Level 11: Obelisk of Khamoon

It’s obvious that this level is a sister level to City of Khamoon, but what I didn’t realize until this time around was that it’s also a sister-level to St. Francis’ Folly; it’s all about going vertical. The main Obelisk room is all about the height, and most of the side puzzles involve traversing great heights. It also benefits from being a level with a strong central location, without it being too obvious how you’re supposed to progress.

However, unlike SFF, jumping from down from on high isn’t necessarily fatal, and it can actually be useful- it’s just a more inviting atmosphere. It’s interesting in that this is one of the levels where the whole thing is obviously an elaborate puzzle expressly created to keep people out (hence my feeling that this whole Egypt section is one giant tomb), but it never really feels like Lara isn’t welcome.

Continue reading Tomb Raider, Level 11: Obelisk of Khamoon

Tomb Raider, Level 10: City of Khamoon

I’m a bit out of my depth with the Egypt levels- on the one hand, from the standpoint of playability, they’re all pretty much great. However, they don’t seem to conjure up the kind of thoughts in me that many other levels do, leaving me constantly aware while I’m playing them that I’m playing TR levels, albeit some very good ones, and NOT really exploring some ancient locale. This may have more to do with me than the game, but it does leave me a little puzzled in terms of how to rate them.

Continue reading Tomb Raider, Level 10: City of Khamoon

Tomb Raider Level 9, Tomb of Tihocan

Lara fighting the first Atalantean CentaurI think I said at the beginning that these level write-ups would probably get shorter once I got into the game, and if anything they’re just getting longer and longer. By Natla’s Mines, we could be in Anna Karenina territory here.

Like Tomb of Qualopec, this level is more a gauntlet of traps meant to keep you from your destination for just a bit longer than an exploration-friendly locale. However, unlike Tomb of Qualopec, it feels less like an individual level and more like a mix of several unrelated ideas strewn together. Still, despite lacking cohesion, it’s actually more fun than the previous tomb level; the collection of traps and puzzles is varied enough not to get dull, and the level actually becomes something memorable towards the end.

Idea #1: The Cistern, Part Deux

Hmmm, where have I seen this before? Other than ten minutes ago?

The puzzles in the first half of the level just seem like an expansion of the previous level, the Cistern, complete with obvious-but-still-nifty water puzzles, fungi infestation, crocodiles (ack!) and rats (ick.) However, that’s not a bad thing, necessarily; because the puzzles are simple (in fact, calling them “puzzles” is a bit of stretch), you never really get bogged down in this area. I think the Cistern-area decor doesn’t get old because you’re quickly through this section before you have time to get sick of it.

As TR fans, we like to talk about the “diabolical” puzzles that tripped us up, but the sad truth is, not every puzzle can be a brainteaser; we don’t have the patience for it. While too many easy puzzles can start to bore, a few easy puzzles when all you want to do is get to the end of the section (which you clearly want to do at this point in the Greco-Roman hub of the adventure) can be satisfying in its own way.

Idea #2: Block Puzzles For Dummies

I actually don’t have a screenshot of the block puzzle, because uh…it’s a block puzzle, who cares. But I did want to point out that I hate these metal shutters that start appearing in this level, they make no sense.

Now on the other hand, the one major block puzzle is easy to the point of being kind of insulting; there aren’t really any choices to make, you just push the block onto the obvious places to push it- the order doesn’t matter- and doors open. Upon replay, I was struck by what a total free gift this “puzzle” was; we’re being herded, with a wink and a nudge, toward the end of the section.

A shoutout to the keyholes in this room for being one of the few sets of keyholes in the game you can traverse perfectly with a sideways jump; I always try to travel between adjacent keyholes/switches/etc. with a sideways jump, and it usually doesn’t line up properly and I feel stupid. At least, this one time, I was able to use the sideways jump for something more useful than wasting time in Lara’s music room.

Idea #3: Introduction to Atlantis

Now, this is more like it.

The underwater section preceding Tihocan’s actual tomb is among the game’s prettier areas, and there’s a great sense of majesty as well. It’s fitting that Tihocan’s tomb is surrounded by water, given that the Grecian section of the game is by far the most water-oriented of the four. The only downside is that it seems like the vast underwater caverns should be filled with secrets, and there’s really nothing there- I kept thinking a piece of seaweed was one of those TR2- style gold dragons, but alas, it was only some yellow-green pixels.

The statue coming to life is also a very surprising moment (although the story behind this confuses me, which I’ll get to in a minute), and I like the fact that both statues don’t come to life together; I don’t think I knew that the second one even could come to life after you’d entered the temple until this playthrough.

However, remember how that mummy in Tomb of Qualopec was implied to actually be Qualopec? Well it would stand to reason that the Atalantean Horseman is Tihocan (or his spirit, or whatever), except how can that be? I thought all the red creatures were abominations that Natla had created, and buddies Qualopec and Tihocan were decidedly not in favor of her handiwork. Okay, I know the real reason why the horseman is there is because a)it scares the daylights out of you in a good way and b)it’s foreshadowing the Atalantean hijinks to come, but it doesn’t quite make sense to me in the larger context of the story, which is generally more cohesive than many have given it credit for.

Stupid Pierre Tricks: Finale

It seems like the Stupid Pierre Tricks segment should end with some sort of glorious, no-holds-barred battle, but the last two encounters with our favorite magical Frenchman are nothing terribly exciting- although you do fight Pierre in much closer quarters than usual during the first one, making his teleportation act much more obvious than usual, since there’s just nowhere for him to run most of the time. Now, I know that not everyone is sold on my theory about Pierre, but honestly? After this level, I think the burden of proof is on anyone who thinks Pierre ISN’T magical.

The final confrontation is also kind of underwhelming- you shoot him, he forgets to teleport/run away this time, thus he dies. Hmm. I can’t even make some snide comment about how I’m glad to put him out of my misery, because I was actually kind of starting to enjoy having him around by this point…I think it’s Stockholm Syndrome.

I do like the fact that he actually reached the Scion before Lara; the implication is that he was in the area quite a while before her, since Larson knew that Pierre was headed to Greece when Lara was still tied down in Peru. Actually, the fact that he was there first brings up the possibility that he actually had plenty of time to leave before she got there, but decided to stick around just to finish her off- or was he going to suggest another activity entirely, if she hadn’t drawn her shotgun so quickly? I guess we’ll never know- thanks for ruining that budding romance, Lara.

Secretly Ridiculous

As I said previously, I’m not looking to get all secrets: typically, I play the level once just to complete it, then I play it again actively looking for secrets, and then I MIGHT play it again after looking up the locations of the secrets I haven’t found yet in a walkthrough. While I usually find at least one or two on my own, I had no idea where either of the secrets on this level were before I looked it up, and I don’t think I ever would have found either of them on my own.

I actually love the little jumping puzzles WITHIN these two secrets, but they got me thinking- what is the purpose of a secret, anyway? Secrets like the ones on this level seem to be really meant for the people who are willing to comb every pixel of the game looking for a pleasant surprise, and I just don’t have the inclination or the time. I’m kind of glad that they put that sort of thing in the game to give the truly hardcore a reason to keep playing, but it makes me feel kind of bad that even as someone who blogs TR, my dedication has its limits. For me, doing an “all secrets” playthrough would mean “all the secrets that I looked up on the internet, ‘cuz I’d never find them myself,” and I find that a little sad. I anticipate this becoming a major problem by TR3, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Look Over Us Kindly, Tihocan

I’ve always been very impressed with how much this short cutscene gets across about our heroine. 1: She can read the hieroglyphics, something the other tomb raiders probably can’t do (although Pierre’s abilities are questionable.) 2. She reads them in a slightly halting manner, because she’s not a perfect Mary Sue-type who’s fluent in a zillion languages- she can read it, but not quickly. 3. Regardless of what she may have thought coming into the temple, after reading about his noble, childless life, she seems to have some sympathy for Tihocan- it’s not all about breaking into his tomb and taking his stuff. I think at this point in the story there’s a subtle shift in Lara’s motivation; rather than just going after pieces of the Scion because they exist and she’s curious, she’s taking over for Qualopec and Tihocan in protecting the world from Natla’s horrible ambitions; she just hasn’t realized it yet.

Now a lot of the apparent empathy for Tihocan comes from Shelly Blond’s vocal performance rather than the script, but nevertheless, it’s in the game.

I also like the fact that Lara never says, “My, what are Egyptian hieroglyphics doing in Greece (or sometimes, more like Rome)? How strange!” Often in TR, they seem to give us enough credit to connect the dots ourselves without needing explicit instruction. I’ll get into the Egypt/Greece/Peru location issue, to the extent that it’s explicable, next level.

Best:
Swimming around in the large underwater area before Tihocan’s tomb is great fun, although this could rapidly become a “worst” if you spend an hour scouring the area for the secrets that aren’t there. The surprise appearance of the first Atalantean creature is also a best, although it’s in the exact same area, so I guess this whole segment of the level could count as the best. Is that cheating?

Worst:

That annoying glitch in the area where you get the gold key that prevents Lara from shimmying across the alcove unless the door is open. Although you can drop down to the spikes and survive with minimal damage, it certainly looks like you just glitched yourself to death, leading to unnecessary reloading. Most people probably find the switch first, thus never encounter this problem, but if you do encounter it, it’s annoying, and quite possibly the sloppiest glitch in the entire game. Also, as mentioned above, I hate the metal shutters- they always look out of place.

Now, this? This is annoying. Please tell me they fixed this in TR1: Revised?

Rating: Four Uzi Clips out of Five

I was actually going to give this a three due to the fact that only the last third of the level feels cohesive, but then I remembered that I bumped up the score for Tomb of Qualopec because of the boss fight and the end-level cutscene, and this level has two boss fights and an awesome little cutscene, so it’s only fair.

Next: City of Khamoon, or save me from the terrible panther mummies- seriously, they’re horrifying.

“It would appear that, fifteen years later, I will become the subject of literary analysis…hmm….”

(Screenshots in this post have been taken with permission from Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots.)