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Review by: David Laprad
Published: December 28, 1997
She is the perennial object of desire for game players of both genders. Males find her sexy, smart, and alluringly tough. Many females find in her a positive role model, and a lone beacon of feminine strength in an industry inundated with muscle-bound Neanderthals and primpish, scantily clad airheads. And despite criticisms leveled at Core Design and Eidos Interactive for selling sex, as well as Lara for being an unrealistic rendering of an action-based heroine, the undisputed matriarch of gaming has registered an impressive catalogue of accomplishments in the year since the release of her first game.
She single-handedly launched a game publishing empire that threatens to rival the monolithic GT Interactive and Electronic Arts; along with her distant cousin Quake, she kicked the era of 3D graphics acceleration into high gear; and, with a little help from her public relations department, she transcended the shackles of the electronic gaming community to become a full-fledged media star. She has appeared on the cover of countless magazines, emerged in concert with rock group U2, and may soon grace the silver screen with her impressive disposition. She is, inarguably, gaming’s Woman of the Year.
With the bulldozer of success rolling full steam ahead, and Lara firmly at the controls, why take risks? Core has taken the traditional, safer route for sequels by giving players more of what they loved about the first title, and then some. A nip here, a tuck there, and we have Lara’s latest adventure. Fortunately, the nips and tucks are a big part of what make the sequel worth playing. Rest assured the design team manages to cross the finish line with a winner, albeit one that lacks the resonant impact of the first title.
The story opens in ancient China, indulging in a bit of historical exposition before dropping Lara off at the Great Wall of China in the present. In a gorgeous, wickedly atmospheric rendered cinematic, players witness a mighty war between an evil emperor and a division of warrior monks. The emperor, transformed into a massive, powerful dragon by the mystical Dagger of Xian, and his army have a clear advantage, yet the monks prevail and seal the dagger in the Temple of Xian, presumably for all eternity. It is a breathtaking sequence cut all too short by an abrupt and awkward shifting of gears. One moment, you’re watching an ancient, mythic battle, the next, you’re dashing through the Great Wall in search of the artifact. The motivation for Lara’s pursuit of the dagger is never established; the player must simply assume that she has dedicated herself to adventure and the acquisition of priceless treasures. This would be acceptable if the rest of the story made sense; unfortunately, the remainder of the cinematics are poorly executed, and do not tell a sensible tale. Because of questionable plot mechanics and incomprehensible dialogue, the game fails to sustain the same level of dramatic tension as the first title. I am the first to argue that an action game does not need a strong story to work; however, Lara is an adventurer, and requires a solid narrative.
Fortunately, the lack of a coherent story becomes a moot point once players dive into the game. At first, things seem very familiar as Lara runs, jumps, shoots, and swims her way through a relatively simple level based on the Great Wall of China. As the game progresses, however, the levels swell in scope and structure, dwarfing the original game. The sequel offers an impressive variety of environments, including modern day Venice, a vast, sunken ocean liner, and the resplendently gorgeous icy mountains of Tibet. (My only complaint is that the designers went a little overboard with the ocean liner theme, stretching it out for five, tedious levels.) The level design is uniformly ingenious, requiring players to make use of all the skills acquired during the first game, and forcing them to master a new set of advanced acrobatics. My personal favorite was The Deck, a mammoth level that initially overwhelms the player, yet through persistent exploration, reveals a remarkable fluidity of design. The impressive architecture gives birth to some of the most jaw-dropping alternate realities ever created for a computer game, including the brilliantly surrealistic Floating Islands. The levels are populated by enemies that can rationally exist within the environment. Players will battle bullet-spitting thugs and their rabid canine accomplices in Venice, and blade-wielding monks and tigers in Tibet. Secret areas, of which there are three on each level, are more rewarding. They require a great deal of tenacity to reach, and compensate players with a valuable dragon idol, as opposed to an ammunition clip or health pack.
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