25 years later, Tomb Raider 2 is still as good as it gets

Happy 25th anniversary, Tomb Raider 2. Here’s a little piece to celebrate its quarter century.

Every once in a while I load up a walkthrough of Tomb Raider 2 and pick it all up again. Always a solution: I have the game on Steam, but I can never get it to work properly, and besides, a part of me doesn’t want to go back to it in person. These walkthroughs, though! Tomb Raider was a very technical platformer back in the days of the grid system, and some of these players are just amazing. However, their virtuosity can very occasionally get in the way. Specifically, he can get in the way on one occasion in particular: 40 Fathoms.

40 Fathoms is an amazing video game level, but when I watch it on Youtube, the boldness of it never fully manifests. That’s because 40 Fathoms is actually like a magic trick – you can only really experience it once. These step-by-step artists are too good: too decisive. They know where to go and they go there. They play 40 Fathoms like it’s a video game level. When what it really is is a bold riff on things that video game levels aren’t meant to be.

I’m purely talking about the beginning of 40 Fathoms by the way. God, what a start. Forget Russian or whatever it’s called – this This is where my idea of ​​what games could do was blindfolded three times and pushed, wavering, in the wrong direction. 40 Fathoms comes halfway through the game. Adventurer and T-Rex slayer Lara Croft is tracking an ancient Chinese relic around the world and has just explored an abandoned oil rig in the middle of the ocean. The shit sank, and now it’s escaping, clinging, without an air tank, to the back of a pausing submarine. But the pilot of the submarine is surprised by sharks and the submarine hits an underwater cliff. Tail 40 fathoms.

Tomb Raider 2
Tomb Raider 2 eventually takes us to more traditional ancient spaces.

And you jump from a cutscene to, what? In darkness. You are deep under water. You float. And you run out of oxygen the moment you regain control. It’s all dark, it’s hard to tell which direction is up or down, but if you choose the wrong direction, you’ll soon realize you’re screwed.

It’s amazing stuff, a level that starts with removing almost all the architecture and the lighting, all the wayfinding signs. Lara Croft is disoriented, so rather than putting a visual effect on the screen or confusing controller inputs, they completely disorient you. They remove everything you’ve learned to use to guide you through the levels so far. This is what walkthroughs never capture. They know where to go, how to track the wreckage on the sea floor until you find a sunken ship, and beyond. But the first time I played 40 Fathoms, I thought the game was broken. Anyway, my PC could barely run it at the time: I thought a level was half loaded. Or maybe I had lost it myself. I couldn’t design a game that pisses me off like that.

Tomb Raider 2 is full of that stuff, actually. Not all on the level of 40 Fathoms, but less scattered in the game. This is probably my favorite Tomb Raider – my favorite game in a series I like. And I love Tomb Raider 2 because it’s intentionally different. It seems to feel the restrictions that come with the first game as a mega hit. He knows he has to give gamers what they want – more rig, more Croft – but he’s determined not to give in and give gamers what they want the way they want it. are waiting there.

The story of Tomb Raider, told by a certain Chris Bratt.

So a level, halfway through, in which you risk drowning several times before taking your first steps. And other stuff too. Lara Croft was heavily influenced by Indiana Jones, and Indiana Jones spends all of her time in the ancient world. Mandatory Tomb Raider 1: Peru, Greece, Egypt, Atlantis. A school itinerary.

But Tomb Raider 2? The story circles around ancient China, starting at the Great Wall and eventually heading to Tibet and back to China. Temples and ruins. So far Indy. But along the way: Venice, largely in the form of a huge abandoned opera house, and that oil rig, and that shipwreck.

Okay, Indy went to Venice too, but not like this. Not all of these places are old, but they earn their place by being abandoned – doomed in the case of the Opera House, in ruins and sunk to the bottom of the sea in the case of the Platform and the Shipwreck. This gives Tomb Raider 2 a very special feel. When I think of the game, I think of a color: burnt orange, the color of rust. I think of this ship slowly devoured by the sea, its back broken, so in many places there are tables and chairs on the ceiling. I think of the opera with its dusty carpets and slatless floors. I’m thinking of a huge puzzle that fills a room, but it’s not a statue in a temple with jewelry that needs to be poked into its eyes. It is the ruined engine of a vast modern ship. The game is full of them, full of gates instead of rocks.

The thing about all of these places – one of the biggest reasons they stick in your mind – is that you’re there in each one for a very long time. Tomb Raider 2 is absolutely huge for one thing, but Core games can also be tedious and abstruse – the solution to a puzzle can be wildly counter-intuitive, or it can be a tiny puzzle piece hidden on the floor. and blending in with the mat, or it could be a move – a way to extend your jump! – that you learned at the start of the game and then spent the last ten hours not using and forgetting. This means that Tomb Raider 2 is a game where you can really get stuck. So you settle down. Croft ends up living in these worlds, as does the player.

Tomb Raider 2
It wouldn’t be Tomb Raider without spikes.

This is never truer than at the Opera. In my memory, I was at the Opera for at least a week. And it’s one of those moments where memories of the game mingle with memories of when I was playing it. 1999. I had just finished university and all my friends and social relations had left town. I worked in an insurance office and rented a room on the top floor of a boarding house. My world had shrunk to a bedroom, a kitchen, and the walk to work – or so it felt. My horizons had never been so small. But every Friday I would boot up Tomb Raider 2 and get this sense of wild scale – huge, numinous, terrifying locations. No wonder it took me so long to get out of it.

I look back now and think: Tomb Raider 2 was ahead of its time. I think we now see these abandoned spaces that make up the game’s locations as mysterious, haunted by gods, full of secrets and potential.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that Tomb Raider 2 is about as good as the games get to me. It’s up there with Zelda and all that jazz as far as I’m concerned. These are places, interesting places that I haven’t had the opportunity to visit in my own life. It’s difficult and clumsy at times, but it’s transporting and intelligent and extremely beautiful. 25 years? How can this be.

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