Have You Played… Tomb Raider II?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

It’s probably the case that most people’s favourite Tomb Raider is the first one they played. Unless it was Angel Of Darkness. Mine was Tomb Raider II, so it’s always the one I think of the most fondly.

I think the series contains many splendid games. Even when the press and players were getting fatigued with the series, Core were still producing superb action games. Tomb Raider Chronicles (the fifth) was still completely ace, before things went horribly wrong with the sixth game. And of course Crystal Dynamics’ first three outings with the license were fantastic too. But – to give it its full ridiculous title – Tomb Raider II Starring Lara Croft is the one that introduced me to Lara, to meticulous handstands, and most of all, her no-nonsense declaration of “No!” when trying a lock I couldn’t open.

Okay, most of all the wonderful platforming obstacle course. From China to Tibet, via Venice, and an oil rig, it’s packed with memorable scenes and locations, and some really great use of early 3DFX graphics. Going back to the very first Tomb Raider is trickier now, with Lara seemingly made of five triangles. But II made such huge improvements, that the cartoonish look still works today.

A strange phenomenon of those first few Tomb Raiders was the best way I found to control them. It was a gamepad in my right hand, my left hand on the cursor keys. I’ve never played any other game like that, but couldn’t play Tomb Raider any other way. It will always be my favourite, even though I know Legend and Chronicles are both better games.


  1. MerseyMal says:

    Was the first birthday present that I got from my mother-in-law. I remember it coming in an oddly shaped cardboard box, but that’s about it beyond dicking around in the gym.

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    Bluerps says:

    That was the only Tomb Raider I ever finished. I played the first four games, but for some reason I only got to the end in this one.

    • rabbit says:

      Personally I found III absolutely fucking impossible to beat. Maybe that’s just a comment on my age at the time, I dunno.

      • Jericho says:

        Same here. I played TR 1, 2, & 3 quite a lot in the ’90s but I was only ever able to complete 1 & 2. Try as I might (even going so far as to use cheat codes to skip certain levels) I could never actually beat 3 as it was just so ungodly difficult in certain levels. Even when I cheated to give myself unlimited “save crystals” it still felt like you couldn’t take more than 5 steps in 3 without having to meticulously navigate the next pixel-perfect trap or jumping puzzle. And since the platforming required such utter precision in 3 it felt less like an exploration of each level and more like a constant, never-ending obstacle course. In hindsight, all of the games are constant obstacle courses, but the earlier games felt like they gave you more room for error and more breathing room for area exploration. TR 3 had levels where you literally start falling or sliding and had to immediately work out a jumping puzzle or else die over and over and over again. That just made trying to finish the game incredibly tiring, even if the levels were much more varied and “pretty” than in the previous games (although TR2’s levels were pretty awesome and varied as well).

        TR3 pretty much wore me out on the series and never played any of the games until the MUCH later re-boot of the original Tomb Raider (not the most recent games, but the mid-2000s literal re-boot of the first game). I quite enjoyed that, and I tried Angel of Darkness as well since I got a free copy of it, but well, Angel of Darkness is total bollocks. Blarg!

        • Ross Angus says:

          The bit I’ve struggled with was the boss battles in Tomb Raider Anniversary. For some reason, I cannot hit a button to match an on screen prompt. So much harder than the original games.

        • welverin says:

          We pretty much had the same experience with Tomb Raider.

          I played through the first two games, but three annoyed me so much I gave up on it on the first stage (not counting and prologuey bit). Didn’t go back to the series until Legend and only then because it was compared to Prince of Persia the Sands of Time.

      • LionsPhil says:

        I’m pretty sure I got stumped in every one of the damn games too.

  3. FurryLippedSquid says:

    I have it ready to go after a moment’s nostalgia at the weekend.

    Looking forward to that lonely atmosphere, something we just don’t see in games any more.

    • Jay Load says:

      But what if we could tell the monsters to sod off and let us enjoy the game?

      Yes. This. I heartily concur, sir. When the TR games left you alone to just explore they were transcendent.

  4. The Masta says:

    In fact I did, I remember cheating my way through it at an younger age.

  5. rabbit says:

    II was the one with the T Rex, right? And the pyramid? If so, II was the first I played & III was the first I owned, a short time later. If I had to pick a favourite between the two it’d probably be II but that’s most likely due to my having been fucking terrible at III & not having nearly so much time to get sick of the second game. Plus, T Rex.

    • wondermoth says:

      The T-Rex was (famously) in TR1.

      • Thulsa Hex says:

        There were actually two/three optional T. Rex in the very first level of Tomb Raider II (Great Wall of China), if you figured out how to descend to the very bottom of some abyss. As I recall, the indicators for traversal were much more subtle than in modern games, so you really had to look hard for them secret areas.

        • Coming Second says:

          More importantly, you couldn’t just look them up and expect to find a detailed map and directions to every single one.

  6. wondermoth says:

    TR2 was just TR1 with monkey bars, wasn’t it? Or some other tiny mechanical addition… thinking about it, I think TR3 was TR2 + Monkey Bars.

    All the early sequels were utter pish. As Mr Walker says, the first one you play will always be the one you remember most fondly. As someone who loved TR1, my main recollection of TR2 was that it was like having an accountant piss in my mouth.

  7. Thulsa Hex says:

    This was huuuuuuge the Christmas it came out (’97). I remember interviews, and other coverage, in non-gaming magazines and newspapers, which usually amounted to:

    Mag: Lara’s …assets… are less, um, pointy.”
    Core: Yeah, we can use more polygons now ha ha ha.”
    Mag: Girl Power!

    This one is also my personal fondest o’ the Raiders, in a pure nostalgic sense. I would play it in a friend’s house every day after school and was eventually able to borrow it. I can’t remember if I ever got past Venice without cheats, though. To this day, the only Tomb Raider I’ve properly finished was Anniversary (my first HD remake, evaar) and was hoping Crystal D were going to give II the same treatment. I started the 2013 TR a couple of weeks ago and I can’t motivate myself to go back to it after about 50% completion. Maybe I should just play Legend instead…

    As an aside: Something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately was how much of a big deal it was to fight a human being in the earlier TR games. If memory serves, they were basically bullet sponges with ranged attacks, but the result was that individual people felt like a real threat, which is rare in games. You drop people like flies in Tomb Raider 2013 and it’s not empowering… Just boring.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      All games had bullet sponge humans in back in them days. That’s why Goldeneye was such a Revelation with its headshotable baddies. Then COD latched on to the lots of weak baddies > a few hard ones and the rest, as they say, is history. It was a pro easing power thing, I guess. If you can only render one or two enemies at a time you want them to present a challenge. Do I miss it though? Not really.

      • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

        *processing. This autocorrect is out to get me I swear.

      • Thulsa Hex says:

        Aye, I don’t miss the bullet sponge thing at all, but I’d love it if more games treated individual human adversaries as a big deal, instead of just cannon fodder. A game where going up against someone is a rare and dramatic experience, and a stand-out moment. People are generally the scariest fucking thing we encounter in real life, after all.

        Y’know, online multiplayer can do a decent job at this. Ironically, the 3v3 no-respawn game modes in CoD4: Modern Warfare gave me this feeling — especially when you’re the last one left on your team and there’s total radio silence. Being invaded in Dark Souls can also be pretty dramatic and scary. But I’d love it if more exclusively single player, narrative-driven games pulled this off. It’d be amazing in a noir detective game, for instance.

        • Thulsa Hex says:

          Come to think of it, didn’t Blade Runner (the Westwood game) pull this sort of thing off? It’s been so long that I can’t really trust my memory, but I get the sense that any shoot-y bits were a big deal.

  8. gabrielonuris says:

    It not only was my first Tomb Raider, but also my first PC game! TR2 dwells in my heart forever because of that, and it’s maybe the only game that I can remember every level, every cutscene (CG or not), all in order, still to this day.

  9. binkbenc says:

    Funnily enough, I’m actually playing through this one at the moment (just reached the Ice Palace). I have to admit, I still prefer the first game. The feeling of isolation was just so right in the first game (the first walking(leaping/rolling) simulator?), but from the second game on they started introducing way too many enemy distractions. Also, the ship levels drag on forever and the snowmobile is horrible, otherwise I’m loving the game. One of my favourite series, and definitely still holds up well today.

    • Luciferous says:

      I still remember going through Palace Midas in the first game, that was a masterclass in level design right there… I miss games that did that kind of exploration, strangely enough Dark Souls did it really well with routes that doubled up on to older areas and just made sense once you completed a circuit.

  10. int says:

    I remember Nude Raider.

    • Thulsa Hex says:

      I definitely installed this, but even 11-year-old me was embarrassed enough to keep it to myself at the time.

  11. JaguarWong says:

    The first will always be the best, hard to chose between this and Underworld for second place though.

  12. unacom says:

    Hated the first one. Never touched the series again. Never missed something. So no harm done.

  13. SuicideKing says:

    Used to watch dad play this when I was 5 or 6. We couldn’t ever finish it.

  14. anHorse says:

    It was one of my first games, took me years to spot how to climb out of the very first area in the game (up the great wall of china)

    The other game I had at the time was Driver which features the hardest tutorial ever, oh the misery my parents inadvertently afflicted upon me.

  15. pringles says:

    I have not, but I have played the 2007 Anniversary edition which I liked and would recommend.

  16. Distec says:

    *Looks up Tomb Raider II to confirm if I’m remembering the correct one in the series.*

    OHHHH… That’s the one with the sharks, right?

    Yeah, never finished that one. For reasons.

  17. PsychoWedge says:

    Tomb Raider was my first TR too. It still is one of my favourites. But I replayed it recently and I have to say the leveldesign aged pretty, pretty badly. It’s one of the prime examples (if not THE example to end all examples) of nonsenical architecture and logic. You know, where every single worker on an oil rig would have to do the same climb and deathtrap run you do just to get to the command center in the morning.

  18. Geebs says:

    I do rather enjoy the way Lara is cosplaying as a mullet in the screenshot.

  19. Bodylotion says:

    The original Tomb Raider will always be my favourite in the series but II was great aswell. TR1 simply had a few things (mainly because of the engine etc.) that made it special. The games made you feel like you were lonely, I remember watching down in St. Francis Folly and because of the engine you only saw blackness, which made it seem like it was way deeper then it actually was.

    The human enemies in the original one were rare so everytime you did see one was pretty awesome. Not like in the new Tomb Raider games where you are killing hundreds of humans.

    The soundtrack is one of the most amazing pieces I’ve ever heard in any game (except for Little Big Adventure 2 and Fallout).

    Tomb Raider II was also a great game. Nice variety of locations and enemies. Really loved the Tibet part.

    Like others here I did not finish Tomb Raider III, I don’t know why but it was hard and simply was nothing like the first 2 games.

    Tomb Raider 4 and 5 were OK to pass the time but nothing more.

    Never finished Angel Of Darkness…. you can’t even call that a TR game.

  20. denizsi says:

    TR2 had a decent soundtrack as well. I first played the game when it came out and that little piece of violin concerto that played in Venice when you got the motorboat out of the waterlock has since been ingrained in my mind. Motivated me to drive the boat smoothfly and fluently all over the place without getting stuck in corners.

    link to youtu.be

    • denizsi says:

      ^That was supposed to be a link with a time mark. Jump to 6:48 if you also get the video embedded.

  21. Cerrida says:

    This demo was the first PC game I ever played. I remember looking at everything in WalMart for something cheap and the cover jumped out at me. “Ooh,” I thought, “This game has a girl starring in it! With guns!” It was one of the most frustrating games I’d ever played, but I got to the end of the demo. From then on, I was hooked on PC games.