Tomb Raider II: Dagger of Xian
First posted on 15 January 1999. Last updated on 08 August 2009.
|Who says diamonds are a girl's best friend? Guns are!|
|Agility is all part of the game!|
|Watch out for the trap below!|
|Lara dives in for a swim!|
|Lara's physical look has improved in this sequel as compared to the original.|
The original Tomb Raider has brought forth more than just a sexy spelunker named Lara Croft, it has also hailed a new generation of 3D action/adventure games which has since inspired numerous imitators. It, therefore, comes to no surprise that the developer attempts to again captivate the gaming community by bringing back our heroine Lara in a brand new adventure. Based on an improved 3D engine first used in Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider II: Dagger of Xian (also known as Tomb Raider II Starring Lara Croft) sports more elaborate level designs, destructive weapons, and of course, formidable enemies.
Lara returns in this second installment of the Tomb Raider series to seek the legendary artifact known as the Dagger of Xian, reputed to give its owner magical powers (although it has the slight drawback of turning the said owner into a fire breathing dragon). The search takes place among many locations, including the Great Wall of China, Venice, a sunken ocean liner, and the mountains of Tibet. During her search for the artifact, she must battle some formidable human and animal foes. Starting out with only her trusty pistols and a shotgun, Lara picks up a massive arsenal along her quest, including Uzi automatic pistols, an M-16 assault rifle, a harpoon gun, and a grenade launcher.
Like the original, this sequel boasts impressive graphics, especially when playing with a 3D graphics accelerator card. There are 18 levels in all. Cut scenes are shown in between some of them, providing the player with information about the plot development. Some of the cut scenes are shown in wide screen interlaced video format, while others are full screen 3D rendered in-game engine animation. You can easily tell the difference between them because in the latter the characters are much blocky than those in the interlaced video scenes.
The graphical look of Lara in this game has much improved over that in the original game. She now has a decently curved chest, rather than a pair of triangles. The range of motions available to control Lara is similar to before, but due to the enhanced graphics the resulting motions are much more realistic. Aside from the more lifelike model, Lara now wears a ponytail that swings naturally in time with her body motion. She also sports an improved wardrobe, including a wetsuit, a leather flying jacket, and a snow gear. Unfortunately, when looking up close she is still very polygonal in aspect. All the levels are truly 3D; so sometimes when you are at an apparent dead end, the exit may actually just lie hidden in an unexpected direction. The lighting effects are very good, and dark places are really dark. ! flare is often necessary to find items or a way out. Sound effects are all well done. Often you are alerted to impending danger by an appropriate tune of music. I particularly like the sound effects in some of the sunken liner levels. The muffled sounds and the occasional clink of metal are well adapted to the eerie environment!
The installation is straightforward. Only minimal hard disk space (about 1 MB) is required. The levels and cut scenes are loaded directly from the CD. Game setup is also simple. A minor nag is that there are only 15 slots to save games. Each saved game has a level name and an order number (for example, The Great Wall 15), but the number only becomes visible once all slots have been filled and after you have restarted the game.
Despite the fact that the publisher has marketed the game as an action adventure, I do not consider this game (nor any other of the games in this series) as a true adventure game in the traditional sense of the genre. I describe it more as an action/arcade game with some adventure elements thrown in for good measures to enhance the gaming experience. The adventure component is made of a number of puzzles which have to be solved in order to complete each level. These mainly consist of switches or levers that have to be moved, sometimes in a specific order. Once you have moved them you often have only a limited time until they reset themselves. Other puzzles consist of moving blocks to access hidden items. Progress through most levels is measured by a number of keys or artifacts which the player has to locate to open certain doors. Some of these puzzles are quite elaborate, while others can only be solved in a trial and error manner. As an additional challenge, each level contains 3 secret artifacts. If all 3 of them are found, the player is rewarded with additional ammo.
It is delightful to move Lara around in each level, including walking, running, swimming, and jumping. Good dexterity is required to get her out of sticky situations, but not all of them involving combat. As in the original game, gameplay is through a third person perspective as if one is looking over Lara's shoulder. In some situations, the camera view moves rather quickly which can be a bit disorientating at first.
Combat is an essential part of this game. Nearly every creature you find is out to kill you if you let them. Human opponents are much more abundant than in the original title. You fight enemies such as the Sicilian Mafia, Warrior Monks, Yetis, and crazed cult members who are also after the Dagger of Xian for their own sinister purposes. Lara's shooting skills are really handy here, and sometimes you have to think thoroughly about how to dispatch the opposition, both in terms of weaponry and combat tactics. Fortunately, you can save the game at any time; so if you meet an untimely death, resurrection is only a few keystrokes away. Gore is at a minimum in this game. Hits are shown by a minimal amount of blood splattering, except when you use a grenade to blow someone to bits. Letting Lara get killed by falling onto spike traps is a bit bloodier but not by much. Like the first game, there is a training mode set inside Lara's country home, complete with a timed assault course in the backyard. This mode allows the player to receive voice instructions while practicing the basic control of Lara. A new feature in this sequel is the ability to drive vehicles, including a motorboat and a snowmobile. Rather than generic caves and caverns, real life locations, such as the Great Wall of China, Venice, and Tibet, are used as backdrops in this game.
True to the spirit of the original Tomb Raider, the 3D accelerated graphics are really a feast for the eye. Combat also add up to the excitement, especially when Lara gets herself into a tight spot. The possibility of saving the game at any point improves the playability and reduces the need for cheating, unless the player just wants to browse each level before moving on to the next. Although there is no option to select the difficulty level to control the artificial intelligence of Lara's enemies, the levels are designed so that they gradually become more difficult, thus providing you an opportunity to progressively improve your skill in order to successfully finish the game.
As with the original game, the switch and moving block puzzles tend to become somewhat repetitive as you move along the levels. Puzzles involving various artifacts other than keys are introduced probably in an attempt to alleviate this repetition, but the end result is debatable. Avoiding traps and figuring your way along the levels by jumping, swinging, and shooting away at human and animal attackers is quite sufficient to keep interest in the game going. Clipping is unfortunately still a major problem. Lara can sometimes walk through a tyrannosaur or part of her body can disappear behind a cliff or wall.
Like the original Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider II: Dagger of Xian is more of an action than adventure game. It is still a very good one. It is easy to become immersed in the game atmosphere, exploring the environment and shooting it out with the many foes, while getting stumped occasionally by the apparent dead-ends with illusive exits. On a personal note, I just wish that it is possible to finish this game without having to shoot nearly every creature in sight to survive.