TR2 in EGM (September 1997)

THE EDITORIAL
Insert Coin by Joe Funk

There are two big reasons why Lara's become a star.
OK, OK, I know we're going to get a ton of questions and e-mails about our Lara Croft coverage the last two months. Just what is going on here? Are the single guys on the staff not dating enough? Did we not put enough saltpeter in the EGM staff's water supply?

Our reasons are obvious. She's hot. Readers are interested in her. Sports Illustrated doesn't quit covering Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls halfway through the playoffs because it's already been done. You cover a star when it's shooting.

After just one installment in what will surely become a truckload of games featuring her, Lara Croft has become the first lady of video games.

How did this happen? It's simple really - Lara is the proud owner of a pair of assets that have been the key to her success. And they're not quite as obvious as you think.

First is the depth of Lara's character. A lot of it has to do with details, hats off to Eidos for sweating them. In Tomb Raider, Lara displayed an unprecedented variety of moves and animations that gave her an almost lifelike quality. Lara finds herself hanging from cliffs, jumping over broken bridges and taking on a T-Rex. She's also tough. She's athletic. She's got a can-do mentality. And, don't underestimate this, you can see her quite clearly, and learn a lot just by looking at her-you can roughly determine her age, her skin tone, her height, her weight, her eye color, her hair style, her dress size, and even her bra size. It's a tried-and-true Hollywood formula: The more the audience fells like they know the hero, the more people will care for her (or him). With Lara, Eidos has pushed the envelope in video game character development.

The second ingredient is the game she debuted in. Tomb Raider cemented a new genre of video game that is something of a cross between a shooter, an action game, and an RPG. In the copycat mentality of entertainment, TR was a refreshing change, and gamers loved it. A few earlier games attempted the 3-D format in console games (Out of This World, Fade to Black), but the unprecedented fluidity and gameplay of TR established it as a dynamic and permanent new game genre as the evolution of video games continues. Add these two components together, and Lara Croft represents a classic example of thinking outside a box. Eidos has tapped into a fresh vein of excitement, and in addition to the huge reward they have reaped as a result, they have also earned a salute from us here at EGM for taking chances.

Now, let's get to the question I know most of you were wondering about: How much does Lara's super-human measurements feed into this frenzy? Well, it's no secret we're in a testosterone-rich industry. If some guys get a little extra something out of a game by controlling a character because theyuh, like the arrangement of her polygons, that's their business-we'd rather not know about it. It's one of the undeniable and recognizable details of Lara, but unlike Pamela Anderson Lee, by no means is it the sole reason for her celebrity. As for the parents who are in fear that their kids are going to want to control Barbie-doll-type heroines in every future video game they play, I wouldn't worry too much. It's no stranger than controlling an Italian midget plumber or a sneaker-wearin' marsupial. That's the point: Video games are about an escape to somewhere, something and sometimes someone else.


THE ARTICLE

Reinventing the Raider
The Evolution of Tomb Raider 2
Eidos is unleashing Lara Croft with new moves, new enemies, new toys, in a brave new world
By Crispin Boyer

Lara Croft doesn't have to prove anything to anybody. After all, what more could you ask of this globe-trotting superchick who can flip six feet backward, draw her 12-gauge boomstick and drop a pack of rabid wolves before her feet even hit the ground. Oh, and did we mention she looks damn good in shorts?

And Tomb Raider, her debut title, was no slouch, either. The game was a bona fide blockbuster, selling more than 2 million copies on the PlayStation, Saturn, and PC platforms. It helped kick off a new genre--the third-person exploration game (finally, a 3-D adventure that wasn't a DOOM clone). And it sent players spelunking through more square miles than the Manhattan subway system.

So it's a safe bet that, even if it does nothing more than dole out new levels, Tomb Raider 2's going to launch off store shelves so fast even Lara's head will spin-especially since that Mario guy isn't around to steal any of her thunder. This highly anticipated sequel is due in November, exactly one year after the original's release. And-although Saturn and N64 owners will hate to hear it-Tomb Raider 2 is a PlayStation-exclusive title, owing to publisher Eidos Interactive's tightening relationship with Sony. Still, the PC version will launch simultaneously (Sony doesn't sweat PC games, which make up an entirely different market), and word from Eidos is that an N64 Lara Croft game is in the works from U.K.-based developer Core Design, but it'll be a different game from Tomb Raider 2.

System specifics aside, what does Core have in store for Lara this time? Well, plenty. For starters, she's coming out swinging, flipping, shooting and climbing with a few new moves and much more open worlds in which to use them. She also comes equipped with some fancy new tools and weapons, as well as variations of old favorites. (Here's a hint for those of you resisting the urge to skip ahead: The game's toothy aquatic beasties aren't as safe as they used to be.) Of course, Lara will need all the help she can get; Tomb raider 2's army of enemies is considerably larger than before. You wanted more action, you got it. But don't expect Lara to jump into a whole new game. Let's face it-the first Tomb Raider worked, and Core knows it. Consequently, the same level designers who crafted the first game's worlds are working on the sequel, while the programmer of the original's Saturn version is taking care of coding. "Essentially, the heart of the original team remains the same," said Andrew Thompson, Core's operations manager. "However, this team has grown and, although a couple of original members have left, the Tomb Raider 2 team still outnumbers the original."

When the developers reunited to reinvent the raider, they opted to take more of a tweaking approach instead of rebuilding the game from a polygon one. The result: Tomb Raider 2 packs the same gameplay as the first, except in a much slicker package.

But more on that later. Let's see what kind of trouble Lara has gotten herself into this time.

Croft's New Crusade

The trophy of this adventure is an ancient, razor-sharp Chinese artifact called the Dagger of Xian. The buzz on this centuries-old knickknack goes something like this: He who jabs the dagger into his heart will gain the power of the dragon. Legendary Chinese emperor Qin Shihuang is believed to have once wielded the dagger-at least until it was seized by Tibetan warrior monks. Long ago, these monks placed the dagger in its resting place deep within the Great Wall of China, where the game opens.

A magical dagger? Exotic locales? Sounds right up Lara's alley, right? Trouble is, an army of enemies is keen on the dagger, too, including members of Fiama Nera, a cult that worships the artifact's mythical powers. Lara runs into these masked fanatics early in the game, while clambering through the labyrinthine passageways within the Great Wall. She also discovers a door locked by a bizarre code-wheel mechanism that bars both her and the cult members from reaching the dagger.

So she's off to Venice, to the mansion of the late magician Gianni Bartoli, who Lara learned spent his life collecting the Chinese emperor's mystical toys. Lara expects to find clues to the code wheel's workings in Bartoli's expansive estate. Instead, she finds scurrying rats, more cult members, their guard dogs and plenty of traps. She also runs into her new nemesis, Marco Bartoli, the dead magician's son and yet another seeker of the lost dagger.

Next up, Lara plunges into the dank, water logged corridors of a sunken ship, supposedly Bartoli's watery grave. Here--clad in her sporty, skin-tight wetsuit--she'll face scuba divers, sharks, eels and enough other aquatic nightmares to pack Sweeps Month on the Discovery Channel. Not to worry; Lara can bite back with her speargun.

The wrecked ship packs another twist, though-it settled belly up when it sank to the ocean floor. So, like an athletic Shelly Winters from the Poseiden Adventure, Lara must scramble, climb, and leap across the ship's ceiling. To make matters even more challenging, the ruined ocean liner is one of the darkest areas in the game. If Lara doesn't nab a few boxes of flares (see The New Tools of Tomb Raiding), she'll soon have reason enough to fear the dark.

Finally, Lara heads back to solid, but by no means safe, ground at the game's finale, when she scales the steep, icy cliffs of the Tibetan outback. Here she'll trek to a monastery guarded by patrolling cult members and roving bandits on the hunt for the monastery's treasures. Lara will also return to her tomb roots beneath the monastery, where she must navigate miles of eerie claustrophobia-inducing catacombs.

Like in the first game, each chapter of tomb Raider 2 opens with a rendered cinema. Brief, in-game sequences will keep the story moving when Lara stumbles upon a significant artifact or confronts particularly important enemies. Lara will have more run-ins with shady characters this time around, and not all of them will be enemies. Yet don't expect any partnerships-Lara's one gal who likes to work alone.

Lara Plays Outside

Boil down Tomb Raider 2's story line and you'll see it's set in four far-flung locales-the Great Wall, Venice, the sunken ship and a Tibetan monastery. Like in Tomb Raider, these worlds are divided into three or four apiece, giving the sequel 12 levels in all. But unlike the original, whose 12 stages formed one big subterranean playground, Tomb Raider 2's worlds are more open and less well, tomblike.

In fact, several levels are set outside, where Lara can go about her business under a sky that was always hidden by stone ceilings in the first game. In the Venice level, for instance, Lara will spend much of her time leaping from balcony to balcony and up the sides of buildings. The Tibetan level, too, starts out with Lara clambering along cliffsides and up mountain peaks.

Still, a good portion of Tomb Raider 2 is set indoors. But instead of caves and ruins of the first game, most new levels take Lara to decidedly man-made places. She'll trek through the dark, tapestry-lined hallways of the Venice mansion and the ornate temples of the Tibetan monastery, as well as clamber up bookshelves on a dusty, rat-infested library.

She's Got to Move It, Move It

When it came to Lara's moves, the developers knew this was one area that needed very little tweaking. "We looked at all aspects of the original game, and where possible, improved and enhanced the feel, and the control is no exception," Thompson said. "(Lara's) movement has been worked on to give it a smoother, more efficient feel. We have added the climb move, and (Lara) will also be able to wade in water rather than be wither in or out of it."

So, yes, Lara retains all her original moves, and they follow the same control scheme from part one (Core currently has no plans to make the analog compatible, since Lara's leaps often require you to tap, tap, tap her to a certain position on platforms). Even new tricks like the climb-activated by the same button that makes Lara grab ledges and pick up objects-will feel natural to Tomb Raider veterans. But what if you haven't played the first game? Don't worry-Core has once again devoted an entire level to teaching would-be Laras the basics. "Yes, we will have a training level," Thompson said, "but it will be in a different location than was the original, so even experienced players will enjoy brushing up on their skills before setting off on their adventure."

Let There Be Light

We've saved the most profound enhancement to Tomb Raider 2 for last-and it isn't any new move that Lara can do. Instead, it's a trick the developers have build into the graphics engine: dynamic lighting. Whereas the original game faked its lighting effects, Tomb Raider 2 glows with realtime light sources. Lara's flares and the muzzle flashes of her guns are the most vibrant examples.

The dynamic lighting has allowed Core's level designers to come up with more creative uses for darkness. Consequently, Lara will stumble through several pitch-black environments, and the entire game has a much gloomier feel than the original. When Lara wanders into the dark, her flares become her most important puzzle-solving tool in her arsenal. Without them, she could wander past a switch or miss an important clue written on a wall-not to mention walk blindly into a spiked pit. And Lara's ability to throw flares opens new puzzle possibilities, too. She could walk to the end of a ledge, for instance, and toss her torch into the abyss to see what lies far below.

With its dynamic lighting, outdoor levels, two fold increase in enemies and new weapons and new moves, Tomb Raider 2 is easily shaping up to be a worthy sequel to the original. Still, the success of the first game is a lot to live up to. And when you're creating a sequel to a game that helped establish a genre, there has to be plenty of extra stress on the team, right?

Thompson's not so sure. "I don't think the pressure is any different from the original title," he said. "(I'm) probably just breathing a little heavier down the back of the team's necks." If the team members are anywhere near as tough as their game's star, they probably welcome the pressure.

Polygonal Plastic Surgery

In the first Tomb Raider , Lara Croft's in-game physique looked blocky but good. All of her equipment was in the right place, sure, but "pointy" was really the best word to describe her figure. Now, though, Core knows they have more than just a game character on their hands. After all, Lara is an international sex symbol and covergirl.

So this time around the developers have given her a makeover. They've pumped up her polygon count and remapped her with more detailed textures. The result: Lara's face, clothing, and body all look more natural. But core didn't stop with the bod. They've given her a realtime ponytail that flails about in response to her head and body movements. This two-foot-long rope of hair trails behind her when she runs or falls, and it'll even wrap around her neck once in a while.

Core has also expanded Lara's wardrobe, giving her the right gear for the job. For her trek through the sunken ship stage, Lara dons a black wetsuit with red trim. And she slips into a leather bomber jacket when she scales Tibet's icy plateaus. Yeah, right. Like sub-zero temperatures actually bother the tough-as-nails heroine.

Enemies, Enemies Everywhere

Gamers of the more trigger-happy variety all shared a common gripe about the original Tomb Raider- there just weren't enough bad guys for Lara to ventilate with her very big guns. Not so with the sequel.

Although Tomb Raider 2's levels aren't exactly crawling with critters, Lara does face more than twice a many as before--and in a much greater variety. On land, she'll go up against rats, crows, eagles, spiders, dobermans, tigers, and even the occasional yeti (who may be out for revenge, considering that--during the first game's opening cinema--we learned Lara brought down none other than Bigfoot himself). Tomb Raider 2's submerged areas aren't beast-free either. Lara's underwater exploits will plunge her into encounters with barracuda, eels, sharks, and other deep-sea nightmares. (At least now she has the right tool--her trusty speargun-to deal with these wet threats).

But particularly problematic for our heroine will be the deadliest of the species-humans-whom Lara must battle more than any other creature. From the masked members of the Fiama cult to the no-neck guards of the ocean rig. Tomb Raider 2's motley collection of tough guys pop up everywhere, rarely letting Lara explore all by her lonesome.

As in the first game, she'll often deal with only a single--usually gun-wielding--enemy at a time. These baddies usually appear from out of nowhere, such as a door or broken window. But sometimes a gang of humans will surround her, forcing Lara to flip, shoot, flip, shoot until the mob has been dispatched. Even worse-a few human enemies are more than what they seem (oh, what rough scaly skin and big reptilian you have, Mr. Bad Guy). But you'll just have to guide Lara to the final levels to see these bad boys for yourself.

Also as in Tomb Raider, every critter in this sequel's zoo is convincingly animated. Dobermans snarl, tiger's pounce, spiders scurry-heck, you'd think Core struck out into the wilderness and motion-captured the wildlife. But, as in the first game, each animal was animated by hand (except by a new team of artists).

The New Tools Of Tomb Raiding

Lara fears neither aquatic beasties nor the dark in Tomb Raider 2-thanks to a couple of new toys Core has added to her arsenal.

First up is the speargun, which lets Lara stick it to the sharks, barracuda, eels and other underwater critters before they cruise within biting range. Fans of the first game will especially appreciate this weapon, since Tomb Raider left Lara without a means of defending herself while swimming.

Even better are the flares Lara will find scattered throughout each level. These little torches push back the darkness and really show off the game's dynamic lighting effects. Considering that Tomb Raider 2 is often much darker than the original, a light source is a very handy addition.

If it Ain't Broken

Lara leapt, flipped, swam, shimmied, shoved, pulled, dived and tumbled her way through Tomb Raider-and Core is keeping her acrobatic, Prince of Persia-inspired prowess intact for the sequel. She can perform all of her signature moves from the original-yes, even the fatal-if-you-do-it-in-the-wrong-place dive and the suggestive, heels-over-head pull-up that's useless but fun to watch.

The same joypad commands are used to put Lara through her motions: if you mastered the first game's controls, you won't have any problems in part two. And the old moves look pretty much the same as they did in Tomb Raider, except with smoother animation.

So Core deserves kudos for having enough sense to leave well enough alone. after all, it's Lara's basic arsenal of moves that makes her world at times easy, at times challenging to explore (but then, you knew that if you had the patience to bound and flip your way to the temple roof in the first game's Lost World level).

Just Add New Moves

Of course, Tomb Raider 2 wouldn't be much of a sequel if Lara didn't learn a few new tricks during her vacation between games. And New Trick Number One is a doozy: She can now ascend sheer vertical walls as easily as a spider scooting up your bedroom wall.

But don't expect to breeze through the game simply by high-tailing it up the nearest wall to reach the level exit or evade enemies: Lara can only climb certain surfaces that look, well, climbable (much like Gex in his forthcoming 3-D adventure). Don't worry-scaleable surfaces usually stick out from their surroundings. Library bookshelves and rocky walls, for instance, are ribbed with handholds for Lara's climbing pleasure.

Initiating a climb is easy enough: Just place Lara at the base of the wall and hit the Action button (the same one used to push/pull blocks and grab onto ledges), then push up on the joypad. Lara will go into her ascent. You can stop the climb at any time by releasing the joypad. Lara will cling to the wall like a fly, or scurry right or left if you push in that direction. As with all her moves, Lara's vertical scramble is graceful and extremely well animated. She follows the classic three-point form advocated by mountain climbers everywhere (or at least by those who don't fall a lot).

Other moves are less spectacular (actually, they fall into the "tweaking" category). You can now make Lara wade through waist-deep water rather than simply swim through it. This move looks nice, but adds little to gameplay. And standing vertical jumps onto low platforms are a little easier to pull off, since Lara now automatically steps forward onto low ledges when she leaps.

Poster

Article published in the August, 1997 issue of EGM. The Croft Times