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Tomb Raider II: Starring Lara Croft (also unofficially known as Tomb Raider II: The Dagger of Xian) is a video game in the Tomb Raider series and is the sequel to Tomb Raider. Developed by Core Design and published by Eidos Interactive, the game was originally released for PlayStation, Windows 95 in November 1997, Macintosh in 1998 and on the PlayStation Network in 2009.
The gameplay of Tomb Raider II builds upon the basic set up of the original game. For a detailed discussion of its features, see the gameplay section of Tomb Raider. Innovations in Tomb Raider II include, new weapons, extra moves, a small set of vehicles, larger levels, many more enemies, mostly human enemies and dynamic lighting (in the original gun fire did not briefly light up the immediate area and flares did not exist). As well as these new features, the player may now save wherever and whenever they choose, save for a few special locations, as opposed to its predecessor's crystal saving feature.
In terms of movement, Lara can now climb ladders and perform a mid-air roll used to land in the opposite direction of which the player was facing. The range of weapons has been expanded to include a harpoon gun (though more correctly termed a speargun), a grenade launcher, an M16 rifle, which requires Lara to assume an aiming stance to fire, and automatic pistols, which replace the magnums from Tomb Raider. The item inventory now includes pyrotechnic flares, which are used to light up dark corners and take advantage of the improved lighting system implemented by the developers. The two vehicles in the game are a motorboat (in Venice) and a snow scooter (in Tibet). Both are used to travel long distances across the map and can speed up on ramps or run over enemies.
For Tomb Raider II, Lara's appearance was given a make-over by the designer, Stuart Atkinson, giving her a free-flowing pony tail, a smoother appearance, and several new outfits.In China and Venice she wears her familiar Tomb Raider outfit of a tanktop and shorts, in the ocean levels a half-body wetsuit and in Tibet a flight jacket.
The object of the game remains unchanged from the previous game: each level must be finished by solving various puzzles, collecting key items, and performing difficult jumps. However, this time there is an emphasis on gun fights and the killing of human opponents as well. Secrets no longer immediately reward the player with weapons or medipacks. Instead, each secret is marked by a coloured dragon ornament: silver (or stone), jade, and gold, according to the difficulty of their location. Only when Lara collects the last of all three dragons in a level will she receive a bonus, which usually consists of medipacks and ammunition, and infrequently a new weapon.
The story of Tomb Raider II concerns the mythical Dagger of Xian, a weapon which was used by an Emperor of China to command his army. By plunging the Dagger into its owner's heart, the weapon has the power to turn its bearer into a dragon. A flashback reveals that the last battle which was fought with the Dagger ended in defeat when the warrior monks of Tibet succeeded in removing the knife from the Emperor's heart. The Dagger was then returned to its resting place within the Great Wall and locked up for centuries. The game opens in the present day near the remains of the Great Wall, where Lara Croft is investigating the truth behind the legend of the Dagger. There, she learns that Marco Bartoli, a Venetian Mafia leader, has founded a cult obsessed with the ancient lore of the Dagger. She travels to Venice, where his gang has taken over part of the city and boathouses. After making her way through Bartoli's hideout and an opera house, Lara follows Bartoli aboard his airplane, but is knocked out before she can confront Bartoli.
The plane is headed toward an oil rig, which the gang took over. At the site, the cult is carrying out excavations on a sunken ship called the Maria Doria, a luxury ocean liner that sank two years ago. Lara learns from an imprisoned Tibetan monk, Brother Chan, that the shipwreck carries an ancient Tibetan artifact called the Seraph. For generations, the monks of the Barkhang monastery have been dedicated to preserving the Talion, the key to the door lock mechanism of the Dagger of Xian, even going as far as the Maria Doria. Before brother Chan reveals more, however, he is shot by Bartoli. Lara dives to the wreck and successfully retrieves the Seraph, after which her journey takes her to Barkhang Monastery in Tibet. With the help of the warrior monks, she opens the tomb to the Talion and recovers the artifact from its resting place.
Back in China, Lara opens the door to the chamber holding the Dagger. Before she reaches the artifact, however, Lara plunges into the catacombs beneath the Great Wall. Meanwhile, Bartoli drives the dagger into his heart, thus transforming into a dragon. In the final showdown, Lara manages to temporarily render the creature unconscious and pulls the dagger from Bartoli's heart. In the epilogue, the remainder of Bartoli's men track Lara down to England and invade her mansion, but she overpowers them. The final shot is of Lara, unrobing before entering the shower. She turns to the camera and says: "Don't you think you've seen enough?" She then blasts her shotgun at the camera, the screen cuts to black and the credits roll.
Development of Tomb Raider II was already in its conceptual stages before the first game was released. By the time Core Design wrapped up Tomb Raider, more ideas and suggestions had been put forth, some of which could be incorporated in the first game, others which would shape up to become the next installment of the series.
While two key members of the original team had left – most notably Lara's creator Toby Gard, who was replaced by Stuart Atkinson – the design team for Tomb Raider II was expanded to more than twice of its original size. Subsequently, the game took a shorter amount of time to develop than its predecessor. A decision was made early to keep the engine from Tomb Raider, adopting a tweak-and-improve approach, rather than starting over from scratch. Minor camera issues and object glitches were fixed, while new features were added, such as dynamic lighting and a more flexible control system. With the improvements to the graphics engine, a larger number of polygons could be rendered on screen, allowing large outdoors areas and more atmospheric effects.
Core Design used a custom built level editor that made it possible to explore each stage as it was being created, allowing levels to be play tested on the fly and eliminating glitches. A team of six playtesters continually tested the game up until it was set to be sent to Sony.
While the original Tomb Raider was released on both the PlayStation and Sega Saturn game consoles, Tomb Raider II was no longer designed for the Sega Saturn despite having been confirmed as a target platform for the game in the first place. Following the cancellation announcement, Adrian Smith cited technical limitations of the console to program an adequate conversion. In September 1997, Sony Computer Entertainment America signed a deal with Eidos to make console releases for the Tomb Raider franchise exclusive to the PlayStation, preventing the Sega Saturn or any other competing console from having any Tomb Raider game released for it until 2000.
Shelley Blond did not reprise her role as Lara Croft from the previous game. Instead, Judith Gibbins voiced Lara.
As one of the most hotly anticipated games of 1997, Tomb Raider II was an immediate commercial success, quickly surpassing the sales of Tomb Raider. As its predecessor, the game was critically acclaimed. Of particular praise were Tomb Raider II's improved graphics, the use of vehicles to add variety to gameplay and the more action oriented objectives.
At the time of Tomb Raider II's release, Lara was arguably at the height of her fame. A third instalment in the series was inevitable and by the winter of 1998 Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft was released. Talks for a screen adaptation were in progress, Lara Croft featured prominently in several SEAT and Lucozade commercials and U2 famously used her image as a pop icon on their 1997 PopMart Tour.