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Tomb Raider Is Back Boasting Eye-Candy Scenery and More Style

January 29, 1998|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lara Croft swept me off my feet when first we met last year. I mean, who wouldn't fall for a brainy, wealthy woman with an unrealistic bosom, an English accent and a penchant for exploring dark and creepy caves?

Now the digital star of Tomb Raider has stolen my heart again in a sequel that is everything anyone could want in a game. Tomb Raider II for Sony PlayStation and PC delivers terrific graphics, great sound, fantastic story and play that is second to none.

This time around, Lara searches for the Dagger of Xian in some of the most exotic scenery ever to grace a screen. Caves. Temples. The watery streets of Venice. And all of them are populated by an army of meanies. Thugs. Tigers. Sharks. Yetis.

Tomb Raider II from Eidos and Core achieves that rarest of feats in the video game world: It outshines the original in everything from style to playability. And there's so much more action to the game than the original. Speedboats. Snowmobiles. You name it, it's in there.

From the first level, players face obstacles that challenge the mind as well as the reflexes. Like the mythical Lara, players have to engage brain and body to survive. Fans of Tomb Raider may notice some of the same awkwardness in control as the camera angle switches, but for some reason I find it less annoying than the original.

After playing early versions of Tomb Raider II at E3 last June, I waited all summer and fall for it to hit store shelves. It was definitely worth the wait. It's going to be a very happy winter as I work my way through this beauty.

Although the game looks best on PC, it needs to be fairly beefy to achieve optimal performance: plenty of RAM, preferably a Pentium II processor and a graphics card. It plays OK on weaker machines, but the PlayStation version is tight and clean and fast.

PC Ports: The same is true of two other PC ports debuting on game consoles. MDK from Shiny Entertainment and Playmates Interactive was a smart little shooter for the PC and survived the jump over to PlayStation well.

For players who experienced lockups on their PCs, the PlayStation version screams--even as parts of the level load during slack times in play. Not that there are very many. MDK was a hoot that should thrive on PlayStation.

The Sega Saturn version of id's Quake is less smooth, but a large part of that has to do with the reduction of screen resolution when games jump from a PC monitor to a television set.

Quake delighted in part because of the richness of its environments. That suffers noticeably, but designers nonetheless managed to achieve a nice port that should satisfy Saturn owners who missed out on one of the finest first-person corridor shooters of all time.

*

Staff writer Aaron Curtiss reviews video games every other Thursday. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send letters to The Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311. Or send e-mail to Aaron.Curtiss@latimes.com.

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