Friday, 9 March 2018

Gaming's Best Levels #1: Venice - Tomb Raider 2

A journey through some of video gaming's greatest levels. Or, the ones we like at least.

By Sam Graham

Where do you go after making one of the most influential and successful games of the decade? Well, you do it again, only this time, add vehicles, more weaponry, more enemies, and a fully-rendered ponytail. Tomb Raider 2 (1997) had big shoes to fill. The bar had been raised significantly after its predecessor blew up and became a cultural force that’s still in swing today, despite undergoing 2 reboots and an upcoming 3rd film which is almost definitely going to disappoint. 

Venice is the second level of Lara Croft’s second adventure. Beginning in an alley, this stage soon introduces you to something unseen before in the franchise: humans as main enemies. Sure, by this point, Croft has already downed a number of animals, a T-Rex, and a legion of mythical creatures from Atlantis, but she’s yet to kill humans on the regular. I don’t know if it’s an Italian thing, but the humans in TR2 are pure-bred bullet sponges and by the looks of them, they’ve all been pounding the Vitamin S too.

Anyway, this level is possibly the best in TR2, because it introduces us to a new mechanic: vehicles. Oh yeah, you get to buzz around the waterways of Venice in a speedboat. Of course you’ll actually be taking it very slow at first, because of all the gun-toting Mafioso’s around. Kill them first, then their Dobermans, then some rats straight out of a James Herbert novel.

While it can be tedious to do this anti-Italianist manhunt, the grand finale of the level makes up for it. The goal is to get through a gate that is only open for a short while. The switch that opens this gate is at the opposite side of the level. First you open up two other gates (permanently) to make a shortcut, then the run begins. You flip the switch, hop in your boat, put the pedal to the metal and gun that thing up a ramp, through a god damn building, smashing through the windows, splash down onto some gondolas, smashing them to bits, then weave through the alley you opened up earlier, hard bank right, then straight on to the end.

It’s nail-bitingly strict on timing. One mistake and you have to make the run again, but when you get it right, it’s straight out of a blockbuster. The camera cuts away to give the best shot of the action, and you get a real sense of accomplishment for managing to pull off something so cool.

Then you have to do the Bartoli’s Hideout level, which is a real bastard.

Enjoyed this piece? Then 'like' The Crusades of A Critic on Facebook. Sam also has a novel which can currently be viewed here, and features ten times the swears, snarc, and rage of the above piece.