When Tomb Raider came out near the end of 1996, it was considered by many to be fairly groundbreaking. It was, essentially, a combination of the classic Prince of Persia and an Indiana Jones movie. An "attractive" female character was tossed in, and the game sold like gangbusters. But more so than that, a virtual star was born. The game's main character, Lara Croft, broke out of the confines of the game industry, garnering mainstream press that no other game enjoyed. Tomb Raider II capitalizes on the hype (going so far as to say "Starring Lara Croft" on the box), and delivers a game that makes it seem like the developers were scared to mess with the formula of the original game. As a result, most of Tomb Raider II's improvements are cosmetic, and even those aren't really anything special.
The graphics have been bumped up a bit, but the environments are still terribly pixelated. This is forgivable, however, considering the sheer size of some of the levels. The enemy characters are a bit smoother looking (and there are definitely more of them), but it's obvious that most of the development cycle was spent making Lara look better. This year's model is a lot more curvy, a bit skinnier, and sports a fully functioning ponytail (I shudder to think how many hours were spent getting her hair to move "just right").
The gameplay hasn't changed much. Lara still has to do a lot of climbing and jumping, and the combat (complete with guns that you needn't bother aiming - just point in the general direction of a foe and pound the fire button until everything is dead) is still a complete joke. There are a lot more human enemies, which is definitely a welcome addition. Also, there are a few levels that have Lara get behind the wheel of a snowmobile or a boat. But other than that, it's more of the same old Tomb Raidin'. Some of the level design (the Temple of Xian level, in particular) is pretty good, but some of the levels would have been better off in other parts of the game. The level order grinds the game to a halt on more than one occasion, the most notable being the Floating Islands level, which smacks of a hidden level, yet comes in towards the end of the game with no connection to any other level in the game. Personally, I think the Home Sweet Home level is the coolest, which puts you on the defensive against bad guys who are breaking into your house. It's really different and a cool way to end the game.
Tomb Raider II turns the series into a license-based game, almost as if Lara Croft was the star of a movie, thrown into an uninspired game with hopes of making sales based on the name alone. If the original Tomb Raider wasn't enough to make you sick, Tomb Raider II picks up right where the first game left off. Public Enemy's Media Assassin, Harry Allen, perhaps said it best when he said, "Don't believe the hype."