- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic-entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Tomb Raider Underworld (for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Eidos, rated T for teen, $59.99).

Gaming icon and fearless British archaeologist Lara Croft returns as nimble as ever to save the world and help her family.

A solo player takes part in an interactive adventure movie that encompasses exploration, combat, puzzle solving and attacking a gantlet of environmental obstacle courses.

What’s the story? Paraphrased from the Web site (www.tombraider.com) - Stories have been told for generations of the fearsome weapon of Thor, the Norse god of thunder. Legend holds that Thor’s hammer had the power to smash mountains into valleys and to destroy even the gods. For more than 1,000 years, it has existed only as a myth … until now.

In an ancient ruin on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea, Lara Croft uncovers proof of the Norse underworld and the mythical hammer. As she attempts to unravel the secrets behind these myths, her perilous journey leads her toward a forgotten power that, if unleashed, could lay waste to all civilization.

Play the role: The player controls Lara Croft, who easily couldwin Olympic gold in many gymnastics events. Handstands and cartwheels are commonplace as she jumps to cliffs, swings on poles, climbs walls, balances on beams and scampers across ledges.

Besides being armed with a variety of guns, nearly unlimited ammo and her lethal kicks, she has at her disposal a sonar map, use of a grapple line and an all-terrain motorbike.

For the first time in the series, I really felt Lara was a living entity, thanks to fantastic character modeling and full-motion capturing, which allow for incredible, subtle detail.

Get to the action: Lara journeys around the world, with stops in the Mediterranean, Thailand, England, Mexico, the Jan Mayen Island and the Arctic Ocean. She constantly fights jungle brush, crumbling ruins, water and Amanda Evert’s minions to succeed.

Lara still solves massive puzzles through the collection of pieces, balancing of weights and matching of artifacts, and the player will appreciate the loosening of the usually linear game play to work through each.

Memorable moments: The entire encounter with the Kraken merged cinematic drama with platform puzzling at its finest.

Also, all of her underwater expeditions add up to a breathtaking, easy-to-control wonder punctuated with aggressive sea life, colorful terrain and Lara’s ability to swim like a dolphin.

Violent encounters: Being an animal lover, I did not have fun slaughtering creatures, even in self-defense. The current count includes four sharks, seven tigers, a dozen bats, a panther and 13 acid-spitting, king-size iguanas.

Lara also runs into plenty of really stupid bad guys who require dozens of bullets to take down as they collapse in a laughable death. She even can use an occasional adrenaline boost to deliver a “Matrix”-style, slow-motion head shot to enemies.

Story Continues →