- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2013

The famed female archeologist returns for gamers to appreciate her origins in the third-person adventure Tomb Raider (Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics, Rated Mature, reviewed for the Xbox 360, $59,99).

Yes, Lara Croft is back, but not as the sexy and confidant explorer as seen in the previous games and Angelina Jolie movies over the past 16 years.

Rather, as a bruised, battered and disoriented recent college graduate stuck on a dangerous island, in search of her shipwrecked mates from the vessel Endurance and on a quest to find a lost city.

Stuck on this lush and weather-fickle graveyard to boats, planes and humans, the action places her in an R-rated Indiana Jones predicament, with a touch of the supernatural, as she tries to avoid hostile islanders, cult members, castaways, mercenaries and packs of animals.

With the healthy physique and brunette ponytail likened to actress Jennifer Lawrence and prowess with a bow and arrow just like Katniss Everdeen in the movie “Hunger Games,” Lara learns quickly how to hunt and stay alive.

It’s a concoction only the might of J.J. Abrams (I’ve never felt so “Lost”) could deliver and a moody Nathan Drake appreciate that takes the Tomb Raider franchise down a much darker and bloodier, “Uncharted” territory than ever before.

For veteran fans of Lara Croft, they will find a violent exploitation of the survival genre, as the character must quickly evolve from unsure girl into a killing machine to complete her missions.

She often feels more a Terminator than frightened human when early on Lara manages to handle taking a spear to the side and an ankle-crushing injury from a bear trap and yet she recovers near immediately.

Her combat gets more vicious with each skill upgrade based on amassing experience points. Within hours, she is stabbing enemies in the knee and neck, honing in on headshots and tossing improvised Molotov cocktails to burn her foes to death.

Still the familiar environmental puzzles are in tact as well as her acrobatics moves as she jumps, climbs, shimmies, zips, squirms, swings, dives and crawls around this gorgeously designed, massive jungle gym of an island, meticulously constructed down to swaying leaves, prickly-thorn bushes, rushing waterfalls, massive fires and angry mountaintops peppered by lightening.

Her tools of the trade rely heavily on the aforementioned bow (with slick rope line and fire arrows), a makeshift pickaxe (to help climb rock formations, break open boxes and even act as a lever) as well as eventual access to a shotgun, rifle (such as a WWII submachine gun) and pistol.

Moments to savor include escaping from a subterranean prison filled with skeletal remains, taking a respite at one of the many base camps to spend skill points and upgrade weapons (by collecting junk), climbing around a very active waterfall, viewing snow mountaintops while standing on a rickety bridge and a dizzying climb up a satellite tower.

Lara also remembers her studies, and a player will find plenty of relics scattered across the island such as Japanese Noh masks, ceremonial fans and a yagen (ancient mortar and pestle).

A player works through the free roaming solo campaign much like he would feel immersed in a movie. I often found myself stopping to think about what just happened on screen as I helped Lara escape from another action-packed, roller-coaster ride.

Her dynamic reimagining by Crystal Dynamics reminded me of the days when comic-book publishers decided to make popular superheroes a flawed, too-human group easily hurt and not afraid to kill.

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